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Requirements with the Agile process management

Ben Linders explains why a team-based approach to Agile process management can help better meet the needs of customers and support development teams.

Scrum proposes that the product owner is in charge of the requirements of the Agile process management. But this...

role is difficult to implement, as depending on one person for key decisions can prevent teams from quickly delivering value to their customers. Valuable alternative solutions for managing requirements exist, which use a team-based approach to better explore, capture and dissimilate the needs of customers and thus support development teams.

The official Scrum guide states that "The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog." It suggests the following activities:

  • Clearly expressing Product Backlog items.
  • Ordering the items in the Product Backlog to best achieve goals and missions.
  • Optimizing the value of the work the Development Team performs.
  • Ensuring that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, clear to all and shows what the Scrum Team will work on next. 
  • Ensuring the Development Team understands items in the Product Backlog to the level needed.

The Scrum guide states that the product owner may execute these activities or have the development team do them. I think that this statement limits possibilities for allocation of requirement activities in Agile process management, which can lead to ineffectiveness and delays.

Scrum recognizes three roles: product owner, development team and scrum master. The expectations on the product owner are high and implementing this role often poses major challenges. Product owners often find it difficult to build up sufficient knowledge on the customers' needs and to establish insights on how they use product. I hear teams complain about product owners being insufficiently available and unable to make decisions on a short notice. Depending solely on the product owner appears to conflict with the team-based way the Agile process promotes.

One of the biggest gains that I have seen in organizations is that Agile helps them to focus on the right requirements. Proper allocation and execution of requirement management activities is crucial to focus and deliver value to customers.

As mentioned before, the Scrum guide provides only two approaches; have the product owner do these activities or have them done by the product owner and development team. Other approaches that can be used to allocate requirement activities in Agile process management are:

  • Working with a product management team.
  • Establishing a project support team.

A product management team consists of multiple product managers, or product owners, which together are responsible for one or more products. It can be product managers who work with different customers or markets, from different but related products or a combination. In larger teams, there can be senior and junior product managers. As a result, the knowledge of products and customers comes together, which is used to maintain product roadmaps and release plans. It's a mechanism to discuss customer needs and agree upon priorities.

For each Agile team, there will be one member of the product management team who acts as a product owner, but development team members can communicate with all members of the product management team.

The main advantage of a product management team is it will have more knowledge than a single person. This provides better insight and support for the requirements towards the development team(s).

Project support teams are multidisciplinary teams that support one or more Agile teams. Project support teams that I have worked with consisted of a project manager, product owner, architect and sometimes other supporting roles -- such as a configuration manager or quality or process manager.

The project support team is responsible for delivering software product releases, where the development team focuses on delivering software in iterations. This enables teams to work efficiently by focusing on delivering products that better serve their customers. Project support teams can help when teams are unable to remove an impediment themselves, like issues that require management support or deal with stakeholders. An advantage of a project support team is that it brings together different skills and knowledge to effectively manage products. In such a team, requirements, time, money and quality can be balanced, thus supporting the development team with better information on what is needed when and why it is needed.

Notice that the solutions presented here are team-based solutions, which is compatible with an Agile mind-set where collaboration is considered crucial for success. A dynamic team with different positions and perspectives also provides a backup in case the product owner is unavailable. With these approaches, product development doesn't depend on a single person, and development teams will have information that helps them to deliver value to their customers.

Next Steps

Discovering Agile requirements that increase the team's ability to communicate

Implementing Agile doesn't have to mean letting go of software documentation

Is automated testing replacing the software tester?

This was last published in February 2016

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What is the best way to measure success in Agile process management?
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Perhaps the best way to measure success in agile process management is transparency. A successful agile implementation allows visibility into the development process from any angle.
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"One of the biggest gains that I have seen in organizations is that Agile helps them to focus on the right requirements."
Huh? Didn't see that in Agile Manifesto. What about value and customer feedback? Continuous delivery to support that?
I tried to find a single notion of customer feedback in the article and didn't succeed.
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In my opinion, one of the greatest measures of success is a happy product owner/customer. Perception is important, and this is one of the greatest factors that contributes to the team being perceived as successful. 
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I like your view on visibility @mcorum. Indeed the aim of agile is to provide insight in the process. Which is an important precondition to work together and to improve the way of working.
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Hi @agareev, I'm referring to my experience of teams and organizations that are having success with agile. They tend to do less, by doing the right things.
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And yes, customer feedback matters, more precisely, working intensively together with customers and stakeholders matters. 
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I tend to agree with you @abuell with one addition, delivering valuable products and services is what is often the best way to make customers happy. Don't try to fool them by selling somethings which is halve finished. Say what you will do and do what you say.
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Wow... I want to use more than one word.

My first reaction is the word: Done.

Agile is about getting things: Done

If I added two more it would be: Responding to change

and: Adapting to Customer feedback in a timely fashion
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Thanks for your reaction. Indeed, agile helps you to deliver, and by responding to change to continuously deliver value.
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I like you thoughts Ben. We are struggling with this right now. The Product Owners who can make decisions are often too busy and are reluctant to hand over their authority. But by putting together a team to support them keeps things moving and gives them the info to make decisions quicker. When this works well the PO may be more willing to delegate authority

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I like the approach that you are taking dnordness. It's a matter of building trust, which takes time but will give lasting results!

Agile is all about collaboration, in the end working together with save everyone time and lead to quickly delivering good products.

Go for it!
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