Too often a business owner or executive will assume the role of product manager without anticipating the time investment required. This leads to one of the biggest risks when developing software - poor product manager engagement. Poor engagement halts development and restricts your team's output. A development team can only move as fast as a product manager allows. So as a business owner or executive, the first question you must ask yourself is whether you're able to commit the time needed to be a product manager. If not, the next step should be to appoint a project manager capable of acting as the primary point of contact.
Why is a Product Manager Needed?
Agile software development focuses on market feedback. This requires someone (usually given the title product manager) to test the software in the market and seek user feedback. Once completed, that feedback needs to be communicated to the software development team so that any necessary changes can be made. The product manager isn't only responsible for testing the product in the market, they oversee the entire project.
This becomes critically important during the Scoping phase. During Scoping you will need to translate those awesome ideas that are in your head, onto paper. The product manager must be able to share that vision. It would be great as developers if we could stick a USB into the product managers head and download their vision. Unfortunately this isn't (yet) possible. So instead, we use Scoping workshops to clarify the goals of the application. It's critical in software development to have a clear action plan before commencing any development work.
Attributes of a Product Manager
As a product manager you should have three key skills. Firstly, a product manager must be able to prioritise. There may be a clear end goal of what an application will look like, but agile stresses the importance of incremental delivery. From that polished final product, what are the most important components to be delivered first?
Even after the first version is released publicly, a product manager will still need to prioritise which features requested from the market are the most important. We use a requirements backlog to manage and prioritise a project's features.
A product manager should also be accustomed to setting goals. Setting goals allows us to form our deliverables. At the completion of each deliverable, a release is performed, enabling you to conduct your UATs. If you're setting goals, you already know what you want to achieve with each deliverable thus giving you a roadmap to follow.
Finally, and most importantly a product manager needs to be available. An agile development team can't continue with development if they're waiting for a product manager. Often this becomes an issue during user acceptance testing (UATs). We release into a beta environment while product managers conduct their UATs. After that time, we make any necessary changes and deploy to a production environment. We can't deploy to a production environment if we're waiting on the product manager. The issue is usually centered around workload. The product manager is not able to dedicate time to the development of the software due to existing commitments.
For every partner, we provide the product manager with a copy of our white paper so that they are informed of our process. Software development is a two way street so we take responsibility for educating and enabling our partners to make informed decisions. Click here to Check out our proprietary process.