This week, I had the opportunity to speak in the Agile Practitioners 2013 conference. The topic of the talk was Product Roadmap, Planning and Launch in an Agile Environment.
The talk was around approaches to modern product management, and specifically considerations due to agile methodologies and short product release cycles.
Fundamentally, old-style product management assumed software releases are done infrequently, something along the lines of this diagram:
Whereas modern product cycles rely on shorter cycles, something along the lines of this diagram:
The assumption in modern approaches is that the road to good software is shorter when making smaller steps and frequent turns than when making large steps and more radical turns. (This is geometrically true in the diagrams…)
Old-style product cycles consisted of three main steps: planning (negotiation, prioritization, scheduling), development (design, coding, testing) and launch (alpha/beta, release, outbound marketing). The main question I was trying to tackle in the talk was how the corresponding activities map to product cycles with frequent releases.
On a side note, some organizations use old-style product cycles (infrequent software releases) while using “agile development” techniques internally (that is, frequent internal releases). While perhaps better than nothing at all, this approach misses—in my mind—much of the benefit in agile software development. In the end of the day, the biggest benefit is adapting to customer feedback, and without the software reaching real customers, value diminishes.
The areas I was trying to tackle in the talk were:
- How does planning occur in an environment when there’s no defined period for planning (“beginning of the release”)? When the working assumption is that many of the details (and associated effort) will be revealed during the development process. And, how do roadmaps look in such an environment?
- How do product launches occur in an environment when there’s no defined period for launch, but—instead—software is ready in chunks? How and when does customer feedback get incorporated into the cycle?
- How does one integrate new approaches and opportunities brought about by agile development? Mostly, agile approaches facilitate experimentation through proof-of-concepts and such (with various variants such as MVP, MSP, and lean).
Here are some of the practices we’ve come to follow over the years: