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4 Key Agile Activities for Product Managers.


As Product Managers, most of us are now using Agile development to deliver our products. The concept that sold Agile to company leaders years ago was mostly the benefit of it not being necessary to wait for long release cycles to get new features out to our customers.

In reality, even after Agile has been mainstream in most companies for years, many products are being delivered today in a hybrid Agile / Waterfall delivery method.

The hybrid model generally has engineering split up into scrum teams that work in 2 week sprints and make a build every 14 days. However, it is rare that software companies are in fact shipping builds to customers every 14 days. Cloud hosted products are more likely to be updated every sprint. Otherwise, software releases are made up of multiple sprints with a development cycle of 3 to 6 months.

The same hybrid model fits customers well, as they need to allocate time and resources when an upgrade is needed.Many customers are not able to sustaining updating their software every 2 weeks. It takes planning and it takes process for any type of customers to put a new build into production.

Since as Product Managers, we need all sprints to be done before we can move to the launch activities, it is tempting to leave the Agile part of software delivery completely up to the engineering team, but there are a few key Agile concepts that you as the Product Manager can make sure you are doing to ensure your products are successful.

1. Get ahead of the sprints. All user stories need to be written, reviewed, scoped, have applicable UI spec included and be ready to go before the engineering team start working on them. Ensure you agree on a *definition of done* for each user story and make sure each user story meets that *definition of done* before the user story is seen by the engineer working on it.

2. Run your high-level user stories by your customers. As you write your user stories, make sure that before the engineering team start to scope the work for it, you have brought real world feedback into the user story from people that are going to use the feature. Customers can validate and provide feedback on a feature well before the engineering team starts working on it.

3. Bring your customers into the delivery process early and often. Once the engineering team starts demoing a feature, have a handful of customers that want the feature ready to see the feature take shape. If you are not delivering quite what the customer needs, it is better to find out before the feature is finished than to go back and change it later. Include customers in feature demos as the feature is built, and make any minor corrections to the feature if necessary whilst the engineers are still working on it.

4. Be Agile with your beta program. At large companies, you will have a whole beta program department to take care of getting your product into beta. If you are at a smaller company, then as the Product Manager, you can do a lot to ensure your beta program is successful. Make sure you contact your customers well before the beta program will start, as often customers need to ensure they can allocated time to your beta, and can't do it at the drop of a hat. Giving them two to four weeks notice, or more will ensure your customers give feedback as soon as possible after your beta program starts. Once the beta program starts, if your engineering team is delivering in 2-week sprints, facilitate the delivery of every build to your beta community. This will encourage customers to keep their attention on your beta program, and will ensure that your releases are quality tested with each set of changes that are made.


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