Over the past year it's been fascinating to observe the rise of agile software delivery project management leaders shifting their focus from advocating agile software development to pushing for product-led transformation. Welcome!
It's a significant and positive change, but, as someone with decades of experience in product management, this shift is potentially fraught with peril because agile thought leaders are project managers, not product managers. Agile thought leaders may have have experienced success delivering products, but only with responsibility for delivery, not product leadership. - yet they are now purporting to speak knowledgeably about product management.
In this blog post, I aim to shed light on the potential pitfalls inherent in agile thought leaders crossing the bridge to become 'product leaders'.
Project Management vs. Product Management: A Key Distinction
Before delving into the risks, it is crucial to highlight the fundamental differences between project management and product management. Project management typically deals with a finite set of activities with a predetermined end goal. It is all about planning, organising, and managing resources to deliver a specific, one-off project.
On the other hand, product management is an ongoing process. It entails steering the development and success of a product or product line over its entire life cycle. The product manager's goal is not just to 'deliver' but to ensure that the product solves a market problem, fits the business strategy, and meets customers' needs.
“Product led companies optimise for business outcomes, and align their product strategy to these goals. To become product led-you need to take a look at the roles, the strategy, the process and the organisation itself” – Melissa Perri, The Build Trap
The Perils of Misguided Leadership
Now, let's dive into the risks. The first is the potential for misdirected strategies. Product-led transformation isn't just about delivering products faster or more efficiently. It's about instilling a culture that places the product and customer at the centre of every business decision. Agile methodologies can certainly be a part of this, but they're not the whole picture. An agile thought leader without a solid background in product management might focus too much on processes and not enough on the bigger strategic picture, leading to misaligned priorities.
Secondly, there is the risk of misunderstanding the role of a product manager. The PM is not just a project manager who ensures that a product gets delivered on time. A PM must also be a strategist, a marketer, a customer advocate, and a team leader. Without experience in these areas, agile leaders are susceptible to undervalue the broader responsibilities or miscommunicate their importance, leading to a diluted or misconstrued perception of the role.
Finally, there's a risk of fostering a project-based mindset in a role that should be product-oriented. As we've discussed, project management is about delivering a specific project, while product management is about owning a product over its entire lifecycle. If agile leaders approach product management with a project mindset, they are at risk of focusing too much on the short term and neglect the long term strategic growth of the product.
The shift towards a product-led approach is a positive one. It places the customer and the product at the centre of the business. However, organisations need to be wary of thought leaders who purport to be knowledgeable about product management without having the requisite experience.
Agile methodologies are an essential part of modern product development, but they don't replace the need for deep product management expertise. The success of a product-led transformation hinges on the experience, expertise, and vision of genuine product leaders.
Ask your advisor how many products they have personally led from inception through to product market fit - or did they just help lead the agile rituals on the way through.
At Propel, we believe that it’s time to start the journey to become product-led. But what does that really mean?
To become truly product-led, companies need empowered product teams, who are focused on and measured by outcomes rather than outputs. Propel is a strategic product development partner with the skills and capabilities to add empowered product teams to your company. These teams have the product, design and technical leadership required to ensure the right product is delivered, even if that ends up being a little different to what you initially expected or asked for.
Our team members will work collaboratively with you at every level, from creating a compelling product vision and developing a strong foundational strategy, to bringing this vision to life through product design, development and implementation.
Want to know more? Let’s talk.