Agile Product Management

I had the good fortune of cutting my teeth in the first Scrum team, back at the end of the dark ages of waterfall software development. With all the innovations we pioneered in those days - e.g. cross-functional teams, daily standups, iterative development - we still struggled with how to execute a successful product management process.

Over the succeeding years, I've been involved in many software teams, each that struggled in their own way with product management. For all the economies of scale we achieved in software - from open source, the cloud, agile, new languages, new tools - new thought leadership in product management has advanced at a comparatively glacial pace.

While there have been a few bright spots over the years (e.g. Customer-Driven Development, Lean), much of the "ideas" around agile PM have come from consultants who have not been responsible for a product or engineering team since the 20th century. So it is always of great interest to me when I find new thinking in product management from an actual practictioner. The article This Product Prioritization System Nabbed Pandora 70 Million Monthly Users with Just 40 Engineers qualifies as an example of new thinking.

If you don't have time to read the full article, just read the breakdown quoted here:

1) Before every quarter starts, pose the question: “What would be stupid not to do in the next 90 days?”

2) Define and scope every idea on a single presentation slide.

3) Roughly calculate the engineering capacity needed for each of the ideas generated, and how much you have to leverage total.

4) Express this scope in dollar amounts: $5= the amount of work one engineer can do in one month. $10= two months. $15= three months. $30= two engineers for all three months. If you have 10 developers working for three months, you have $150 to play with. Include a dollar amount on each slide.

5) Pick a small team to participate in the prioritization process. Choose people who have the whole company’s best interest in mind.

6) If you pick 5 people, make 5 stacks of Post-Its with $5 written on them. Hand the same number of Post-Its to each person based on your engineering capacity.

7) Print out all your idea slides and hang them on the wall. Talk your prioritization team through each one.

8) Have your team “buy” the ideas they believe are the most valuable to the business by sticking their Post-Its on the corresponding slides. People can choose to spend more than $5 on one idea.

9) Discuss the allocation of stickies, consolidate and re-scope.

10) A miracle occurs — you end up with a manageable number of tasks that can be executed with the resources you have, and you have buy-in from leadership in only a few hours.

11) Develop specs, scrum, and make sure everyone in the company knows how these decisions were made. Make prioritization a part of your culture.

12) Repeat 90 days later. From scratch.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not proposing this is the solution to the challenges of driving a successful agile product management strategy. But I always appreciate new ideas to throw in my mulch pile of software process.

Thanks to @seanbwalter for forwarding the article