In 2001, a group of software developers set off a revolution in the world of tech when they outlined a new way of managing product development—agile.
At the time, older models of product management such as waterfall were becoming obsolete. In the unpredictable world of tech, faster and more adaptable teams win. Even startups regularly beat out large established companies to build industry-leading products. Within such an unpredictable and competitive environment, frameworks like waterfall simply don’t afford teams the ability to adapt fast enough or often enough to build competitive products. Agile in contrast is designed for speed and adaptability.
However, getting up to speed and accessing the right information about how to run an agile process can be tough. While there are plenty of resources out there about agile product management, it’s hard to distinguish between those that simply use the term ‘agile’ as a buzzword and those that will actually help you learn what it is, how to do it, and how to become an expert. That’s why we compiled the 21 best resources to learn agile development and become an expert agile product manager.
This list of resources will help you cut through the noise and access the most impactful information at each stage of your learning journey as an agile product manager.
If you’re completely new to the idea of agile product management or have heard the term thrown around but don’t fully understand what it means, reading about the theory behind it all is a good place to start. The following five articles will help you gain a grounded understanding of what agile product management entails.
1. The foundation: The Agile Manifesto
The Agile Manifesto is the document that started it all. In 2001, 17 software developers wrote out a set of values and principles that formed the theoretical foundation of agile development:
- Prioritize individuals over processes
- Focus on creating working software rather than comprehensive documentation
- Engage with the customer rather than the contract
- Respond to change rather than stick to a plan
While agile development has undergone significant changes over the last couple of decades, these basic principles continue to underpin the agile philosophy.
2. A deeper look: The 12 agile principles
In addition to the four values outlined above, the Agile Manifesto included 12 principles to guide agile teams towards achieving those values. In the article The 12 Agile Manifesto Principles Simply Explained, Jacob Aliet Ondiek explains each principle in detail. Figuring out which principles align with which values is not immediately obvious in the original Manifesto, but this article does a good job of making those connections more clear.
3. Common misconceptions: Recognizing real agile
In his blog post Good Agile, Bad Agile, Steve Yegge explains that when agile development is executed as it was meant to be, it makes teams happier and more innovative. Unfortunately, the term agile has been misinterpreted and abused across the tech industry. Even though a lot of companies claim to be agile, they are actually just creating more disorder and inefficiency trying to fit in.
4. Embracing Agile: Methods instead of madness
In an article titled Embracing Agile, Darrell K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland, and Hirotaka Takeuchi explain the basics of implementing agile development at your company. Managers often don’t fully understand the agile approach and, as a result, they “continue to manage in ways that run counter to agile principles and practices, undermining the effectiveness of agile teams” that report to them. Real agile development is not chaos. Instead, it’s carried out through specific methods like Scrum and Kanban, which contain specific roles like product owner and scrum master as well as specific processes such as sprints, stand-ups, and backlogging.
5. Explaining agile to your team: Get buy in from developers
In a blog post titled Why Do A Lot Of Developers Dislike Agile?, Brian Knapp demonstrates how teams can misuse agile processes, abdicating their own responsibility to change and shift along with their circumstances—and in doing so, he shows how developers can fall in love with agile development again.
Intro to agile methodologies
Under the umbrella of agile, there are two very popular methodologies for applying agile principles directly to a development process: Scrum and Kanban. These articles will give you an overview of both and provide tips on how to get started each.
6. Overview of Scrum
In his article, A pretty good Summary of Lean, Agile, Scrum, Takeshi Yoshida describes how Scrum is faster, cheaper, and better able to cope with change and uncertainty than when using waterfall methods. He also cautions that Scrum fails when managers run sprints as mini-waterfalls, don’t explain the technique to the non-product teams at their company, micromanage their developers, or don’t allow for recovery time in-between sprints.
7. Understanding the Scrum jargon
When you read about Scrum, it’s easy to get caught up in, and confused by, all the specialty terms like “sprints,” “scrum master,” “burndowns,” and “daily scrum.” In his article Scrum Is A Major Management Discovery, Steve Denning lists the 10 core practices of a scrum team in plain language without any developer jargon.
8. Overview of Kanban
In her article What is Kanban?, Julia Wester explains the five core properties of the Kanban method (visualize workflow, limit work in progress, manage flow, make process policies explicit, and improve collaboratively) and how they help you visualize where inefficiencies in your development process exist and then how to make the appropriate adjustments.
Agile product management courses
While reading articles is a great way to begin learning what agile product management is and how to get started, a more interactive learning medium like an online course will be instrumental in getting you to the point where you can successfully implement an agile process at your company and manage agile development. Here are three of the best courses for someone looking to gain practical knowledge and experience in agile product management.
9. Agile Crash Course: Agile Project Management; Agile Delivery
Some of the most important functions of an agile product manager include creating and updating user stories, organizing daily stand-ups, and monitoring workflow to identify inefficiencies. You can gain an understanding of what each of these things is from articles about agile, but this course will ensure that you actually know how to carry these functions out.
10. Agile Project Management: Scrum Step by Step with Examples
If you are specifically looking for a resource to help you use Scrum, this course provides in-depth instruction on how to carry out each step involved in the technique. The instructor uses real-life examples to demonstrate effective root cause analysis, sprint planning, release planning, capacity-driven planning, velocity-driven planning, and kickoff meetings.
11. Kanban: Productivity & Efficiency for Agile Lean Project
On the surface, Kanban looks easy and intuitive, but there is quite a bit of nuance involved to use it effectively to spot bottlenecks and improve efficiency. This course will guide you through tips and best practices for using Kanban to increase team efficiency.
Books for the agile product manager
Articles and courses can get you to the point of being able to implement and use agile product management techniques. To become an expert though, you will need to broaden the depth and breadth of your knowledge with more comprehensive and detailed resources.
12. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
This book is one of the most comprehensive and thorough guides on scrum development out there. In addition to reviewing what Scrum is and its defining characteristics, Sutherland provides an in-depth analysis of why Scrum works and its potential for increasing productivity and creating a positive workplace culture.
13. The Path to Product Excellence
Getting advice from a diversity of leaders at different companies is a great way to spark thoughts and ideas about what you can do to improve your own team. Our eBook collects advice from over 20 product leaders on how to build excellent products.
14. The Lean Startup
Considered to be one of the most impactful startup books ever, The Lean Startup reshaped how business leaders think about managerial structure and product development. The book’s central premise is that for companies to succeed, they need to build products and processes that perform well in extremely uncertain and rapidly changing environments. This means that the traditional wisdom of business (make a business plan and then execute it as planned) is bound to lead you to failure.
15. The Four Steps to the Epiphany
This book explains that having an “if you build it, they will come” mentality will not cut it for business and product leaders. Instead, you need to develop a deep understanding of your customer and how they will interact with your product or business to find the right product-market fit. Businesses go through four main stages in this process: customer discovery, customer validation, customer creation, and then lastly company building.
16. Leadership Agility
An absolutely essential component to improving as a product manager is having an awareness of where you need improvement and being able to form actionable goals for improvement. This book defines five levels of product management expertise and helps readers know what level they are at and what they need to do to get to the next level.
Lastly, agile product management is a constantly growing and evolving framework. Companies and teams are using agile in different ways and different contexts every day. It’s helpful to follow regular publications like blogs and podcasts as well as take part in related online communities to stay on top of the most recent trends, discoveries, and best practices. Here is a list of some of the most active sources for continuous content.
17. Silicon Valley Product Group
This blog written by Marty Cagan, a former product executive at eBay and Netscape, publishes content on a monthly basis on all things product management. With over 20 years of experience working as an executive product manager and working with senior executives across the tech industry, Cagan brings valuable insights on how to build a successful product using agile methods.
18. Mind the Product
According to the Mind the Product team, “product management is much more than a job title – it’s a discipline, and to some, a calling.” The curators of this blog recognize that the role of a product manager has grown significantly in the past decade and aim to help product managers wrap their heads around this growing responsibility. Posts from this blog will help you think of your role in the larger picture of an evolving tech ecosystem and conceptualize how important an agile mindset will be moving forward.
19. This is Product Management
This weekly podcast features interviews with product managers across the tech industry and product management thought leaders to get their ideas about building great products and great product teams. Recent episodes feature executives from companies such as Google, Capital One Bank, Microsoft, and Honda. This podcast offers a great opportunity to learn from the triumphs and failures of people who have many years of experience implementing agile product development practices at their companies.
20. Product Manager HQ
PMHQ is a community of over 6,300 product managers and has a weekly AMA (ask me anything) session with a prominent tech leader. Instead of just reading and listening to interviews from big companies like Google and Airbnb, this community enables you actually to engage with these leaders and ask your own questions.
21. reddit: r/agile
This subreddit has over 12,000 members who regularly post questions, discussion topics, and interesting information about agile development. This is a great forum to engage in discussions with other product managers and stay up-to-date on best practices.