Book review: Agile Product Management with Scrum

I simply can’y help myself; project managing is what I do on a daily basis and I get excited about things like “Agile”, “Scrum” and other approaches to managing digital projects. I tried to restrain myself but I simply have to write about these things … One promise though: I will try to keep my posts about digital project management as relevant and as practical as possible.

Let’s start with “Agile Product Management with Scrum”, a book by product management expert Roman Pichler which I finished this morning. I guess the main thing to know about Agile project or product management is that it’s all about a collaborative and iterative approach to developing software. As opposed to more traditional ‘waterfall’ project management methodologies, functionality requirements aren’t frozen upfront and the focus is very much on delivering a series of “shippable” (i.e. working) product increments. The aim of each development “sprint” (average duration: 2 weeks per sprint) is to deliver some working software at the end of it.

Within this Agile approach, there is a very prominent place for “Scrum”. So-called ScrumMasters (which I happen to be one of) lead daily Scrum meetings with cross-discipline development teams and a “product owner” to monitor progress and to discuss requirements for the next product iteration. Pichler has now applied this Agile methodology to the world of developing and managing products.

Product Management is an area which is traditionally very prone to endless documentation, specifying requirements and functionality in mind numbing detail. However, “Agile Product Management with Scrum” sets out how businesses can change this approach to developing products. These are the main principles that underpin Pichler’s book:

  1. Iterate, iterate and iterate! When developing a product ‘the Agile way’, the initial focus is typically on high-risk functionality or requirements, after which the Scrum team can start testing and refining, concentrating on the next product iteration or set of requirements.
  2. Emerging requirements – Rather than locking down all functional and non-functional product requirements upfront, items in the “product backlog” are emergent and flexible.
  3. Shippable product – The core focus of Agile Product Management is to regularly create and release working software which the stakeholders or customers can test or use.
  4. Self-organised teams – Each Scrum team is expected to be cross-discipline and self-organised. This approach makes the traditional Project Manager role redundant.

Pichler has done a great job in applying Agile principles to product development. When I talk to businesses that use Agile techniques to developing products, all the key principles that Pichler’s book outlines are being utilised on a day-to-day basis. Chapters such as “Envisioning the product” and “Working with the Product Backlog” take the reader through this iterative way of developing products on a step-by-step by basis, never overcomplicating things and always with the key principles of Agile in mind.

“Agile Product Management with Scrum” is a very accessible read, irrespective of one’s role (business sponsor, developer or ScrumMaster) or prior understanding of Agile methodologies. If I were to pick one area of improvement; I would like to read more about how to best apply Agile and Scrum to managing the product through its own lifecycle. Pichler does really well in clarifying the creating the “product vision” (i.e. outlining the overall product goal) but I think there could be more room for detail on how Agile and Scrum could facilitate ‘ongoing product management’. One can think of regular product review meetings (to compare one’s product against new user requirements or competitors) or regular “vision sprints” to iterate the product vision on an ongoing basis.

Main learning point: I would recommend “Agile Product Management with Scrum” to anyone who wants to find out about more Agile and Scrum or who wishes to apply these approaches in a product management context. Pichler offers a large variety of practical, real-life cases studies and useful tips on how to get started. I don’t see Agile as a set in stone process or a strict methodology but more as a fluid, incremental approach to projects and I feel that Pichler’s book is a great testament to this approach.

Related links for further learning:

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