How to enable better Agile Product Management

Moving towards an agile approach introduces a new set of roles and titles as well as a new approach to development. There is no one agile definition. An agile approach is a philosophy with a set of methodologies that each development organization adopts and adapts to suit its own particular objectives, operational mode and circumstances.

In contrast with the traditional waterfall development approach, the bulk of customer contact, full requirements gathering and validation, and thorough design specification are not front loaded. An agile approach involves ongoing collaboration and communication with business user stakeholders, frequent iterations of release and delivery in sprints, managing known requirements (backlog of stories), identifying enhancements that bring value – all executed by self-managing teams under the guidance of a Product Owner.

It is important to distinguish between the roles of Product Manager and Product Owner. The Product Manager has always been outward looking, assessing market trajectories, seeking opportunities to make a product more saleable by adding specific functionality, focusing on the company’s medium term strategic objectives. The success of the Product Manager is determined by revenues.

By contrast, the Product Owner is mainly inward looking. The Product Owner is permanently attached to a development team or teams and is primarily interested in delivering sprints. That involves managing and scheduling the backlog of stories, shuffling resources, monitoring adherence to quality in all aspects of the lifecycle and ultimately delivering clean deliverables that fulfil users’ requirements.

In many smaller companies, the two roles become blurred. Most often, a Product Owner is the equivalent of the conventional business analyst role, extracting requirements from users, interpreting them in technical development terms and pumping them at the development teams to drive the construction process.

The Product Owner is very much aware of the product roadmap and vision but, in these conventional definitions of the roles, does not develop that roadmap and neither should they. However, in practice, many Product Owners attempt to bridge the gap by obtaining a comprehensive grasp of market requirements from knowledge of multiple customers and then educate their teams so that they have a deep appreciation of the commercial side as well as the functional.

It becomes more and more complex to meet the different needs of

  • describing user stories
  • defining acceptance criteria
  • monitoring the product strategy and aligning the priorities
  • prioritizing stories by value and complexity or effort at the same time. In an agile world we try to reduce time to market, obtained customer feedback then and deliver value continuously. This means the priorities can change after each iteration!
  • planning and communicating release scope and the product road map to all stakeholders
  • visualizing dependencies between stories and resolving them.

Now consider a complex product where multiple development teams are involved and the product backlog spans literally hundreds of user stories. It is hard not to lose the thread without a tool, which supports a flexible view of your backlog.

With all the above in mind, Agile User Story Map was created by a team of experienced Product Owners and Product Managers. Inspired by the story mapping concept of Jeff Patton and the idea of a product management canvas from Roman Pilcher, Agile User Story Map for JIRA makes the Product Owner’s job much easier:

User Stories can be written easily on virtual cards and related to epics to describe even larger scopes. Estimate Stories – Even though the smaller chunks of work that are the foundation of the agile approach do make estimating easier, getting estimates right can still pose problems. Calibration is one of the factors that can help to fine tune your estimates. This technique can be enabled relatively easily. read more…

Visualize Roadmap – Pulling a jumble of backlog stories into a coherent project and product roadmap used to be a tedious and time consuming task. Not any more. One of the key benefits of using a visual tool such as Agile User Story Map is the ease with which components can be organized and rearranged. read more…

Visualize Dependencies – A potential minefield for the Product Owner is cross-team dependencies on functionality that is delivered at different points in the project timeline. If these are not accurately identified and planned for, the result can be disastrous. The planning solution may be quite simple. read more…


The logistics of day to day management of the development cycle can push the needs of product management into the background for a typical Product Owner. If a Product Manager role exists in the organization then frequent liaison, communication and mapping the roadmap is required between the two and also with the development team(s). To successfully achieve this marriage of the different role functions, a specialist tool that tracks, maps, displays and communicates the constantly changing big picture is undoubtedly a time saving tool that improves productivity and prevents losing sight of pieces of the vital detail.