Just getting back into the swing of things after re-charging the batteries a bit on vacation, and came across an article from CMO.com titled Why CMOs Should Care About The Rise Of Product Management that struck a chord and challenged me this morning.

It’s an interesting read, although a bit more oriented towards digital strategy and consumer brand than the world I live in. Nonetheless, several comments from Andrew Barr Brunger (former exec for Coach and Citibank) especially caught my attention …

  • “Where should we be in nine to 18 months’ time to stay relevant and competitive?”–is getting less attention in the agile-driven product management organization of today than we might think.”
  • In discussing the Agile process within an airline example he states … “Important as these improvements are to the overall pleasure and utility of the flying experience for the consumer, the focus remains tactical. Strategic positioning of both the airline brand and its product rarely is the imperative.”
  • “While a product management team works against a detailed and solid road map of improvements, if no long–term strategic vision for the brand online has been defined, will the focus on incremental-experience optimization win consumers today, but lose them tomorrow?”

To challenge the premise that organizations should be Agile would almost be bordering on heresy these days, wouldn’t it?  Who wouldn’t agree with the premises being put forth in the Agile Manifesto?

• Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
• Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation
• Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation, and
• Responding to Change over Following a Plan

As I look back over the past 10 years or so, the answer unfortunately isn’t as simple as it would first appear. In my opinion, any disciple can learn from the principles inherent in Agile.  I recall reading an article from Steve Johnson a while ago that outlined the need to be responsive to changing needs within the organization … I couldn’t agree more. The pace at which things change these days necessitates nothing less.

BUT … as Mr. Brunger points out, if you consistently take a needs-driven approach at the expense of being strategically-driven, you run the risk of becoming tactically focused and losing sight of the big picture.

I have found truth to this principle in my day-to-day role as a product management leader, and especially when I led product marketing for a division of a previous employer. There were a dozen or so products, each having varying degrees of needs including new presentations, new collateral pieces, new campaigns, etc. It was absolutely essential to take a step back and develop a ‘strategic-driven’ approach focusing on the division as a whole and the goal of re-capturing mind share as the leader in the industry. Taking a ‘needs-driven’ approach towards these very real tactical needs would have quickly buried me in the mire. And from my experience, this needs-driven abyss would exist within every organization if allowed.

I recall hearing another author speak about how implementing Agile doesn’t mean all other good product management (or product marketing) practices go out the window. There still needs to be an overall innovation and product management process. Again, to one of the points from Mr. Brunger, who is defining the long-term vision and strategy to ‘re-imagine’ how solutions should be positioned beyond merely the necessary consumer experience changes?

Ultimately, the efforts need to be a well orchestrated dance, consisting of a little bit of both give and take, multiple tactical steps aimed towards a broader movement, and a lot of collaboration by all parties involved.  But just like a well orchestrated dance, there is generally only one who takes the lead.