Monday, March 11, 2013

Agile Isn't About Product Or Customers

I was recently sitting in on a group of people learning what it means to be product managers. The presenter spent a lot of time explaining Agile practices - from Stories to Epics.  The whole time I was thinking:

" all this time, I haven't heard one mention about the customer or the product. Why then, do these product managers need to spend so much time learning Agile."

update, Eric Ries says it great here:

"...the agile development methodologies I had practiced until that time... were designed to eliminate waste too. Yet those methods had led me down a road in which the majority of my team’s efforts were wasted. Why? The answer came to me slowly over the subsequent years. Lean thinking defines value as providing benefit to the customer; anything else is waste."

In the above quote, Eric describes that Agile does not deliver business value. It's just a process to get things done.

Agile is project management

Something needs to be cleared up, Agile is an engineering discipline and not concerned with Product. It's an internal process which provides a framework for executing tasks, communicating who on a team is doing what, to different parts of an organization. Does this sound more like Product Management or Project Management?

Here is one simple thought experiment to test if Agile is about the customer (Product):

Can Agile be done without involving the customer?

To help answer this question, let's ask the same question but using processes which are about the customer (Product):

Can cohort analysis be done without involving the customer?
Can A/B testing be done without involving the customer?
Can customer interviews be done without involving the customer?
Can engagement metrics be done without involving the customer?
Can funnel analysis be done without involving the customer?
Can product / market fit be done without involving the customer?

For a technique or process to be considered part of Product, it has to involve the customer. Another example is continuous integration vs. continuous delivery. Continuous integration is an engineering technique how a team does frequent releases. Continuous delivery is how those releases get to the customer and how to design your product experience on handling them.

Epic fail?

Consider this quote from Hunter Walk:

"Project management makes sure the train runs on time. Product management helps design the train."

In this scenario is Agile about designing the train or is it making sure the train runs on time?

Consider that the next time your looking at a todo list..... er I mean an epic.