The Cranky Product Manager is a big fan of anything that will get quality, innovative, market-killing products out the door more quickly.
Sincerely. This statement is a paragon of truthiness. Hell, the Cranky Product Manager would even trade in her extensive work wardrobe of Lucky Brand jeans for a pile of poofy skirts if it would improve product quality. She would even stop swearing and referring to her colleagues as “beeyotches” if it would speed up development and reduce the number of half-finished features. No lie.
But alas, the Cranky Product Manager’s cantankerous, tomboyish lifestyle is hardly threatened, despite DysfunctoSoft’s move to Agile (specifically Scrum) two years ago. Things are slightly better now, but not that much.
Shocking, the Cranky Product Manager knows. Because Agile and Scrum are SO FRAKIN’ FASHIONABLE right now, that speaking of them in anything but the MOST obsequious “Agile-is-the-absolute-shizz-it’s-even-better-than-sex” manner, well, it’s kinda heresy.
You see, Agile is a pseudo-religion. It has a Manifesto and a bunch of zealots and everything. (gack) In fact, the Cranky PM fully expects a pile of comments and trackbacks along the lines of:
- “The CPM just doesn’t get it. Agile is indeed the shizz. Plus it’s better than sex. It’s new (well, kinda). It’s iterative. All the cool kids (claim) to do it.”
- “The CPM is a waterfall-worshiping Luddite, afraid of change, out of touch, and a control freak — so typical of a product manager. Doesn’t she realize that Scrum liberates us developer-artistes to at long last build for intelligent audiences, people just like us?”
- “The CPM must be doing Agile the wrong way. Not me — I know all the secrets. To learn how to do Agile right, visit my blog, read my book, hire my consulting firm, take my training class… With my help, you too can use Scrum to MAKE MONEY FAST, MELT AWAY THE POUNDS without diet or exercise, and become ABSOLUTELY IRRESISTIBLE to the opposite sex. Agile riches will exceed your wildest dreams!!!!!!!!!!”
Hmmmphhh. Such are the stones a heretic must endure.
Anyway, let the Cranky Product Manager continue and speak directly about the unspeakable:
Sure, Agile makes some things (ok, many things) better. But it also makes some things — IMPORTANT things — worse.
Yes, Agile can speed up the development and improve the quality of small features. But it’s too often at the expense of the Big Important Work — the heavy lifting, multi-month market analysis and architectural work that lead to REAL customer value and REAL competitive differentiation.
Yes, Agile can do wonders to improve product usability. But the results are often incremental in nature. Opportunities to come up with innovative user interaction models that put the user experience on a different plane are not explored. Not enough time.
Yes, Scrum can improve the speed of decision making by requiring a “Product Owner” make on-the-spot decisions. But because it does not allow the Product Owner the customer face time to intimately understand the market, it too often results in products that addresses the verbatim enhancement requests of one or two specific customers (whoever spoke to the Product Owner last) while missing the real market opportunities. (See footnote 1.)
Yes, Agile can reduce the size of the development team. But instead of cutting costs, it moves the resource bottleneck to the product management and project management teams which are usually understaffed for the greater demands Agile places on them.
Yes, Agile is good at holding developers’ feet to the fire and jacking their lines-of-code-per-day rate through the roof. It helps them fix bugs faster too. But because Agile keeps them in an always-on, semi-panicked state, it also leads to burn-out and prevents developers from doing the deep thinking required to solve the really thorny problems and to truly innovate.
Further, the War Room atmosphere and pair programming practices require a different, more outgoing personality than many developers naturally possess. Granted, his research might be dated, but Tom DeMarco (author of Peopleware) found productivity was highest when developers had private offices with actual walls, windows, and doors that shut — the very antithesis of today’s War Room. In the War Room, the ideas of the more quiet, introverted, and thoughtful developers are too often drowned out by their louder, more obnoxious, and less gifted brethren.
So, despite the massive amount of hype currently surrounding Agile / Scrum, let the Cranky Product Manager remind you that — in the immortal words of Fred Brooks — There Is No Silver Bullet.
Agile is NOT the end-all-be-all for software product development. It is NOT the second coming. It is an improvement to be sure, but it has some big flaws – just like ALL software development methodologies. And that is more than just “truthiness.” It is the actual fraking TRUTH, beeyotches…
1. The Cranky Product Manager knows that many Product Management bloggers believe that this problem is solved if you separate the market / customer-facing Product Manager role from the development-facing Product Owner. However, the Cranky Product Manager remains unconvinced. How can the Product Owner gain the perspective to make the best product decisions without regular customer contact? More on this later….
CORRECTION: In the Cranky Product Manager wrongly claimed that Rich Mironov of Enthiosys supported the idea of separating the product manager and product owner roles. Untrue. He says he supports this role split it in a world of infinite resources and perfect communication, but of course that ain’t reality. Read his article all the way through (and wait for part 2) for a more civil and scholarly discussion of the problems the Cranky Product Manager rants about. It is truly a WICKED AWESOME piece, so get over there and READ IT.