I'm Agile But My CEO Could Not Care Less

Agile development software

The developers and I always want to get on with it and build stuff in a sprint-to-sprint fashion, yet our CEO wants to tell everyone where the company will be in two years from a strategic viewpoint. And he’s right and so is the team — and I am the guy who gets to bridge the gap. I have learned to do both — see tomorrow and today. I am a product manager and I am agile on the inside with a hint of blue sky.

[This is a guest post by Simon Witkiss.]

Words like “scrum” and “agile” are so over-cooked these days that they have become a distraction for product managers and software development teams. They obfuscate what’s needed to build products that deliver customer delight over the long haul because of their “right now” leaning.

At the core of product and engineering management should be a purpose to bring folks together and build a coherent story that everyone can get behind today and into the future.

I recently read a post by Cliff Gilley. He’s absolutely right that you should focus on being ‘agile’ before being ‘Agile’ in terms of how to behave every day. Being agile is a mindset and not something that happens to you every so often. But that doesn’t mean that the agile way should blind you from your higher purpose. Just beware, because if you think attending the daily standup is the highlight of your day you’ll find yourself head-down with your hair on fire, building all the wrong things.

The real question is how to see the big picture and manage the details? There is no shortcut or secret nirvana — you need to do both. If you understand where you and the team are headed, this helps prioritize what you need to get done today, this week, and this quarter. So go sit down with the CEO and understand his vision, capture and refine it in writing, and set your development plans in motion against it. Get ‘goals’ and then get ‘agile.’

My CEO likes to look out and think deeply about our market and customers and help guide where the rest of us should point the business. And I have learned to look up as well, point out what I see, and reconcile that perspective with his and others. This helps me explain why we are traveling in a certain direction with confidence.

The challenge of balancing these different views has historically been a challenge because there have not been the tools to help PMs communicate with the visionary CEO and the agile development team. I was often stuck using Word, PPT, and Excel to communicate with the CEO and non-technical team members, and then I had to reenter my epics and stories in the bug system that engineering was using. I lived this madness until I found Aha!

Aha! gives me the ability to set vision, goals, and initiatives that reflect the CEO’s outlook. And it ensures that the strategy flows through into well-defined epics and stories that developers and the rest of the organization can build on. The CEO doesn’t care that I’m agile but he’s thrilled that we keep building what matters. If your goal is to set a winning strategy, visually share your roadmap, and be ‘agile’ — Aha! is for you.

This is a guest post by Simon Witkiss. If you are looking to see the big picture, be agile, and create visual product roadmaps — start a free trial of Aha!

Simon Witkiss is the Director of Product Management at Netbiscuits. He strives to build products that customers love and has previously worked on mature desktop products, bootstrapped a cloud start-up and many things in between. At Netbiscuits, he leads product management and helps companies like Coke, MTV, and BMW build great mobile web experiences through better information, tools, and mobile analytics.

Follow Simon @simonwitkiss