How Agile Product Management Can Improve Software Development

 Modern agile product management means driving continuous innovation, and it’s tough to get right. Here’s how our product management methodologies help.

What is product management? It’s a seemingly straightforward question, but it’s one that many people are still trying to figure out. In software development, product management as it exists today is often misunderstood or conflated with an older (and less effective) way of doing things.

Long gone are the days when software updates were released every few years (hello, Windows 95, 98, 2000) and centered on the idea of software as a series of projects that existed in one of only two states: “done” or “not done.” Unfortunately, while we know operating systems are updated all the time and we no longer buy our software in boxes on a shelf, many companies still operate on outdated principles and practices more aligned with antiquated ways of working. Today, this mentality leads to inflexible project plans and rigid requirement scopes, resulting in software that’s obsolete as soon as it’s released.

To adapt, modern development teams need to adopt a continuous mindset. They need ongoing innovation and execution to respond in order to rapidly changing market demands, and the continuous nature of product management makes that possible.

New Wave Product Management

So, then, what is product management in this modern context? Simply put, it’s the role within a development team that’s focused on driving continuous innovation, bringing that innovation to life by continuously working with customers, designers, and engineers, and ensuring that delivered products meet both user and business needs. The goal is to understand how to achieve product-market fit, retain competitive advantages, and proactively adapt and evolve to always-changing customer landscapes and market trends. And the world moves faster than ever, which makes this role more crucial than ever to ensure product survival.

Essentially, product managers act as mini strategic business advisors, enabling leaders and teams to make evidence-based product investment decisions throughout the product lifecycle. Product managers are responsible for overseeing the viability, feasibility, and usability of proposed solutions we build into software and ensuring the delivery of expected business outcomes, iterating until objectives are met. This makes it possible for product-led organizations to remain focused, adaptable, and profitable.

However, product management processes must play an integral role in the entire software development lifecycle to see this kind of impact from your product management efforts.

The Importance of Product Lifecycle Management

There’s always more work than teams will ever be able to get done and without product management, teams tend to bypass verifying whether a project is strategically advantageous to the business and the customer. Companies become feature factories, churning out endless features to appease the squeakiest wheel or highest-paid person’s opinion (the HiPPO problem).

Burning cash on features and products no one wants is the No.1 reason most startups fail. This approach adds bloat, complexity, and overhead without any promise of return.

In her book, “Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value,“ Melissa Perri writes: ”When companies do not understand their customers’ or users’ problems well, they cannot possibly define value for them. Instead of doing the work to learn this information about customers, they create a proxy that is easy to measure. ‘Value’ becomes the quantity of features that are delivered, and, as a result, the number of features shipped becomes the primary metric of success.”

Instead, decisions about what to build should be backed by solid evidence that a feature will likely deliver desired results, customers want it and can use it, and the business can maintain it over time. This process doesn’t stop when features reach end users’ hands. Often, features don’t deliver expected results right away and must be incrementally improved until they do, which happens at every product lifecycle stage.

Our Agile Product Management Strategy

Many product development teams have adopted agile development methodologies, but too often, the processes that precede their agile development still follow sluggish waterfall methods of approvals, planning, rigorous analysis, and requirements documentation.

At Synapse, we follow agile product management methodologies to set up products for success even before development phases. Our lightweight, adaptive discovery techniques can quickly uncover problems, ideate solutions, test solutions with real customers, and identify the best path forward in efficient learning cycles.

This type of modern agile product management is hard for many businesses to get right on their own. It requires dedication from leadership, supporting organizational design, and cultural practices that enable innovation and product-led orientation of the entire business operation. If that sounds like a lot of work to build from the ground up, you’re right. But you’re in luck: Synapse can help accelerate this.

We’ve been deploying rapid product development teams for our clients for years, bringing the necessary culture, roles, practices, and leadership to our clients’ businesses as a rapid innovation team.

This level of product management is typically reserved for only the most sophisticated, mature product teams after years of trial and error (ever heard of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works team?). But any business can bring these practices to their organization and see results right away by partnering with experienced product development teams at Synapse. What’s more, we can’t be successful alone. We coach, train, and bring our clients’ internal teams along the way to ensure they can continue to drive strong product management operations long into the future where it will always be needed.

To learn more, read about our product management services and get in touch.

Kim Stearns
Kim Stearns
Director of Product
Kim Stearns is the Director of Product Management at Synapse Studios. She oversees the product management and UX teams at Synapse Studios and has a passion for helping clients to build data-driven products that users love.

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