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Agile product management: the ultimate guide for product management teams
Can you recall the first time you worked in a product development team? You might use words like 'chaos', 'confusion', and 'uncertainty '—followed by many question marks—to describe your experience. But, not anymore.
What used to be a chaotic development process—where you scratched your head trying to understand user requirements for product improvements—has transitioned into a well-established framework with principles and directions.
This enhanced workflow is called agile product management. It involves close collaboration between product and development teams, quicker timelines, informed decision-making, and smarter product innovations backed by accurate customer data.
In this guide, we cover:
Hotjar is a game-changer for agile product teams
Hotjar helps product management teams navigate the agile framework effectively
What is agile product management?
Agile product management is an adaptive approach to product strategy planning and implementation where teams work in alignment to achieve product goals. It involves faster feedback, product improvements, and iterations; and usually, better sales.
The process calls for constant improvement and learnings largely based on customer feedback and analysis to build a product customers love. At the organizational level, agile makes teams more collaborative, responsive towards changes, and highly creative and productive.
Agile vs traditional software planning and development methods
Before agile methodologies like Scrum or Kanban were introduced, development was a random and unorganized process. Product and development teams worked separately, and the project manager saw the progress or implemented changes only towards the end of the development period.
This framework, also known as the waterfall method, didn’t have any flexibility and resulted in unnecessary back and forth, leading to delays in product innovation and catering to the customer’s needs.
No matter the changes in consumer trends, the waterfall approach became irrelevant over time and failed to incorporate feedback and create complex digital products.
Enter agile: it’s fluid and organized, allows for faster changes driven by user feedback, and better product development aligned with customer needs. Instead of huge changes, agile introduces small increments and milestones for achieving the larger end goal.
Pros and cons of agile product management
Agile has changed the way product managers and teams approach product management. But, it comes with its own responsibilities and challenges. Here are some pros and cons for the agile approach:
Agile uses an iterative approach. It gathers customer data and introduces features one by one, thus helping you build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) before you go all-in. This allows faster and more consistent customer feedback so you can work on the complete set of features once you gather user responses.
The work sprints and workflows in agile lead to faster review and response cycles when fixing bugs or introducing additional features.
The entire method provides greater flexibility and speed in releasing new features because of cross-functionality and constant collaboration between marketing, sales, and development teams.
It facilitates better user understanding throughout the product lifecycle.
Agile calls for efficient adjustments throughout the product journey instead of making improvements in the end or when a problem becomes prominent.
This enables you to regularly incorporate feedback and bridge customer needs and wants.
It's a fairly elaborate development process with multiple approval workflows, which can be chaotic if not organized in the initial stages.
The dynamic changes in organizational structure with the introduction of new workflows, SOPs, and software for project management can be complex for team members to adapt to.
There’s uncertainty and lack of predictability about when you’ll see results and what they will look like because of spontaneous iterations.
The iteration and development process can take multiple turns and fast-paced changes—making it difficult to measure progress.
There’s no limit to the number of features or improvements you can introduce, which means product development can evolve into a never-ending process.
Agile product management practices
Agile product management is all about flexibility. Unlike traditional methods, defining and building the product comes much later in agile. More time is spent in the beginning for ideating, following, and tweaking product roadmaps; and studying and incorporating customer feedback.
Let’s look at some core product management practices you adopt with the agile framework:
1. Create a rock-solid product strategy
Strategy stands at the core of effective agile product management. Before thinking about development, step aside and define what agile means to you.
Your vision will determine your plan of action, but everyone in your team needs to understand the meaning and concept of agile first. Use team training sessions, agile education, and unfolding the process in phases for better adaptability.
Here are some steps to build a product strategy from scratch:
Define your product vision—the journey and direction of where your business is headed, how you imagine users leveraging the product, and the impact you want to create. This is the bird's eye view of your agile product management process and determines if your strategy will meet your KPIs to produce results.
Spend time observing and studying customers to understand their most triggering pain points. Here, sending out surveys, using heatmaps to study behavior, and conducting problem interviews will help gather data. (We'll show you how to do this later; keep reading!)
Perform to understand the scope, demand, and competition of the product you’re building. Here again, use surveys, and perform in-depth competitor and gap analysis.
Based on your user and market research, define your ideal end state to create a better product than your competitors, and craft an action plan to achieve it with realistic timelines and refined workflows.
2. Understand your customers' needs
The end goal of the agile methodology is to quickly process customer feedback to incorporate product changes that meet their expectations and needs.
User research—the process of understanding who your product is for and how they will use and benefit from it—gives you actionable and data-backed insights to build your product with precision, bring iterations in the future, and document for cross-reference.
And based on this research, you can create a buyer persona—a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer—to guide your product development and ideation phases. At every step of the journey, aim to build a product that helps your buyer persona solve their problem effectively.
Pro tip: direct feedback is key to understanding how visitors react to your product features and updates.
Place an on-site survey on a high-traffic web page or product landing page to learn what they think about your latest iteration and if it helps enhance problem-solving. This data can help you understand if your iteration succeeded and how you should approach future updates.
3. Outline an agile product roadmap
A product roadmap is a plan of action that defines the direction your product will move by setting short-term product goals while maintaining the agility to introduce changes based on customer feedback.
Your roadmap defines product evolution, iterations, and functionality in the long term. It holds a prime spot in the agile framework because it relays the team’s day-to-day tasks.
Here’s how you can build an agile product roadmap:
Define strategic initiatives: outline broad themes broken down into features and user stories. These are wide-spectrum umbrellas that define what needs to be done to achieve product goals.
Collaborate with teams: to coordinate tasks and timelines based on the initiatives—marketing, sales, development, design, product management—everyone needs to work closely to deliver a complete product experience.
Incorporate user stories and themes into workflows: features need to be broken into tasks, technical requirements, and timelines to move the needle towards achieving goals.
Plan your releases: releases are touchpoints where customers will see a new product experience. Define important milestones, a timeline for the release of new experiences, and what customers can expect from them.
Collect customer feedback: after releasing new iterations or experiences, find out if customers are happy with the changes by leveraging user experience interviews, surveys, and heatmaps.
Set KPIs for measuring progress: carry performance review audits monthly or quarterly as per your goals. Some key metrics are progress towards product goals, revenue goals, customer satisfaction, and a projection of the impact of future ideas. Use this data to enhance your strategy and optimize results further.
4. Assign roles to product team members
Managing agile product teams is different because of more refined processes, multiple stages of approvals, and collaboration tools.
Given the pace of agile working, teams can fall apart if processes are not organized—sometimes due to scrappy project management. Since changes are introduced rapidly, members need to suggest solutions, respond to changes quickly, and start implementation right away. This requires a strategic and thoughtful approach.
Yashika Gogia, the product manager at MakeMyTrip, agrees. She says:
“With ‘Ownership and Accountability’ being at the center of a high-performing agile team, it can be challenging to manage them. However, the answer lies in finding the working styles and motivations for each individual, and working around the processes and requirements to suit their strengths.
Collaborating with the team in understanding the user problems and the impact of each project on the life of your end user also helps them empathize better and build products that add greater value."
5. Iterate and deliver high-quality experiences
Iterations are product revisions introduced in phases. With the agile framework, you don’t have to wait for weeks before you implement suggestions based on customer feedback—instead, the process works with a do-and-learn approach.
After getting sufficient, relevant product feedback from customers, start working towards the iterations and introduce them one by one to maintain a constant loop of review and release.
Given the speed and agility in introducing suggestions, delivering unique experiences through product features and enhancements stands at the center of the agile methodology. However, this iteration period can vary based on the scope of iteration and development timeline.
This stage requires cross-team functionality, where the entire organization is in coordination to ensure iterations align with customer needs and releases have a solid marketing campaign behind them.
6. Measure strategy and product success
It’s important to measure iteration performance: what worked and what didn’t. The most prominent metrics are customer interactions, purchases, and churn rate.
Measure the impact of customer experiences through customer acquisition, growth, and retention value. Other metrics include conversion rate, product feature likeability, and marketing campaign success—but these can vary based on your goals.
Set up a system for documenting each review cycle, be it quarterly or monthly, so you have a record of introduced changes, their performance, and conversion rate.
You can also prepare charts and graphs to ensure all projections are correct, and refer to them while optimizing your strategy and cross-referencing for consistency.
Roles and responsibilities in an agile product team
The dynamics of the agile methodology call for additional roles for each team member. In the Scrum framework—an agile process for teams to work together effectively through experience, self-learning, and iteration for constant innovation and improvement—these defined roles help overcome product management challenges.
Let’s look at some major roles and responsibilities in an agile product team:
1. Product manager
The product manager is the owner of the product vision defined in the initial stages. They're responsible for the 'what' and 'why' and identify pain points, customer needs, and business objectives.
A product manager sits at an intersection of technology, business, and customer experience to ideate and achieve product success.
In the agile framework, here are some of their responsibilities:
Defining and carrying the vision forward
Researching, understanding, and connecting customer needs with experiences
Aligning stakeholders with constant iterations and developments
Prioritizing features with faster developments
Coordinating and empowering teams to make them self-sufficient and efficient
2. Product owner
The primary responsibilities of a product owner are to represent the customer's needs and ensure teams are working in alignment to streamline the execution of prioritized features according to the product roadmap.
Here are some core responsibilities of an agile product owner:
Maximizing team output and ensuring product stories—short descriptions of how a feature should work out—align with the product vision.
Building, editing, and maintaining the product backlog—a prioritized list of work for development teams based on iteration requirements and product roadmap.
Having a complete understanding of and assisting team members in information around customer needs, views, and product feature functionality.
Keep in mind: the line between product manager and product owner often blurs—but it’s important to understand the difference.
Product managers work with external stakeholders and perform tasks around outlining and researching for product and customer experiences.
Product owners work with internal stakeholders and are responsible for executing and coordinating team tasks to help achieve product and experience goals.
3. Development team
This cross-functional team includes specialists with the ability to produce a fully functioning increment of a product. With functions like design, development, and testing, this team is responsible for implementing product features.
They’re led by the product owner and perform work sprints—a short period in which the team needs to complete a set amount of tasks that contribute to new product features and experiences.
While not all stakeholders are involved in the actual development of the product, they all play a crucial role in decisions that shape the product roadmap and the work being done.
These stakeholders include business executives, product end-users, investors, and scrum team members from different departments. Stakeholder discussions and decisions guide the product roadmap and help determine the direction of the product's development.
5. Scrum Master
The Scrum Master is responsible for managing tasks between different teams and individual team members while ensuring everyone is on the same page with current developments.
They also handle administrative work like conducting meetings, solving collaboration or communication challenges within the team, and ensuring all developments occur seamlessly.
3 ways Hotjar can help agile product management teams
Here are three ways Hotjar will help you with the agile product management framework:
1. Prioritize features through user feedback with qualitative tools
An effective way to collect product feedback is through qualitative data collection that tells you exactly what your customers are thinking and which words they use to describe their feelings.
You can use qualitative tools like Hotjar's Surveys and Incoming Feedback widget to collect data that helps prioritize specific features and set timelines to release them in phases.
Surveys help bring the voice of the customer into your decision-making process to give you a better understanding of your users' needs and validate ideas for execution.
With surveys, you can get direct information from customers about their favorite product features, potential improvements, and current struggles—which can help guide future product iterations.
Incoming user feedback helps you understand what people think and how they feel while they experience your product in real-time. This is one of the most reliable forms of customer feedback as it’s happening in the moment, and there are low chances of manipulation or discrepancies.
2. Understand user behavior visually through Heatmaps and Recordings
Getting insight into how customers behave while navigating your site and interacting on each page can help you understand what they’re thinking, why they’re clicking on a particular CTA, and why they’re bouncing or exiting. Heatmaps give visual context to how your visitors behave and move on your pages by highlighting elements on your website that can be optimized for better clicks and conversions.
Red represents more clicks and activity, while blue represents less active sections of the webpage.
You can analyze heatmaps to identify ways to improve user experience on the website and lead them further down your funnel. Heatmaps also give you rich insights into user behavior, which can be used while introducing or testing out new product features.
Session Recordings are playbacks of individual users' sessions on your website. You can see mouse movements, scrolls, and clicks to understand which parts of your site they're navigating and why.
As an agile product team, watch out for blockers (e.g. bugs and broken links) and signs of frustration (e.g. rage clicks and u-turns). Doing so will tell you more about your customer’s pain points, and how you can address them through future product features.
Apart from introducing new features, work on identifying and fixing product or concept bugs constantly. Using Heatmaps, Recordings, and Surveys, you can identify red flags resulting in a higher churn rate and declining product efficiency.
Analyzing and applying user behavior insights is a sure-shot way to make changes to your website or app that truly matter to customers. Avoid the guesswork by studying your visitor’s clicks, navigation, and scrolls to understand why they’re behaving in a particular way, and use what you learn to manage future product iterations.
3. Validate your ideas and iterations with real-time product experience insights
Product experience (PX) insights are powerful for validating new features and iterations through qualitative and quantitative customer data collection methods like surveys, recordings, user feedback, and heatmaps.
You can make various assumptions about what your audience needs, the features you should prioritize right now, which pain point they’re going through, and which feature you should introduce next. But, instead of making assumptions, PX insights help you empathize with your users and bridge the knowledge gap to ensure all product developments result from what the customer needs.
Use PX insights to make informed, product-based decisions, get sufficient buy-in for change, and introduce dynamic product updates that cater to users' needs and return measurable results.
Agile should be your go-to method if you want to outrank your competitors and create a product your customers love. But while agile product management is a groundbreaking framework for achieving product goals, it’s not a cakewalk.
Agile is a dynamic process that shouldn’t be introduced spontaneously. Educating your team about the framework, planning the transition in phases, and bringing an agile expert on board would be wise to ensure you’re not shooting in the dark.
Use Hotjar’s qualitative and quantitative product experience insights tools to understand what your customers need—and what your product roadmap and initiatives should look like—to build customer-centric products.