Author Archives: gregg

One-on-One with Linda Gorchels on Product Management Training and ProdBOK

Linda Gorchels on Product Management Training and ProdBOK

Linda Gorchels on Product Management Training and ProdBOK

Part of the ProdBOK® Series

Today I’m joined by Linda Gorchels a professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison and the author of several books on product management (as well as other topics). Her latest book is entitled Business Model Renewal.

It’s a pleasure to have you here today Linda.

Let’s start by delving into the area of product manager training on the academic front. What’s the current state of academic training for product managers from your perspective? 

(Linda Gorchels) That’s an interesting question Greg, since “academic” training comes in many forms. While there are the traditional venues of undergraduate and graduate (for-credit) education, there is also a large professional development (non-credit) segment of academic education. Let’s take a look at the credit-side.

Most reputable universities with BBA degrees cover product management as part of their curriculum (at least in marketing), and many have courses in product management at the graduate level. The University of Wisconsin Madison is notable for its specialization in Brand and Product Management for the daytime MBA. We also, through the school’s executive program, have several offerings that constitute a Professional Development Certificate in product management.

That being said, successful product managers generally have strong industry and technical knowledge (e.g., engineering, medical, science, etc.) in addition to the required business and marketing strategy skills. A high percentage of my executive education customers from this segment have technical (undergraduate) degrees that they supplement with management and marketing knowledge to transition to product management.

What do you think needs to be done to increase the likelihood that academic institutions will more broadly adopt product management training curriculum’s at the undergraduate or graduate levels? 

(Linda Gorchels) Product management is truly a multi-functional (as well as cross-functional) discipline. I sometimes liken the position to that of a team quarterback – a person who can play the game as well as make decisions. Therefore, having dual majors (or at lease a major and a minor) in the technical and business disciplines is often desirable.

Do you think the ProdBOK Guide could help spur the development of academic training programs for product managers as has occurred in other professions?

(Linda Gorchels) As I mentioned in my answer, product management is multi-functional. While many marketing, strategy, and management principles may be transferable across industries, that’s not always the case with the technical side. (In other words, not all quarterbacks make good hockey or baseball players.) So it’s important to distinguish between common and unique job requirements.

Why did you decide to contribute to the ProdBOK effort Linda?

(Linda Gorchels) Since I have studied product management across a myriad of industries over the past two decades, I have observed mistakes made when individuals try to transfer EVERYTHING about their view of product management from one industry to another. (I was even guilty of that initially from my personal experiences as a product manager.) It takes a broad, multi-industry perspective to identify the product manager competencies that are common across arenas and those that are more relevant to one arena. I hope I helped convey that perspective.

Any final thoughts? 

(Linda Gorchels) Given the nuances I talked about, I strongly urge product managers to think less in terms of templates and “fill-in-the-box” solutions, and more in terms of innovation and novel solutions for challenges faced by their customers. This is especially difficult when product managers are “sucked into” daily fire-fighting, but this orientation is critical from a strategic perspective.

You can learn more about Linda by clicking here.

Editors Note: (Disclaimer) I’m an adjunct professor at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media where I teach graduate and undergraduate courses on product management. 

Greg Geracie is the author of Take Charge Product Management©, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK), and the leader of this initiative. ProdBOK is an industry-wide effort to standardize the practice of product management sponsored by the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM).

The ProdBOK mark is a registered trademark of AIPMM.


Scott Sehlhorst on Agile and ProdBOK®

Scott Sehlhorst on ProdBOK and Agile

Scott Sehlhorst on ProdBOK and Agile

Part of the ProdBOK® Series 

Scott, thanks for joining me today.  

Let’s begin by talking about the growth of Agile and its impact on product managers. A recent study showed that the majority of organizations are implementing “blended” methodologies (e.g. blending Waterfall and Agile together). What has the impact of this trend been on product managers?

(Scott Sehlhorst) I’ve found there are really two main aspects of the impact.

The first is a “circle the wagons” moment. A blended organization is in the middle of transition – having some teams operating with Waterfall processes while others are trying to move or have completely moved to an Agile cadence of delivery. For teams that operate independently, this is largely a non-event. Each team uses their own process. But in large companies, teams don’t operate independently. Companies are looking for opportunities to solve problems for their customers that span product silos. Teams want opportunities to leverage and coordinate the work that other teams are doing. Product managers in these blended environments need to understand how they can – and can’t – rely on other teams, by understanding the different mechanics of delivery that come with different processes. The mindset that comes to mind first is “how do I protect my team from the weaknesses of that other team’s approach.”

The second aspect is one of figuring out how to contribute strategically to the improvement of the company, by leveraging the work being done by teams using the different processes. A product manager on an Agile team will try and figure out how to inform Waterfall teams and contribute to their development, based on the changes to which the Agile team is adapting. A waterfall team’s product manager will try and find ways to realize the benefits of executing against an established plan, while leveraging the contributions from the Agile teams.

For an individual product manager, this means understanding the nuances of both development processes, their strengths and their weaknesses. The best product managers will be able to contribute to the evolution of the organization – gaining both the benefits of Agile adaptation to changing requirements, and the leverage of contributions from multiple teams solving related problems and developing products in a coordinated fashion.

Is there a particular Agile method that you think has generated the most traction? 

(Scott Sehlhorst) My experiences, confirmed by the research I’ve seen, indicate that Scrum has been the market leader in the last couple of years. In early 2013, I’m seeing signs of teams taking the “next” step and exploring Scrumban (a Kanban-infused approach to Scrum), and also some signs of flow – continuous development. Conceptually, as Scrum moved from large releases to smaller iterations as the units of delivery, flow is moving to discrete deliverables as the units of delivery. Development of individual capabilities or features is easier this way, while coordination of development is more difficult.

Flow provides the most benefit, but requires the most discipline from a software engineering point of view. It also has the greatest organizational complications, particularly around coordination and communication. We’ll see how it shakes out in the industry – some big thinkers are pushing on it, and at the end of the day, I expect to see teams that succeed wildly, and some that crash and burn trying to make it work.

What types of challenges do you think the growth of Agile and blended approaches has presented to product managers/owners? 

(Scott Sehlhorst) In addition to the organizational complexities I mentioned above, working in an Agile way presents a change in how product managers manage their work. Instead of being primarily in a sequenced do this, then that mindset, product managers need to manage their activities with more parallelism; making incremental improvements across all aspects of their work. This provides the benefit of historically-sequential activities informing the historically-prior activities, making the overall work product better.

A product manager needs to be more cognizant of the interdependencies of their work products for this to gel. For example, getting insights into the feasibility and cost of delivering a capability will better inform the prioritization of that work; as will getting feedback from customers about the value they place on having that capability. It almost seems backwards – finding out how well received, and how difficult to build something is, before deciding when to build it. All product managers do this to some extent, by forming hypotheses in advance, and validating them later. An Agile product manager will be refining those hypotheses with data along the way.

Scott, why did you choose to contribute to the ProdBOK effort?

(Scott Sehlhorst) As a consumer, I want better products and services. Better product managers create products and services that serve the needs of their customers. I believe it’s a critically important role. One of the challenges we face is that product management is not well understood by companies. If we’re able to develop a body of knowledge that helps bring some standardization to the field, I expect that it’ll both help individuals get better at product management, and help companies better apply the practice of product management – thus improving their products and services, and ultimately, my experiences as a customer.

Any final thoughts? 

(Scott Sehlhorst) There are several trends that are driving opportunity for products to differentiate and succeed in the market.

Companies are finally starting to get traction with developing insights through statistical analysis of the reams of data that are becoming available, and that trend is showing no end in sight with Moore’s law firmly exhibiting itself in the costs of computation, storage, and transmission of information. The challenge is in understanding how insights gained in one domain or problem space can be applied to others.

As we move from an economy of scarcity to one of surplus, the user’s experience becomes a more relevant factor in selecting products. It’s no longer enough to just solve “the” problem – you have to have a product that solves the problems well, and takes into account the emotional impact for the users. While this may sound fluffy, there are countless examples of products which appear identical on a checklist or a Harvey Ball chart but perform very differently in the market. This overlap of the worlds of user experience and product management will be particularly interesting.

Another big trend, although it may only be particularly relevant in the technology space, is the changes in where and when people do computing – and the resultant changes in the definition of what “computing” is. Mobile devices, form factors, operating systems, and contexts of use are overtaking the (recently) traditional desktop computing paradigm.

People no longer want applications that run on a computer, they want solutions that apply wherever it makes sense. In a way, this is an area where the intersection of Moore’s law impacting what’s possible with the increasing importance of differentiating through providing a better experience, is perhaps the most visceral. What appears to be fickle consumer behavior may just be rapidly evolving market needs intersecting slowly evolving product offerings.

We do live in interesting times!

Greg Geracie is the author of Take Charge Product Management©, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK), and the leader of this initiative. ProdBOK is an industry-wide effort to standardize the practice of product management sponsored by the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM).

ProdBOK is a registered trademark of AIPMM.

A Conversation with Roman Pichler on Scrum and ProdBOK

One-on-One with Roman Pichler on Scrum and ProdBOK

One-on-One with Roman Pichler on Scrum and ProdBOK

Part of the ProdBOK® Series

This week Roman and I had a chance to catch up on the state of Scrum and his involvement with the ProdBOK project. Roman is the author of Agile Product Management with Scrum.

Here’s an extract from our conversation.

Roman, as you look across the Agile playing field, and Scrum specifically, how have organizations evolved in terms of successfully implementing these methodologies?

(Roman) Companies that have successfully applied Scrum have established strong product ownership, employ dedicated cross-functional teams, pay attention to the product quality, and leverage user feedback to create new features. Particularly for products characterized by rapid change and innovation, such as web and mobile apps, employing an Agile way of working has largely become the standard way of working in my experience. Having said that, I also find that Scrum and other Agile methods are sometimes still incorrectly applied resulting in sub-optimal outcomes.

Do you find that a certain size of company is best suited to implement these methodologies or are there other factors that impact successful implementation? What have you seen that works best?

(Roman) I don’t think the company size enables or restricts the application of Agile practices. I have seen start-ups and large enterprises apply Scrum successfully. But I find it important to create the “right” conditions to succeed with Agile, and to select the right Agile practices.

To determine which Agile practices are appropriate, I find it helpful to consider the product lifecycle. Scrum, for instance, is best suited to create a new product or bigger product update in my mind. But once the product has matured and grown, I tend to prefer working with a Kanban-based process mixing traditional and Agile practices.

To create the right conditions for new products, I find forming an incubator very powerful. This allows the product owner and the team to collaborate closely, to think outside the box, and to experiment with new ideas.

Do you think that the release of ProdBOK will in anyway help overcome these challenges? 

(Roman) I hope that the ProdBOK will help product managers and their organizations understand what choices they have to create and manage products successfully.

Why did you choose to contribute to the ProdBOK project?

(Roman) To help the readers understand how Agile practices can benefit product managers and their products.

Any final thoughts on Scrum or emerging trends?

(Roman) I believe that shrinking product lifecycles, rapid technological change, and increasingly dynamic markets are likely to make Agile approaches even more important in the future. I also believe that we will see more hybrid approaches, combining practices from different schools such as Lean startup, Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming.

Roman, thanks for sharing your thoughts! You can learn more about Roman by clicking here.

Greg Geracie is the author of Take Charge Product Management©, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK), and the leader of this initiative. ProdBOK is an industry-wide effort to standardize the practice of product management sponsored by the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM).

ProdBOK is a registered trademark of AIPMM.


Linda Merrick on Product Management and ProdBOK®

Linda Merrick on ProdBOK and Product Management

Linda Merrick on Product Management and ProdBOK

Part of the ProdBOK© Series

I’m pleased to have as my guest today Linda Merrick, partner at Pivotal Product Management. Welcome Linda!

Linda, let’s start by focusing on the changes to the product management field that have taken place over your career. As you look over your product management career – and the continuing evolution of product management – is there anything that stands out?

(Linda Merrick) Two things stand out for me. First, while the definition of product management isn’t standardized, the term is pretty well known and we no longer have to start from scratch when describing what we do. I think that’s good progress over the last 25 years!

Countering that, however, is the lack of education in product management process and practices. People are still re-inventing the wheel a lot.

How do you think the ProdBOK Guide will help address of these challenges?

(Linda Merrick) The ProdBOK Guide is a major step forward in standardizing what product management is, and the key practices it entails. It will certainly help product managers and product marketers adopt practices that will lead them to greater professional success. But perhaps as important or more so, businesses will use ProdBOK as a foundation for improving product success rates and developing the people that will make that happen.

Why did you choose to contribute to the ProdBOK effort?

(Linda Merrick) This is where I’ve always wanted to be – at the heart of solving problems for people. I’ve been a product manager since 1985, and teaching product management since 1999. I want to contribute my hard-won experience to others who want to join in the fun, and the ProdBOK Guide enables me to reach a wider audience.

How do you think the development of a product management and marketing body of knowledge will impact academic acceptance of product management as a profession?

(Linda Merrick) Here’s the thing. What we call product management is the core of every company in the world: it’s managing the process of turning ideas into value for some group of consumers and for the company itself. My product management students who already have MBA’s have confirmed that they gained a lot from their MBA programs, but it all started to come together for them in my classes on product management. To be a professional, we need standards to measure against. With ProdBOK’s process as a basis for a standardized curriculum, there is now no reason why every MBA and BA program shouldn’t require a Product Management class, and offer a specialization in that area for those who want to become professional product managers.

Any final thoughts?

(Linda Merrick) Product management is by turns frustrating and exhausting, but also exhilarating, fun, and fulfilling. I think it’s the best career in the world, and it’s wonderful to see the ProdBOK Guide providing a great foundation for others to build their own careers.

Greg Geracie is the author of Take Charge Product Management©, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK), and the leader of this initiative. ProdBOK is an industry-wide effort to standardize the practice of product management sponsored by the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM).

ProdBOK is a registered trademark of AIPMM.

A Conversation with Author Johanna Rothman

One-on-One with Johanna Rothman on ProdBOK

One-on-One with Johanna Rothman  on ProdBOK

Part of the ProdBOK® Series

Today I’m joined by Johanna Rothman. Johanna is the author of seven books. You can learn more about Johanna and the Rothman Consulting Group here.

Johanna, thank you for joining me today. You’re very actively engaged in the product development community particularly at the intersection of Agile and project management. From your vantage, are there many organizations that have successfully adopted Agile? Are there common characteristics for those that succeeded?

Greg, thanks for having me. All kinds of organizations have adopted Agile, from the perspective of the kinds of products they create or the systems they create. What they have in common is their culture. They’re willing to be or become more transparent and to be open to learning. When I say transparent, I mean transparent in many more areas than we normally consider transparency: the entire budgeting process for projects, programs, and the project portfolio, and compensation for people and teams. When you really transition to Agile, it makes no sense to do yearly budgeting. It makes much less sense to do a yearly individual performance review. And, many of our Finance and HR folks have no idea how to transition to Agile. Well, too few of our technology managers do, so let’s not pick on Finance and HR!

Why do you think executives struggle in scaling Agile across their organizations? Do you think there is a natural upper limit where organizations should reconsider implementing Agile?

No. There are natural breaking points. I’m working on a blog post now that will be in my program management book.

For program teams, there are small programs of 1-3 teams, where you just need a few more people to get the work done. The next breaking point is 4-9 teams. That’s where many teams try to do Scrum-of-Scrums. And, S-o-S works if you have everyone collocated and you have no hardware. I have no clients like that. None. Other people do. That’s what I call medium-size program teams. When I call that medium-size program teams, people sometimes get nervous. “That’s not large?” they ask me. Nope. Not large at all.

A large program starts at 10 teams and goes up. That’s 10 technical teams. That’s because now you need networks of teams. A hierarchy will not work. Scrum-of-Scrums works in a hierarchy and does not scale. However, a network will scale. That’s one of the reasons people think there’s an upper limit.

Now, at some point, you wonder how can an architecture “just evolve.” Well, you still have to shepherd an architecture. It doesn’t just evolve. So you need communities of practice around architecture and testing. You need people responsible for the business value of the roadmap, the backlog, and the architecture. And, if you want to know that you have a product that works, you need continuous integration as often as you can make it happen.

For me, the larger the program, the more you need continuous integration. On the largest programs, I like either Kanban, where people integrate their features every day, or iterations no longer than two weeks. Otherwise, you’re, as we say in the industry, hosed.

With so many challenges facing businesses today, how important is the product owner role?

The larger the program, the more critical the product owner role. In fact, for programs, I see a need for a program product owner role, where that person shepherds the business value of the roadmap and program backlog. It’s really a problem, because the projects have all the value in their backlogs. How do you know when to end the program? When there is no more value in the roadmap. It’s a critical role.

Do you think The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge will help organizations recognize the importance of the product owner role and overcome some of the challenges we have discussed?

I think so. As long as ProdBOK helps people to think, that’s what’s really important. I’m big on helping people to think critically. If they do that, I’m happy.

Why did you choose to participate in the ProdBOK project? 

You asked. And, aside from that, product management and product marketing are critically important functional partners to project management, which is one of my areas of expertise. I wanted to make sure you had access to my experience and help in whatever way I could – I was happy to help.

Greg Geracie is the author of Take Charge Product Management©, the Editor-in-Chief of the Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK), and the leader of this initiative. ProdBOK is an industry-wide effort to standardize the practice of product management sponsored by the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM). 

ProdBOK is a registered trademark of AIPMM.

A Conversation With Jeff Lash on Product Management Blogging and ProdBOK®

Jeff Lash on Product Management Blogging and ProdBOK

Jeff Lash on Product Management Blogging and ProdBOK

Part of the ProdBOK® Series

I’m joined today by Jeff Lash. We’ll be discussing the history of product management blogging, ProdBOK, and Jeff’s thoughts on the current trends.

First of all Jeff, thanks for joining me today.

Let’s begin by talking about the evolution that has taken place in the product management blogging community. How have things changed since you first started blogging?

(Jeff Lash) I started my product management blog in 2006, so a lot has changed. Back then, there weren’t many product management blogs, and there were fewer blogs in general. There were a lot fewer places online to get and share information on product management, and fewer opportunities to connect online with others in product management. Twitter had just launched in 2006 but few people had heard of it. Now, there are so many more product management blogs, and all sorts of other forums for product management discussion – places like LinkedIn Groups and Quora. It’s so much easier to contact other people in product management and share ideas, there’s just a lot more information out there.

What do you see as the current trends, challenges, or subjects that your followers are most interested in?

(Jeff Lash) In some ways, the topics of interest haven’t changed much. A post I wrote in 2007 on product management versus project management is still one of the most popular pieces on my site, even now in 2013, and same goes for some other posts that are a few years old.

One thing that has changed is that product management is getting a lot more attention, and a lot more people are interested in becoming product managers than even just a few years ago. You now see product managers profiled and interviewed in mainstream publications. You see companies really starting to recognize the importance of the role and growing their product management staff considerably.

So, many of my readers and followers are not product managers, but they’re looking for tips on how to break into the field. There are also a lot of people new to the role, and they’re looking for some practical tips and suggestions to help them succeed. There are also some broader trends – like more subscription-based products and more companies adopting Agile product development processes – which product managers are interested in, because that changes the way they approach product management.

How do you think the new ProdBOK guide will help address some of these challenges or trends?

(Jeff Lash) Product management as a profession is still fairly young. Certainly compared to things like medicine or law, we’re just in our infancy – even when you look at other business roles like marketing and accounting, product management is very young by comparison. While there are a lot of things that product managers have learned over the years, there’s a lot still left to be learned, and things are changing, so resources like the ProdBOK can be useful for helping to establish a base set of knowledge for product management.

There are also only a few formal degrees or programs, and most people in product management haven’t been through those programs, so they end up having to learn on the job, and often only by making mistakes. In medicine there’s this idea of “see one, do one, teach one” which is describing the way many physicians learn and then teach others. In product management, it’s often just “do one” because there’s no one to watch and no time to teach. Anything that can help with this challenge will be useful. Also having a formal body of knowledge also helps legitimize the role – and among other things that might lead to more university programs and more study of the field. At the very least, you might be able to spend less time trying to explain to your friends and relatives what you do for a living!

Why did you choose to participate in the ProdBOK project?

(Jeff Lash) My Twitter headline reads, in part “Passionate about making successful products and making product managers successful.” I truly enjoy the process of creating a successful product and helping others do it successfully. So, to me, this was just another natural way to continue that work. When I started my involvement with the ProdBOK, my involvement with it – much like my blogging – was a side project, an “extracurricular” in a way, alongside my day job in a product management role. Now, in my role at SiriusDecisions, I do research into best practices and advise B-to-B companies on how to improve their product management, so I’m doing this sort of thing all day every day, and I’m proud to have been a contributor to the development of the body of knowledge.

Any final thoughts you would like to share?

(Jeff Lash) There’s a quote by the writer John Donne that most people have probably heard before: “No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine.” (It’s from the 1600s, hence the different grammar, but you get the idea.) I’ve thought for a long time that this applies product management. A lot of product managers feel alone, like an island, adrift in the sea of marketers and engineers and salespeople. Without training or education in product management, and possibly without a team of other product managers to turn to, they see themselves as completely alone in trying to navigate the challenges of product management.

But there are lots of places to turn to, and I’d encourage people to seek out these resources. By reading this blog post, you’re already on a great start! Join a LinkedIn Group, start using Twitter, attend a ProductCamp, join your local product management association – there are tons of ways to get involved and learn from your peers.

No product manager is an island; every product manager is a piece of the broader product management community.

You can learn more about Jeff and his blog by clicking here.

Greg Geracie is the author of Take Charge Product Management©, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK), and the leader of this initiative. ProdBOK is an industry-wide effort to standardize the practice of product management sponsored by the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM).

The ProdBOK mark is a registered trademark of AIPMM.

Richard Larson of Watermark Learning on ProdBOK, Business Analysis and Product Ownership

ProdBOK, Business Analysis and the Product Owner Role

ProdBOK, Business Analysis and the Product Owner Role

Part of the ProdBok® Series

Today I’m joined by Richard Larson the President of Watermark Learning. Rich is a well regarded thought leader in the business analyst community.

Rich you’re very actively involved in the Business Analyst (BA) community, as you look across the BA profession where do you see it headed?

(Richard Larson) The BA profession is still evolving. The trend our company is seeing is one of the BA playing a dual role. The first is the traditional one that involves eliciting and documenting requirements. That is still a needed and valuable role on projects, no matter what the methodology. The other role is that of a management consultant, advising and making recommendations to business leaders and decision-makers. Examples of this include creating a business case, guidance in prioritizing requirements on a product backlog, and assessing a system’s value and recommending replacement.

Do you encounter a lot of confusion between the business analyst role and the product manager role? If so, where is this most likely to occur?

(Richard Larson) The second role, which we just touched on, is one that might be a possible overlap. If the BA is acting as a consultant, that role can include devising new products. However, the product manager as we see it, represents the business and the BA complements that role with a systems or IT perspective. A business case for a new product should be “owned” by the business, but much of the analytical work can be accomplished by a BA.

How do you think the ProdBOK will help address these challenges?

(Richard Larson) My opinion here is that ProdBOK will help establish clearer boundaries between the BA and product owner. In the case of requirements definition, the BA may be responsible for eliciting, specifying, and documenting them. But, depending on the organizational structure, the product manager may be the person accountable for those requirements. Also, an aligning of terms and language between the ProdBOK, BABOK, and PMBOK would help the industry. IIBA and PMI worked to align the BOKs, and there is still work to be done there. Perhaps the ProdBOK could be aligned with the other two.

Do you think product development leads should encourage a tighter working relationship between business analysts and product managers?

(Richard Larson) Yes, and I’d add to that a closer relationship with the project manager as well. All three roles fulfill a different purpose and all three are critical for success.

Any final thoughts?

(Richard Larson) To repeat a thought, the product manager and BA roles complement each other. The business area that is responsible for a product “owns” it, including the business case, the product deliverables, and the business benefits accrued by a project. The BA plays an advisor role, analyzing business needs and recommending solutions. The basic relationship of business owner and BA advisor extends to any methodology or framework.

A current issue in our industry pertains to the roles on Agile projects. Some are of the opinion that the BA has no role on Agile projects, and some say the BA should play the role of product owner. We at Watermark Learning think that the product manager should play the product owner role, not the BA. As stated above, the BA adds value through the advisor role, grooming the product backlog, and analyzing and recommending solution options. The product manager is the decision-maker in the end, not the BA.

For more information about Watermark Learning, please visit

Greg Geracie is the author of Take Charge Product Management©, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK), and the leader of this initiative. ProdBOK is an industry-wide effort to standardize the practice of product management sponsored by the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM).

ProdBOK is a registered trademark of AIPMM.

One-on-One with Greg Cohen Author of Agile Excellence for Product Managers

Greg Cohen on Agile, Lean and ProdBOK

Greg Cohen on Agile, Lean, and ProdBOK

Part of the ProdBOK® Series

Today it’s my pleasure to be joined by Greg Cohen, the author of “Agile Excellence for Product Managers” and “Lean Product Management”.

Greg, thank you for joining me today.

I would like to begin by focusing in on Lean. Is there only one version of Lean product development today? 

(Greg Cohen) Lean is a bit like Agile, it refers to a set of principles that many different methodologies and frameworks embody and as it gains traction more teams will be claiming to do it than actually are! At least that’s been my experience with Agile.

I was first introduced to the idea of applying Lean principles to software development through the writings of Mary and Tom Poppendeick. But I think two of the most exciting developments in the field are David Anderson’s Kanban method and Allan Shalloway’s Lean-Agile methods.

Agile was revolutionary for improving the throughput, quality, and flexibility of development teams. Regrettably, many teams stopped there. Teams are measuring their success by output rather than solving customer and business needs. Lack of product management leadership is partly to blame for the current situation. Lean looks to optimize the entire value stream and can be applied from concept to market demand. But product management needs to fully engage for it to succeed.

As you look across the market, do you see an evolution taking place in terms of Agile adoption? If so, what is it that you see?

(Greg Cohen) I definitely think we have hit the inflection point where Agile methods have earned legitimacy and have gone mainstream. Still, there is wide variation in their application. Further, distributed teams present another challenge that early Agile teams did not need to contend with. In that sense, best practices continue to emerge.

What excites me is that the role of product management is finally being recognized as important. There are two books that I know of that focus on Agile and product management. The first is Roman Pichler’s “Agile Product Management with Scrum” and my book “Agile Excellence for Product Managers.” Both of these books were released in early 2010, nine years after Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle published their groundbreaking book “Agile Software Development with Scrum.” That’s a long time and product managers still have a lot to learn on how to best leverage Agile development for product success and competitive advantage.

Regardless of methodology used there are certainly a lot of challenges that product managers face today. How do you think the new ProdBOK will help today’s product managers overcome these challenges?

(Greg Cohen) Greg, if it’s all right, I’d like to tie back in with the Agile discussion we’ve been having. Engineering teams that have mastered Agile development can produce a lot of high quality code in a relatively short amount of time. The bottleneck has shifted. It’s no longer development; it’s product management. And when teams are working on cycle times of a couple of weeks to a few months, it’s very obvious when product management has not adequately understood the need or the business case.

I think the ProdBOK is the start of a much larger on-going effort to continuously codify product management best practices so they can be broadly understood, implemented, and improved upon. ProdBOK is very good at defining what product management is. That has to then be supplemented with other resources, such as your book “Take Charge Product Management”, to learn the how of the profession.

Why did you choose to contribute to the ProdBOK project? 

(Greg Cohen) Product management as a discipline is still very immature. The joke has always been that no one ever went to school to become a product manager. You can get degrees in marketing, sales management, development management, but not product management. When I first heard about the ProdBOK, I immediately recognized the value to create an international standard to guide our profession, much as PMBOK has for the field of project management and BABOK has for the discipline of business analysis.

Any final thoughts Greg? 

(Greg Cohen) In my ebook “Lean Product Management”, I look at how Lean principles apply directly to product management. I look at three factors that the product manager can directly influence: product-market fit, time to market, and costs. Every decision we make has to be considered against these three factors. Sometimes, we can improve product-market fit, while reducing time to market, and lowering costs. Other times, we can only improve one at the cost of the other two. These decisions require a deep understanding of the market need and business environment, and this is why product management is such a challenging job.

Fortunately, companies are both recognizing how difficult the role of product management is as well as the value that strong product management can deliver. The ProdBOK is a key piece in the evolution of our field and ensuring product management teams can deliver. I’m grateful to you for your efforts to pull the ProdBOK together because as challenging as the role can be, I can’t think of a better time in history to be a product manager.

Greg Geracie is the author of Take Charge Product Management©, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK), and the leader of this initiative. ProdBOK is an industry-wide effort to standardize the practice of product management sponsored by the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM).

ProdBOK is a registered trademark of AIPMM.

What’s the Difference Between a Project Manager and a Product Manager?

Two Sides of the Same Coin - Collaborating to Create Value

Two Sides of the Same Coin – Collaborating to Create Value

Several weeks ago Steven and I, along with David Heidt IIBA Chicagoland chapter president, were presenting to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Chicago chapter. After our presentation our hosts collected the questions that we were not able to address as the clock ran out. The question that was on everyone’s mind was “what is the difference between a project manager and a product manager?”

To understand the difference between the roles we need to look closely at two things. First, we need to understand the phases of the product management lifecycle.* We can then highlight the difference between these two critically important roles. So let’s start with the product management lifecycle.

Imagine for a moment a horizontal plane that has seven phases shoulder to shoulder. The seven phases are Conceive, Plan, Develop, Qualify, Launch, Deliver and Retire. All products universally, and without exception, move through each of these phases sequentially. The only difference is the amount of time it takes to move from one phase to the next.

With an understanding of the product management lifecycle in hand we can then look at the specific roles of project and product managers. Product managers are responsible for optimizing results throughout the entire product management lifecycle. In other words, to optimize the creation and maintenance of VALUE throughout each unique phase of the lifecycle.

This is different than project management where, rather than staying with the product from conception to ultimate retirement, project managers typically are involved from the Plan Phase of the product management lifecycle to the Launch Phase where they roll off and take part in the next project. |

Another way of thinking about this is to say that project managers have a defined span of vertical leadership (working closely with the product manager or owner) for a specific length of time (the project) with a focus on effectively managing the scope, schedule, and cost of the project. While product managers focus on optimizing the VALUE of the effort and lead horizontal activities (e.g. throughout the product management lifecycle).

Both of these roles enhance each other and the effectiveness of the overall product development team and are in fact separate and distinct functional roles with different focuses and objectives. However, the more tightly these two roles can be aligned around VALUE the more success the product development team and ultimately the product and the organization will enjoy. It’s important to point out that while effective collaboration between these two roles drives tremendous organizational benefit these two roles should not be co-mingled as this creates a conflict of interest.

You can learn more about how to effectively drive collaboration between these two roles and improve organizational effectiveness in our popular training course Creating Value Through Collaboration. This course was jointly developed with Lee Lambert of the Lambert Consulting Group and offered regularly by Actuation Consulting and the Association of International Product Marketing and Management. The course offers 16 PDU’s.

* See page two for an illustration of the product management  lifecycle

Let Your Voice Be Heard! Participate in The Study of Product Team Performance, 2013

Participate in this year's annual study and let your voice be heard!

Participate in this year’s annual study and let your voice be heard!

The survey is open from January 15th through March 3rd.

Each year Actuation Consulting and Enterprise Agility undertake a global study of product team performance. This is the second year of our study and the amount of industry interest and participation continues to increase. Let me give you an example.

This year we doubled the amount of professional associations, vendors, and promotional partners supporting the survey.

The study is designed to closely examine the factors the improve or impede product team performance. Undertaking a study of this nature requires that we work hard all year round to develop a wide array of relationships that help support the goals of the study.

This year our sponsors include:

- The Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM)

- The International Institute of Business Analysis’s Chicagoland Chapter (IIBA)

- The International Project Management Association (IPMA)

- The Product Development and Management Association’s Chicagoland Chapter (PDMA)

- And Planbox (a provider of Agile project management software)

In addition to our sponsors, we also enjoy the support of a wide variety of promotional partners. These include: the Chicago Product Management Association and PCamp, Global Product Management Talk, Lee Lambert of the Lambert Consulting Group, Orange County Product Managers, the Project Management Institute’s Chicago Chapter, the ProjectTimes, Product Management Talk, the Silicon Valley Product Management Association (SVPMA), the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), and the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA).

As you can see our ever expanding list of partners encompass product management, project and program management, user experience, business analysts, development managers and engineers. Wait a second, where do you cover development managers and engineers you ask?

We’re fortunate to have added Ron Lichty co-author of Managing the Unmanageable as the newest co-author of our study. Ron joins author Steven Starke, David Heidt, and I as the primary drivers of the study. Since joining our team, Ron has been working to ensure active participation from engineers and development managers. I want to take this moment to publicly welcome Ron!

So, as we enter our second year of conducting this study we now have all the core roles covered and we anticipate increasing last years level of participation significantly. Please take a moment and share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you and learn more about the effectiveness of your product team!

You can take the survey today by clicking here. The survey is open through March 3rd.

The study findings will be made widely available through all of our sponsors and promotional partners and at Actuation Consulting’s website. You can download a free copy of last years findings by clicking here.