Now that I’m unpacked from Agile 2009 in Chicago, I wanted to share a few highlights from the conference:

[1]  Product Manager/Product Owner track.  On behalf of Enthiosys, I was proud to chair a new track this year for product manager/product owner topics and speakers, co-chaired by Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Marketing with able help from Scott Sehlhorst, Laureen Knudsen and Jennifer Fawcett.  This let us highlight growing discussion (and spark some energetic disagreements) about who-does-what in agile product management and product ownership, and the need to inject solid product strategy and serious business inputs into agile software development processes.  All 18 presentations are listed at bottom.  Here’s a link to my talk…

[2]  Increasing discussion of agile’s effects outside the narrow confines of the R&D organization, and the need to harness VP-level organizational thinking across functional groups to get the next increment of value.  Scott Gilbert, Enthiosys president, handed out early drafts of a white paper on Business Agility for input. His message is that business agility requires the harnessing of wisdom/skills across the entire company.  As agile scales up beyond a few development teams, and executives measure results in revenue terms, we need to promote whole-team cooperation across organizational silos like Marketing and Operations and Support; good governance and decision-making become even more crucial; market-sensing activities must be coordinated yet faster; and we can dramatically improve medium-term portfolio planning and roadmapping.  Download it: we’d appreciate your comments.

I’m encouraged that Agile thought leaders including Dean Leffingwell (Scaling Software Agility) and Jim Highsmith continue to shine a light on executive-level organizational issues, business metrics, and driving economic value well beyond the next software drop.  Successful tech products are always more than just software.

[3]  An emphasis on design and customer collaboration. In addition to a User Experience track and Luke/Lane’s “Beyond Features” workshop, Jared Spool gave a hilariously thrilling keynote on experience design, shared corporate vision, and the need to observe live customers frequently.  Jared showed us that great products and great companies are distinguished by their clarity about what real customers will want—and clear communication of their long-term vision.

For those of us who straddle the technical and business aspects of the business – wearing labels like Agile Product Manager – it’s a pleasure to hear these conversations increasingly often within a movement that’s primarily about software development…  a chance to refocus “concept to cash” conversations back to the actual generating of product concepts (long before the start of any technical work) and the literal cash from great Sales and Marketing execution (long after code leaves the lab).

Product Manager/Product Owner Track

On the hot topic of roles, skills and product strategy on agile teams, we had a range of viewpoints:

  • My talk on the Product Manager/Product Owner Dilemma
  • A panel discussion led by Steve Johnson and Laureen Knudsen (“Product Owner, Product Manager or Both?”)
  • Catherine Connor on “How Product Management Must Change to Enable the Agile Enterprise”
  • Simon Orrell’s “It’s Always Been the Problem!”
  • An unplanned presentation from Forrester’s Tom Grant on How Agile Changes Companies

And broader talks on PM/PO skills and experiences:

  • Mike Cohn on “Prioritizing Your Product Backlog”
  • Ronica Roth and Mark Kilby covering “How to Evolve a Product Backlog”
  • Bob Galen with tips on “Setting Agile-Centric Release Criteria”
  • Gerard Meszaros taking us “From Concept to Product Backlog – What Happens Before Iteration 0?”
  • Ken Howard discussing “Handling Non-Functional Requirements on an Agile Project”
  • Marie Kalliney’s experience “Transitioning from Agile Development to Enterprise Product Management Agility”
  • Niklas Bjornerstedt with “Strategies for replacing systems in agile projects”
  • Jesse Fewell’s experience with “Marriott’s Agile Turnaround”
  • Kevin Fisher and Arlen Bankston recounting “From Cradle to Sprint: Creating a Full-Lifecycle Request Pipeline at Nationwide”
  • Dan Rawsthorne on “Agile Metrics”

Plus several three-hour workshops:

  • Lane Halley and Luke Hohmann “Beyond features: How to listen to your customers and learn what they really need”
  • Todd Little and Kent McDonald with “Barely Sufficient Portfolio Management”
  • Marina Chiovetti and Julian Boot helping participants map value with “Build me the Money, Honey!”

Next year, I also look forward to talks that address this in blatant dollar terms, as in “here’s how much more money our company earned through business agility” and “why whole agile teams won us 50% market share and an extra $100M.”

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