Beyond Lean and Agile by Marty Cagan at Lean Product Meetup

  • There is a growing backlash to agile. This is to be expected, as in this industry there is always something new that comes along. None of the techniques that come out are a silver bullet, people eventually realize this, and that starts the backlash.
  • But I believe the principles behind agile and lean are not going away. They just don’t go far enough for product companies. The best companies out there know this and have pushed on way ahead of everybody else – perhaps even a decade apart on how they work.
  • Average companies don’t really practice agile, it’s actually waterfall.

Three big themes

  1. Address major risks up-front
    • Value risk
    • Usability risk
    • Feasibility risk
    • Business risk
  2. Collaboration
    • Define and design collaboratively, not sequentially
  3. Focus on outcomes, not output
    • Good teams are given problems to solve and focus on results

The risks

  • Most teams don’t even tackle value risk, because they assume value – this is the problem with roadmaps, somebody assumed there was value in those items on the roadmap.
  • Usability you lean on your UX and product designers.
  • Feasibility you lean on your engineers.
  • Value and business risk are firmly on the product manager.
  • Too often product managers are more like project managers, who write stories. They don’t understand the customers, they don’t understand the business and how it really works.
  • Some people think getting certified in scrum is what product management is. This is ludicrous.
  • The purpose of an MVP is to tackle these four risks up front.

The Product Manager

  • It’s a ton of work. The PM needs to focus on the product.
  • Stop being a project manager.
  • Stop being a UX designer, making wireframes.
  • Need to take away product marketing as well, in most cases you need somebody specific on that.
  • Smart, creative and persistent. This is what a PM needs to be.


  • The best product teams you see PM, design and some of the lead engineers really working together to solve the problem.
  • They should sit next to each other.
  • This is where the magic happens.
  • Lots of companies ask if we can make this work with distributed teams. You will pay a price for having them distributed.

Outcomes over output

  • It is time for roadmaps to go.
  • Roadmaps are about output.
  • Roadmaps are the antithesis of agile and lean.
  • Stop giving teams features to build and give them problems to solve
  • This is what it means to be an autonomous and empowered team
  • This is a lot harder than just building features

Dual track product development

  • Objectives
  • Build the right product (discovery)
  • Build the product right (delivery)

Dual track: customer development

  • Single favourite technique for best chance of success is the customer development program
  • Develop a set of reference customers in parallel with building the product

Final word on the product manager

  • Using your time effectively as a PM is important
  • It takes about four hours a day of real time, using your brain, to do discovery
  • This could be time with the designer, or showing it to sales, or time with customers
  • You’ve got two choices:
    • From 6-10 at night
    • Or, get really disciplined with your time during the day. Start leaning on others. Stop going to all these meetings.
  • However you solve it, I don’t know how you do this job without four hours a day of this quality time

The Group Product Manager role

  • A player coach
  • Has 1-3 product managers they coach in a very hands-on way
  • As well a being a PM themselves

Favourite book on tech: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Published by

Tim Woods

Product manager (formerly software engineer and marketing manager) with 17 years of experience in the field of innovation management. South Coast of England.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s