What does a product manager do during a sprint?

Agile is many things. It is a philosophy, an approach to work, and a set of principles. Today it is often used as a blanket term for how many teams approach software development, including the most widely adopted agile methodology — scrum.

Scrum is an adaptive process framework. Self-organizing product development teams work together to deliver customer and business value quickly and regularly. These teams work in short, repeatable cycles and deliver small chunks of new functionality.

What is a sprint?

There are four key meetings that drive the scrum process: the sprint planning meeting, the daily scrum, the sprint review meeting, and the sprint retrospective. Product managers serve the scrum team by ensuring that work prioritized and completed within each sprint aligns with the product vision and customer needs.

A sprint is a fixed-length iteration of work that typically lasts between one and four weeks. During a sprint, the scrum team builds and tests a clearly defined set of functionality. The goal is to deliver a complete increment — the value that will be delivered to customers upon completion of a sprint.

Is a sprint the same as a release?

A sprint should not be confused with a release. A sprint is a time box for completing a defined set of work, whereas a release brings a new product experience to market once it is ready to be delivered.

A product release can occur at the end of a sprint or after several sprints. Regardless of your release cadence, your plan must consider all of the cross-functional activities needed to support the release, such as those belonging to product, sales, support, ops, and marketing.

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Who manages a sprint?

The scrum team is responsible for managing each sprint. As a product manager, it is helpful to understand how each scrum role contributes. This will help you work effectively with the scrum team to deliver functionality that customers really want.

  • Product owner
    Responsible for maximizing the value of the work completed by the development team. The product owner represents the customer and advocates for business needs.

  • Scrum master
    Responsible for ensuring the process follows agile principles and values. The scrum master serves as a facilitator and coach who removes impediments, creates an effective working environment, and protects the team from outside interruptions.

  • Scrum team
    Responsible for implementing the work. The scrum team is self-managed and does all duties required to deliver a working increment, including development and testing.

In some companies, the product manager assumes the role of product owner. In others, the roles remain distinct — distinguished by internal versus external responsibilities. This is somewhat misleading, though. Most product managers have an inward and external view, but the emphasis is typically on the external. For example, product managers need to know what issues the support team is facing to better understand customer needs. You also must be aware of other aspects of product development that do not directly impact the scrum team, such as marketing plans.

Sometimes the two roles are broken out into “product manager” and “technical product manager.” The semantics reflect the organization’s unique structure and how work is managed.

What is the role of the product manager in a sprint?

Product managers are responsible for the strategic direction of the product. This is a holistic effort aimed at delivering both business and customer value. During a sprint, product managers have one job: enable the successful implementation of the product and go-to-market strategy.

What does this look like in practice? The details vary of course. But typically you can expect to:

  • Share the product vision

  • Own and update the product roadmap

  • Provide updates to stakeholders

  • Attend relevant scrum events

  • Be available to answer questions

  • Trust the team and do not interfere

No matter the particulars, put in the effort to think collectively about what needs to be done. Share plans proactively, communicate often, and work together to deliver on your commitments.

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