Product Management is a core and indispensable element of Agile Development in any Scaling Framework. It needs to ensure the creation of products or solutions to completely meet the needs of the end users.
In order for this to be successful, a tremendous amount of work and individuals are required to collaborate tirelessly and effectively, to deliver complex products. Supporting the work of the Product Managers are Product Owners who assist in planning, discussing, and refining the work that needs to be done. In this article, we will dive deeper into understanding the role of the Product Manager and Product Owner in SAFe, how their work benefits an entire organization, and how having a value-oriented approach helps them achieve their goals.
What is Product Management
Product Management is the voice of the organizational and the customer-centric requirements, that need to be in line with the vision and strategy. The ability to interpret what the customer needs into understandable slices of valuable deliverables is the forte of a product manager. Rather than viewing a problem as a business opportunity, Product Managers have a more technical and solution-oriented approach. At the heart of Product Management, lies a huge amount of collaboration, context switching, discussions, refinement, and plans, not just with the end user or customer but with the teams working tirelessly behind the scenes to make the product a reality. This is a challenging position where product managers have to maintain a language that is commensurate to understanding what the customer wants and at the same time, being able to flawlessly communicate trade-offs and finances with highly technical and specialized people responsible for building the product.
Of course, this would not be possible without having excellent communication skills. An absolutely necessary element of a Product Manager is to have a customer-centric mindset, that is open to empathizing with the end users and understanding their requirements at a very deep level whilst keeping the organization’s interests in mind as well. It is all about striking that sweet spot and maintaining that balance.
Product Management in SAFe
Below you will find key roles, with which the Product Management in SAFe interacts and acts as a centerpiece of collaboration and continuous communication between business and delivery.
- System Architect and Release Train Engineer: Product Management is instrumental in guiding the system architect and Release Train Engineer in the overall delivery of the outcome
- Business Owners, Customers, and Solution Management: This collaboration aims to obtain a better and clearer understanding of what needs to be made with the help of establishing the vision, current trends in the market, and economic outcomes that need to be understood.
- Product Owners: Frequent collaborations allow the Product Management to better understand the capability and the current progress of the teams
The product management works with other product owners of the other agile teams to identify any impediments and to implement any improvement that would guide the teams towards developing better products.
The Artifacts produced as a result of the Product Management’s efforts are:
- Product Strategy
- Business Strategy
- Objectives Key Results (OKR)
- Timelines and a Roadmap
- Portfolio Epics and Features
- Program (ART) Backlog
What is a Product Owner in SAFe
A Product Owner in the Scaled Agile Framework works with the product manager to maintain the overall agility and vision of the products and the development teams. Their primary focus is providing value for the development teams and looking out for their interests and being the team’s source of information about the customer. The level of the product owners’ interactions with the customer, may or may not be as in-depth as the product management. It can be to a level that is sufficient to clarify queries for the development teams regarding the customer’s specific requirements.
The Product Owner attends the PI Planning session and plans the sprints with the scrum master to set the dates for each iteration in the PI. The product owner is the ultimate authority for the Team Backlog as they collaborate with the product management in creating user stories, aligning them to the vision, and setting their priority. With the requirements in hand, a product owner has to incorporate and communicate these items to the agile team in the form of the prioritized Team Backlog and then ensure that these items are being built the way they should be.
The key responsibility of a Product Owner is to spearhead the constant refinement that needs to be done by the teams. Refinement is an ongoing process that includes:
- Clarification of ambiguous requirements where each feature or user story is complete with all the requirements and maintains technical integrity
- An estimation of the amount of effort
- A prioritized list of work items that gives a clear picture of which features need to be addressed first and, thus which features need to have more effort put in
- Collaboration between business and multiple technical stakeholders that will in turn assist with the prioritized backlog. Product Owners convey the importance of the items that need to be developed and are present to provide any guidance or to answer any queries raised against the requirements
Both of the roles are entirely independent and are free of hierarchies. A Product Manager’s knowledge spans an enormous scope that encompasses interactions and negotiations with individuals belonging to various business entities. This is then communicated to the Product Owners who dissect the information further with the development teams. We have learned that a Product Manager hails from a strong business background while the Product Owner belongs to a more technical background or at the lowest, detailed level to be able to communicate effectively to the team.
A foundational aspect to understand and to always keep a check on is that both roles are focused on providing consistent value. In the case of the Product Manager, their focus is to provide value to the customer while the product owner has to be of value to the development team, their interests are being heard, and the team backlog is regularly prioritized and kept up to date. This value-oriented approach needs to be reflected in all the work being done and understanding this concept can greatly help in activities like refinement and tracking of the work that needs to be done.