Having a Right product strategy is a  critical factor in making sure the desired product comes out of  agile teams. As a leader in providing product development services to ISV’s at Imaginea, we have over the period of time understood what successful product managers do to roll out world class products. Some of us have proven experience in sharing these experiences to value add to our customers. We have closely watched some of the best product managers that we have worked with, and have fine tuned the art of managing and delivering products. Our own products are a reflection of some of these practices am going to speak about.

I have been trying to understand the Agile practices for quiet some time now. Having closely examined few projects that have been adopting agile practices, i made certain notes and observations. In my free time i also interviewed few successful agile practitioners, professionals and scrum masters. I have also spoken to some senior product development engineers who have shared their experiences. Here are some thoughts:

Background/ Context

Another organization that i knew practices agile methods to roll out the product it has in mind. Recently I spoke with a team of very frustrated Product development engineers there who were using Agile methods. They were not so happy for a simple reason that, they were working for the past one year trying to finish the  features they were responsible for.But the hard part was that the product manager really had no idea where they were moving or what they were really trying to accomplish.

That was when i realized that i should talk to the product manager (being a product manager my self previously it was easy for me to reach to him). Speaking to him, i realized he is also the  product owner- as Scrum calls it.He explained that he thought the whole idea of Agile methods was to be nimble, remain flexible and agile. But he was not convinced of the fact that more important was to be sure about the long-term direction of the product.I started realizing that creating an effective product strategy may have become an unintended casualty of the move to Agile methods.

I now strongly believe we need to understand what a right product strategy is, why is it very critical for a successful product launch and its complete alignment with the Agile methods.

What is a product strategy

Loosely put, Product strategy is the vision you wish to accomplish say in 2-4 years. It is for sure not a specification or a document. It is certainly a vision the leader or the product owner must be able to rally the teams with. If this objective is met correctly half the job is done.

Product Strategy communication

Modern day product managers use a lot of collaborative technologies to communicate the strategy to their teams. It could be wiki’s, e2.0 products, presentations or the same old style documents. The critical factor here is the communication has to be clear and inspiring. It could be a choice of presenting in person or through a shared desktop presentation which will not be a differentiating factor.

What must a Right Product Strategy Address

a) The difference that the product aims to make to its intended customer base.

b) Existing problems that the customer has and how they are solved using the product in making.

c) What will be those WoW factors that the users would resonate with in using the product

d) Essentially product strategy is a link between the corporate business strategy and the road map that the product wishes to traverse. Product strategy thus must enable the achievement of business strategy and road map must help you reach there step by step.

e)A good product strategy is one of the most important things a product manager should look to have.  It’s not easy but without it you have little hope of actually ending up with something worthwhile.

f)Make sure your executive teams reviews, approves and appreciates the product strategy. Do not assume that it will come by itself from top-down. It will never happen.

g) Only if  you’re in a start up with a founder serving as the product visionary there is a chance that the product strategy gets pushed from top-down. Otherwise product manager must hold the forte and communicate the same to the management.

h) It is essential to understand that the product strategy should not bind/ restrict into any particular features or sequencing. Features and their order of implementation are represented as part of the backlog.

i) However as an alert and efficient product manager to make sure you are on top of the schedule, You can, and absolutely should, adjust the roadmap constantly
based on what you learn from your users, the market, your analysis, trends, reports, and
the ever-changing technologies that the product is being built upon.

j)Majorly impacting the product manager’s decision point is the trade-off’s that will arise during the course of the implementation journey. A product manager here must wear the hat of the customer first and engineering next. That will also ensure he understands what the marketing and sales would prefer going into to the field than pure play engineering.

k)Here i believe that Agile methods, applied properly, will help you make
your product strategy a reality. Also it would ensure its  significantly swifter than the traditional methods.It gives you the flexibility to turn around in 2 weeks per sprint if some thing is really worth changing as part of the trade-offs you encountered.

Conclusion

Having a right product strategy, implementing the strategy in alignment with the business plan and fine tuning the road-map will be the key to successful product management. product backlogs have to be effectively managed to ensure the right return on investments are in place from your agile teams. This way your engineers, your management, your partners in delivery will all be equally participative in getting the right product out.