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About Agile Product Managers, Owners, and Squad Leads

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About Agile Product Managers, Owners, and Squad Leads

See where, ideally, product managers, owners, and squad leaders fit together in an organization as well as what traits make them successful.

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Possibly some of the less-defined roles in the software delivery set of characters are the 'Product' people. When introducing Agile, that void of clarity plays a big part. I've seen organizations very successful with these characters and some less so. In all cases, it seems, it involved growing pains, staff changes, etc. It's very disruptive to product folks.

Not that the lives of developers or testers are any simpler, or the transformation less impactful. But it seems to me the transformation for the squad itself has the topic of focus for any brand adopting Agile methodology. Hence, the roles and responsibilities of 'product' people are of interest (to me).

Before I dive in, let's keep in mind not all organizations are equal, certainly not in size. While the squad would typically consist of 5-6 people, large organizations may have a squad lead, a product owner, and a product manager. But smaller ones may not have that luxury. One last comment: of course, this isn't science. Some folks will strongly disagree with me. That's ok!

Let's try a one-liner summary of roles, intentionally leaving the product owner last:

  • The product manager's responsibility is to define the business, vision, and strategy of the product (portfolio). Two examples: Accelerate feature X over Y because it will substantially create a positive business impact to the company; prioritize team focus/collaboration with customer X because it will create a huge win and displace competition.

  • The squad lead's responsibility is to deliver on the technical gap. They need to understand the gap from the practitioner(s) on the customer side, try to generalize it (if appropriate), and deliver, in stages, to the customer. They need to do it in high quality, quickly, and in a scalable and clean manner.

  • Now, the product owner: They are the glue. Naturally, they need to understand both sides. But they are responsible for the successful launch of the feature, from the design partner and early access stage all the way to full deployment/GA of the product. They need to track usage of the product, gaps, and struggles. They need to understand the product managers' vision and break it into the backlog.

Product Manager-Product Owner Roles (Image Attribute: Roman Pichler, Medium

Product Manager-Product Owner Roles (Image Attribute: Roman Pichler, Medium)

Why is this needed? Well, more often than not, it's unrealistic for the squad lead to interact with practitioners in multiple customers. They already manage 4-5 people, they need to deliver on the current sprint and plan the next one. It's very difficult to them to manage one early adopter program, not to mention several, not to mention the occasionally required travel. Not all squad leads have an interest in becoming customer-facing. By the same token, it's very difficult for product managers to go into the details of every feature, how it will be used, interact with multiple practitioners, etc. It really removes them from seeing the big picture.

Successful product owners are masters of relationships and details. They can talk to the engineering organization as well as to customers. They move things forward and they think five steps ahead. They are also very versatile: They move dynamically across the teams and provide support for the current features that need attention.

Making this trio work successfully across (typically) competitive A-players is not easy. But those organizations who grow successful product managers, owners, and squad leads to work as a team will benefit tremendously.

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agile adoption ,product management ,product owner ,agile

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