Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love
By Roman Pichler. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, 2010. 132 + xxv pages.
“Agile Product Management with Scrum” is a book about how to be successful in creating products that customers love with Scrum, an established Agile method. It is written in accordance with the basic elements of the Scrum process by Roman Pichler, a well-known Agile practitioner and a certified Scrum trainer.
Chapter 1, Understanding the Product Owner Role, explores the role of the product owner when implementing projects with Scrum, explaining its definition and the owner’s authority and responsibility. The comparison is made between the product owner and a traditional product manager or project manager.
What are the desirable characteristics of a product owner? Choosing the right one is crucial to the project success. In this chapter, 10 characteristics are found to be essential, including visionary, leader, team player, communication, negotiator, empowered, committed, available and qualified.
In the section titled Scaling the Product Owner Role, the author explains the work by using two hierarchies of product wwner—simple and complex projects. Each hierarchy has its own chief product owner. The level of specialization increases as the project becomes more complex. Two basic types of teams for larger projects are recommended: feature teams for themes or features, and component teams for creating a component or subsystems.
Chapter 2 discusses what role the product vision should play. In general, product success is said to depend heavily upon these envisioning techniques. The author teaches the reader about what must be considered when creating the vision as follows:
Desirable qualities of the vision;
The minimal marketable products;
Customer needs and product attributes.
The section Techniques for Creating the Vision provides the reader with techniques, such as prototypes and mock-ups, personas and scenarios, use cases and user stories, sequences and storyboards, vision boxes and reviews, and the Kano model.
Finally, the last section of the chapter, Visioning and the Product Road Map, describes the importance of the Scrum team to create a product road map. Especially when the product is completed and introduced into the market, the road map allows the Scrum team to assess the product evolvement relative to market trends and to update the product version, if necessary.
It seems a difference between the standard new product development (NPD) process and an Agile development process with Scrum are the many unfamiliar words. For example, product backlog may be a new term for NPD. In Chapter 3, Working with the Product Backlog, the author discusses the essence and techniques for grooming it. In a nutshell, product backlog is a prioritized list of the outstanding work necessary to bring the product to life, and it has four qualities, the author calls “DEEP,” as follows:
Also important is to discover, describe and structure the product backlog items. Moreover, how a team can prioritize backlog items is a challenge for every product manager. In the section called Prioritizing the Product Backlog, the author introduces key factors to be considered when prioritizing these items, such as values, knowledge, uncertainty, releasability and dependency.
In chapter 4, Planning the Release, the reader can learn the essence of release planning concepts and techniques. Release planning takes place throughout the project. By releasing product increments to target customers early and frequently, the team can gain valuable feedback. Furthermore, in doing so, developers can avoid the risk of progressing bad projects much earlier in the process.
The chapter starts with the section titled Time, Cost, and Functionality, taking examples from the case of Salesforce.com, where it successfully reduced the product release cycle time from 12 months to just four months by adapting the Scrum process. This also led the company to making quicker and easier decisions in planning for the next release.
When explaining early and frequent releases and quarterly cycles, the author cites the interesting example of Google Chrome’s development. Throughout this chapter, there are also some unfamiliar words the reader may encounter, which are primarily used in the world of software development. Velocity, for example, is an indication of how much work the team can do in a release burndown. These two terms are closely connected with the sprint, which is described in detail in the book’s next chapter.
Chapter 5, Collaborating in the Sprint Meetings, describes in detail the role of the product owner in the sprint meetings. In this chapter, the main focuses of product owner’s roles of sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint review and sprint retrospective are described.
In the final chapter, Transitioning to the Product Owner Role, the author explains the changes that a product owner will encounter when transitioning into the role and while adapting to the culture of Scrum. The first section of this chapter, Becoming a great Product Owner, cites five steps:
Develop and grow;
Get a coach’
Ensure that you have sponsorship from the right level; and
You are not done yet.
The next section of the chapter, Developing Great Product Owners, cites four rules a development leader or manager should follow when implementing Scrum. These are:
Recognize the importance of the role;
Select the right product owners;
Empower and support the product owners; and
Sustain the application of the product owner role.
Whether it is a software development, auto maker or a consumer goods company, it is the role of senior management that can make the transition into the Agile environment with Scrum easy and effective.
My conclusion is that “Agile Product Development with Scrum” offers some very useful features that make it easy for readers to acquire the basics of Scrum. For example, every chapter includes a section titled Common Mistakes, whereby the author introduces common mistakes to watch out for, and Reflection, where readers are presented with several questions, enabling them to review what they read and to learn the key points.
Finally, this book is fairly short at just 130 pages and presents the concepts in a concise way. Readership can range from novice Agile developers to those who hope to be certified as a Scrum professional and/or related professionals. This is recommended reading for NPD professionals who should hone their knowledge and want to adapt to the rapidly changing business environments.