Agile Scaling Frameworks: Where is the Product Manager?

Most of these blog posts speak directly to Product Management concerns.  Today I want to talk to Engineering leadership too.  As you evaluate your options for scaling (SAFe, Nexus, DAD, Less, etc) please note:  you can’t scale Agile without someone in the Product Management role.

Full disclosure:  I am a SAFe® SPC4 so there’s my bias.  But I chose SAFe because it recognizes the Product Management role and identifies the factors that make this key intersection point successful.

Nexus, DAD, LESS and all other methods I’ve seen so far perpetuate the chasm between busiProduct Management is missing from Agile at scaleness and Development by focusing only on Development practices and NOT defining the interface to the business.  Thus demand management goes unchecked and unfixed.  The system *as a whole* is not optimized.  And that puts Agile and any attempts at scaling it at high risk.

Isn’t this just something “they” do?

Product Managers, you DO care how your Development teams do what they do – because that is your ONLY means of delivering value to customers and thus to the business.  You want Development’s process to work, and work well.  You are part of “the system” that gets products out the door.  If it doesn’t work today, you are likely part (but not all) of the problem.  To fix it, you must change too.

POs are not enough

Other scaling frameworks pretend that the PO role is all you need.  The PO role as Scrum has defined it is inadequate in most situations.  This has been an issue for Scrum since its inception.  Who is filling the PO role today?  Most organizations won’t let their SMEs go – they are too valuable to the business side.  So Engineers fill the role.  Don’t deny it – you know it’s true!  Even when the business provides SMEs to work with the Dev teams, they don’t have the political connections (aka “stakeholder management”) and strategy skills to hold this role, not to mention budgetary influence.  CSPO training is inadequate in all these respects.  Product Managers do these things routinely as part of their job.  It’s a key part of the interface between the market and technical sides of the business.

Product Managers, I know you are already busy doing the rest of your job and that you can’t move into the PO role too.  Every organization I work with has had to come to grips with this issue:  you must find people to fill Product Owner roles.  Don’t get caught up on the name:  the Product “Owner” does not “own” the product in environments where Product Management exists.  They own their team backlog, they own decisions that are local to the work they and their team(s) are doing.  But accountability for market success rests with the Product Manager, full stop.  You can find POs in your organization: business analysts are perfect candidates.  QA and Tech Support people are often excellent, and this is a great career step for those roles.  In highly technical product areas, Engineers also can be great POs.  Product Managers, you will have to find time to stay sync’d with your POs.  But this will be a productive use of your time, replacing firefighting and damage control efforts.

Product Management leaders, please work with Engineering leadership as they try to make the system work better!


Posted in Agile Product Management, For PM Executives, Scaled Agile Framework, Uncategorized  |  1 Comment

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