To answer that question, we first need to have an operational definition of product management.  Steven Haines, the author of the definitive guide on product management, The Product Manager’s Desk Reference, defines product management as the “holistic business management of the product from the time it is conceived to the time it is discontinued and withdrawn from the market.”  Clearly, Haines is thinking broadly and longterm with his definition.

Product management is important for Agile teams because it enables the enterprise to have a systematic process to iterate on a product until the value exchange is a win-win for both the consumer and the producer.  Or if the value exchange cannot be balanced, product management offers a series of regular decision points which will enable the business to know when to walk away from an opportunity when it is not longer economically viable.  The people who are responsible for iterating on the product, or knowing when to walk away from the opportunity, are called product managers.  In the context of Scrum, this person is called a Product Owner.

OK – so now we need to think about what does a product manager actually do?  John Miniati from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, provides a this summary of a product manager’s core responsibilities.

As a product manager, “I have a responsibility to my customers (current and future) to release a product that meets and exceeds their needs – even if they are not fully aware of their needs. I also have a financial responsibility to my company that the product will meet revenue and margin goals. Finally, I have a responsibility to my development team to define a feature set that, if they can deliver it, will meet the first two objectives.”

There are three things that I like about this description from Miniati.

  1. It is comprehensive and holistic since it includes the needs of prospects, current customers, development teams and the organization.
  2. It states product managers are obligated to go beyond current expectations and needs and to scan the market for new problems to solve.
  3. It highlights the importance of meeting key financial goals and targets emphasizing the fact that product management is a commercial endeavor.

In the Age of Agile, product managers (or Product Owners) need to deliver holistic products that deliver wins for entire product ecosystem (current customers and prospects, development teams and enterprises) which go beyond the product’s current capabilities while delivering on meaningful economic results.  IME, when this product management competency is lacking in an organization, you get a lot talk but not a whole lot of results.