Here at decoding software we (sometimes its just fun to say we even though its really just me) generally like to keep a positive sentiment even when things we read or learn are not all that great. With that said however Roman Pichler’s Agile Product Management with Scrum is an excellent resource for new Product Owners and newcomers to Scrum!
Allow me to start of bring telling you about some of the books strong points. Based on the research I have done it is widely believed that when this book was first published circa 2010 it was one of the only books of its kind providing some guidance and insight into primarily the product ownership role on an agile project and in particular utilizing the scrum framework. Given the time of its release and the content presented I think it does a good job at indoctrinating the newer members into the Product Owner’s “club”.
Explanation of the PO Role
The author begins telling the product owner story (pun intended) by first outlining what it means to be to be not just a Product Owner but an effective product owner by discussing both the good traits and common mistakes. I think this is a great entry point and Roman dives right into the meat and content of the book without wasting too much time on “fluff”. Two of the sections that stood out early in the book are on page 11 where the author describes differences between Product Marketers, Project Managers and Product Owners and the scaling the product owner role on pages 12-15. Both are questions that should naturally come up during your reading and are address briefly. What I wasn’t too fond of was the brevity of the subjects but i’ll go into that a bit more on the improvements section in my critique here below.
Product Vision > Product Roadmap > Product Backlog
Next the author begins discussing some of the artifacts that a PO would be responsible for by going into details on what a Product Vision is, some characteristics of a good vision and what I liked most was that he also discusses some techniques for how to create one. Definitely helpful for the n00b PO. The product vision leads into the Product Roadmap sections in the book in which MVP (minimum viable product) and some pitfalls are covered. Chapter 3 then goes into the next artifact which is the Product Backlog. Although Roman reserves a whole chapter to go over working with the product backlog I found the content to be somewhat redundant in that it regurgitates too much of the same info found in some of the other leading books on scrum by Mike Cohn and Ken Schwaber. Roman does cite and quote those books properly however my complaint is that if you have already read those books especially recently then a great deal of this chapter will seem unnecessary. On the other hand if you just woke up this morning and learning about agile and scrum 5 minutes ago then enjoy the refreshing new content (no sarcasm here)!
The author next spends all of chapter 4 on planning the release and this is really where you get the most bang for your buck. I believe release planning is one of the more important activities and artifacts that a product owner can do especially in an organization transitioning from waterfall to agile. The reason for this is because too many stakeholders and very badly wanting to know what am I getting and when and may have heard or think that agile doesn’t really provide you with that level of detailed planning (not true). Roman wonderfully leads into taking about releases by first discussing precursors such as cadence and release frequencies, quality and velocity before diving into how to utilize the velocity forecasting and burn-down charts into helping to create the actual release plan.
The next chapter once again goes into basic scrum practices such as the sprint planning meeting, definition of done and other common practices. There is a little bit of added value here in the common mistakes sections where the author talks about PO mistakes related to these standard practices. Lastly the final chapter very briefly provides tips for transitioning into the PO role.
What would I change?
Overall I though this was an excellent book providing a great high-level overview about product ownerships, how to perform some of the ceremonies and create some of the artifacts and what are some common mistakes to avoid. As I said at the beginning of my review this book is perfect for newcomers. I would have preferred a lot of meat and content within this book about product ownership and management in general as well as a lot more detail about how to perform these in actions in a lot more detail. I would have also preferred more than just a high-level overview on some of the concepts discussed and wanted to the author to dive into how to utilize the strategies and techniques mentioned in the book. I think the book could have been organized into sections where perhaps the first section of the book (several chapters) provided an overview followed by another section that went into detail on the role and finally a section which dived into detail about each of the techniques, documents and ceremonies.
Hopefully in the future as Scrum and the PO role both mature and we get more feedback, experience and empirical evidence we will be able to get more out of similar PO books. Roman himself has a ton more content on his blog so perhaps a future book or a future version of this book can be expounded to provide more!