The only way to achieve the promise of business agility is to adopt the speed of business encompassed in the ongoing experimentation, mobility of roles, and the ability to flexibly assign people and other resources so critical to success.

But that’s never going to happen until companies find a suitable way to professionalise product management, writes Calton Nhando, digital consultant at IndigoCube.

Professional product managers are neither a single person nor a single role, like project managers who interface between the businesspeople on the one hand and the developers on the other. Professional product managers fill a number of distinct roles, key to the continued conceptualisation, design, development, creation, rollout, testing, redevelopment, and retirement of products in our digital age. But not necessarily confined to digital products.

Professional product managers embrace the mindset, the critical thinking and nimble approaches, of business agility. They raise it from the developer and operations environments, those organisations advanced enough to be considered DevOps-capable, to integrate the rest of the business, ensuring a continuous flow of business agility from customers at one extreme, through business, operations and developers then back again.

They incorporate conceiving new ideas, developing those ideas into products, releasing them for testing and experimentation, re-developing or adding functionality, features, and capabilities, before re-releasing. Crucially, they also manage retiring products no longer wanted, needed, or required.

There’s been a global shift to professionalise the product manager’s role because it’s broadened out of necessity. Project managers aren’t equipped to fulfil these roles in the new, digital economy that demands an unprecedented pace, collaboration, and finely tuned market analyses. Teams of developers, testers, marketers, analysts, product owners, executives, salespeople, customer relationship personnel, and others must all intersect, dynamically and at various stages, integrating and disbanding as needs be, to achieve the ultimate goal: delivering a product customers want and will continue to want.

Businesses have invested a lot of time and money to become agile. Their developers use the latest frameworks and methodologies, many have integrated their operations personnel too, but for many the promise hasn’t quite been realised. People say they get their products out faster, their people are more productive, and they’re saving money in their development environment but they’re still not getting the customer feedback they expected.

Everybody wants to be the next Uber, the next Spotify, WhatsApp, Instagram, maybe not Facebook. But, while customers use their products and interact with them, they’re just not getting that next-level traction. That’s the goal, the dream.

Some say it’s because of the organisational culture. Others call it philosophy, some say values, behaviour, call it what you will. The underlying cause is the lack of segmenting and cementing product manager roles.

It makes sense that you’d need your people to play new roles. Business agility, being an agile business, is a whole new process, a whole new way of serving customers, so why would the old ways of interacting continue to work?

We have to train our project managers, our product owners, brand managers, marketers, sponsoring executives, developers, testers, analysts – everyone involved in the new process – how to adapt. It gives them the professional edge they need to excel. And, when they excel, our customers are overjoyed, and that’s just good business.