Lean Startup (LS) method for product management

Startups should not implement the practices common in existing companies because they are not not smaller version of large companies. The LS movement is aimed to establish appropriate practices for startups which are different from what MBA graduates learn in business schools. Thanks to Steve Blank who has articulated the philosophies and principles in his web, videos, books and others.

The Agile product owner (PO) is responsible on the product as well as the project because:

  1. She provides the product vision.
  2. She ensures development team involvement and understanding.
  3. She decides the features to be developed by the team at the start of every sprint.
  4. She is responsible on involving the users, securing their support and invites them on sprint reviews.

There are excellent works by many gurus on how the PO comes up with the features which bring the biggest bang for the buck. The “bang” is defined from customers’ view in terms of getting software which either cures certain pains they have or provides solutions for new gains they haven’t thought about. Sometimes this is called product vision. The “buck” is the cost of development and operational structure.

The PO, even if not in startup, is faced with similar challenges. The higher the risks, the higher the need to adopt similar practices of LS. The risks depend on the context. For example, while it’s can be obvious that new products inherent higher risks, however, in today’s competitive economy I found existing products face challenges for deciding the features with the technical debt they already carry.

Agile promotes Just-in-Time requirements which means decide on product features at the Last Responsible Moment (sprint planning meeting). This reduces the risk of non-validated assumptions by providing enough time for the PO to validate the product’s hypotheses.

The main activity of PO and product management (PM) in general is NOT creating backlog items but “searching” for the right features which the targeted customer truly wants. PO and PM are in search of business model for generating revenue stream based on “Product Market Fit”, which is the value proposition appreciated by customer segment.

LS method emphasizes “Get out of the building” ideal for continuous validation of the guesses of what we think the customer wants.

I have worked in a project as Scrum Master for a large non software company and they labeled the project as Agile. At sprint zero I found large Excel sheet of product backlog basically contained use cases and narrative documentation of requirements. The PO didn’t get the spirit of Agile product management, instead he has used the Agile terminology to disguise Waterfall. The Large sheet implied certainty which in Waterfall means the business analyst has done his job. However, in LS method this scenario means the project is doomed to fail.

Which has happened.

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