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Untitled Document

Agile flexibility is like beer: a little bit is great, but overindulging can mean your company gets drunk on agile.



Agile teams often have an impressive ability to adjust course frequently. A team that produces working, shippable software every week or two is a dream for business stakeholders, especially after years of frozen requirements and 18-month release cycles.

But for the product manager or team lead, that flexibility can come at a great cost. If your VPs all know that your team can turn on a dime and ship a small but critical feature next week, you'll quickly find yourself inundated with small, urgent requests.

It's those constantly shifting priorities that can prevent long-term progress. A team with a dysfunctional prioritization process tests out lots of different ideas, goes in many directions at once, has many partially done features, and has a wide range of users all with low levels of satisfaction.

It is possible, however, to have highly agile teams that are responsive to critical changes and at the same time make progress towards long-term goals. Initiating a product council can bring disparate stakeholders into alignment to stabilize the flow of requests, leading to higher-quality software that better meets the needs of users.

A release-oriented product council

With teams delivering regular 8-week releases, it seems logical for a product council to work on a similar cycle. So in our team's early product councils we scheduled four meetings, each two weeks apart, and invited about 15 of our key stakeholders -- representatives from sales, marketing, customer support, and other parts of the business.

Bring your ideas

In this meeting, we asked our stakeholders to write their most important features on sticky notes and put them on the walls. Together, the group prioritized the most important features, and then the product management team explored the top dozen or so features over a period of two weeks. We'd review customer feedback, write detailed backlogs, and get estimates from the delivery team.

Democracy in action

In the second meeting, Product Owners presented those details to all of the stakeholders, answered questions, and then asked for a vote on which features delivered the most value. After the meeting, the product management team blended aspects of the most popular items into a backlog of work for the upcoming release that most closely approximated the average of all the requests.

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