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Q&A: Agile Product Management Expert Roman Pichler

Roman Pichler
Roman Pichler is a Scrum and agile product management expert whose clients include Ebay, Electronic Arts, SalesForce and Siemens. He is just one of the many industry leaders set to speak at the flagship AOP Digital Publishing Summit on 14 October (book your place here.) What, from your experience are the major benefits for large companies adopting scrum and agile? My experience suggests that there are two underlying drivers for the adoption of Agile:
  • The hope for a better, healthier work environment and
  • The hope to make more money
More specifically, I have seen companies develop better, more attractive products, reduce time-to-market, increase product quality, improve productivity, and increase customer satisfaction and employee morale. The media companies I have worked with have benefitted from adoption agile by answering the following questions:
  • What is a product?
  • What value does the product create? Who does the product benefit and why?
  • Who is responsible for the success of the product? What does success mean?
  • Who manages the product across its lifecycle?
  • How does the product relate to our other products and offerings?
  • And who develops the product and how?
In my experience, adopting an agile way of working often creates a product awareness and a product focus. And that ‘s new for some of my media clients who lack dedicated product managers or as we would call them in an agile context, product owners. And what are the challenges and obstructions to adopting agile? What advice would you give to overcome these challenges? You have already mentioned the most important advice: Be aware that an agile adoption will bring up challenges that have to be overcome. It’s probably not going to be an easy, smooth ride but a rather exciting one. For virtually all my clients, becoming agile has meant change, often disruptive change. Agile is not a quick fix that can be implemented in a couple of months. Larger companies often require years to fully establish an agile way of working. Second, be aware that agility does not only impact development, engineering or IT. It also affects other parts of the business: marketing, product management, sales, service and functional managers. To succeed with an agile adoption, ask yourself why you want to become agile and be clear on your overarching goal. Then consider adopting an incremental approach: Change one product and one project at a time so you have plenty of opportunity to learn along the way. Note that adopting agile cannot be pre-planned in detail. It rather requires experimenting with the new way of working, thereby discovering what works well and what does not, and where the pain points and the challenges are. To succeed with an agile adoption, it’s helpful to find a senior management sponsor who champions the introduction of agile and helps remove impediments. What advice would you give to a media owner who, up to this point, hasn’t adopted Agile methods, and is still working using more traditional, or ‘waterfall’ methods? First of all, be clear on the reason for adopting an agile way of working. If, for instance, cost reduction is your primary goal then agile is not going to help you – at least not in the short run.  Additionally, the larger and the older the organisation, the harder and longer an agile adoption tends to be. Second, be aware that a method like Scrum is likely to introduce disruptive change. If that’s not what you need or what your organisation can afford and cope with, consider an incremental approach where you start with what you have and introduce one agile practice after another. Alternatively, look for a business unit that is only loosely coupled to the rest of the business and introduce agile there first. The biggest mistake you can make is to adopt agile because of the hype. It’s more important to understand ‘is it the right approach for my company’ and ‘how should I go about introducing agile’? Unfortunately, there is no cookie cutter solution, no template answer for the latter question. Can adopting these methodologies save big media companies money? Personally, I would not focus on cost reduction as the goal of an agile adoption. I would rather ask: How can agile help us create more value?  How can we do a better job for our customers and users? How can it help us deliver the right product with the right functionality? How can we deliver faster and launch products more frequently? While agile may save some money in the long run, it certainly will increase an organisation’s value-creating capability. And I feel the latter should be the primary goal of an agile adoption. What about for small/SME media owners/publishers? Smaller companies usually benefit quicker from an agile adoption simply because the adoption itself tends to be quicker. Particularly young companies seem to take to agile pretty easily. As an agile way of working fosters a close collaboration with customers and users, it can help a company discover and develop new, innovative products. You’re speaking at the AOP Summit on a panel about developing ‘products for profit’ – can you realistically expect revenue to be increased through your product department? I believe that product awareness, clear product ownership and an entrepreneurial approach to creating and managing products can results in higher profits. But that involves other parts of the business in addition to the product department. I find that creativity, innovation, and success are best achieved if Product Managers and developers closely collaborate, if they form a largely autonomous unit, and if they are truly in charge of their product. What, in your mind, is the secret to developing sustainable products that increase revenue? In mind there are two key factors: First, make sure that the product serves your customer and users; second, develop the product in a healthy, sustainable way. The first factor is best addressed by involving customers and users early and frequently in the product creation process. For instance, by using prototypes to get feedback on a new design or new features; leveraging review meetings to demo very early versions to selected customers and users; and by releasing alpha and beta versions to a larger group to understand if you are developing the right product with the right features. The second factor means paying attention to the quality of the product: Developing a product that can be easily extended and maintained in the future – rather than a quick and dirty solution that is brittle and requires a huge maintenance effort further down the line. But it also means providing a healthy, creative work environment for the work force – so that people enjoy working on the product and continue to do so for an extended period of time. This retains talent, ensures continuity, and avoids the loss of knowledge.

See Roman speak at the AOP Summit on 14 October, on the 'products for profit' panel, with Google, Facebook, Dennis and Pearson - early booker rates for the event end soon, so book now to avoid disappointment.

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