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Can’t we all just get along?

I got a notice today regarding the next meeting of the Austin PMM chapter where the topic will be Agile Software Development Techniques and Their Impact on Product Management. A discussion around the role of a PdM in an Agile environment is one that has been kicking around our office for a while now and it has certainly been a topic that I have wanted to explore on the blog. As I started to look through some of the source material I have been saving on this subject I found myself diverted on a trip down memory lane – a detour that struck me as worth sharing.

I started my career a while back working for a CASE tool pioneer. I remember hearing during the IPO hype how our pretty little graphical tools were going to put developers out of work by making it easy for business analysts to drag and drop their way to system creation.

END RESULT – developers still in business while that CASE tool vendor…not so much

A few years later I jumped to a software test tool company. A raison d’etre that was forced upon us was to help put software testers out on the streets by simply recording the actions of users for later playback in the form of automated “tests.” We didn’t really believe it in the least, and almost always revealed this explicitly to our sales prospects, but the economic buyers we dealt with sure wanted to think it could somehow be true.

END RESULT – testers still collecting paychecks but that company no longer writing them

Today, I feel like I am now finally facing the pointy end of the spear. In my current role I am a Product Manager who focuses on software requirements. Aligned against me and my job are hordes of Agile advocates and the belief that some of them hold with regards to my niche in the IT ecosphere. “Hell yeah” opined one XP devotee when posed the question as to whether the PdM/BA job is soon to be extinct in an Agile world.

END RESULT – to be determined…but you can guess where I’m placing my bets

Why does the software industry seem to focus on the notion that progress can only come at the expense of discarded roles? It’s as if we’ve collectively decided that the only way to appease the software beast is to regularly offer up a sampling of our colleagues like so many Ann Darrows to the giant ape. Agile is the ultimate solution in the eyes of some adherents because it manages to kill two annoying birds (testers and Product Managers) with an elegantly simple, single stone.

I am not advocating that we should adopt some form of “perfect” team structure and then never change the way we work again. Our industry’s track record reveals that we have far more improvement ahead of us than behind and part of getting there must include experimentation around the various roles involved with the effort. That being said, I will state unequivocally my belief that success can only be achieved when all of the groups currently involved in building a software system begin to optimize the value they each bring to the table. Just like the Empire State Building required a host of trades in order for it to reach the sky, the electronic steel at the heart of our information systems will only rise straight and true through the efforts of all the craftspeople involved.

A future post, most likely after the PMM forum, will look at the role of requirements and the PdM in an Agile environment. My initial reading of some excellent sources suggests that the “Hell yeah” zealot I mentioned earlier is most likely outside the Agile mainstream, but I’ve seen enough advocacy around removing the PdM role altogether that I felt compelled to preempt my publishing calendar with this quick rant.

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