Nor are some of the key roles in Agile new. The origin of the role of the ‘product owner’ can be traced back to fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) – where a product manager role was first created by Procter and Gamble in the 1930s.
P&G was one of the first companies to focus on the process of understanding customer needs and finding a way to fulfil those needs using the now-classic marketing mix, the four Ps (product, pricing, promotion and placement).
Because of this, product managers were initially confined to the marketing function which had the closest touch-point to customers.
In the late 90s, the rapid emergence of the internet enabled a faster delivery channel and new forms of outbound (direct email marketing) and inbound (real time user feedback) communication.
At the same time, new programming languages were making it easier for developers to build prototypes and accelerate the speed of the product development cycle.
Software companies were the first to capitalise on this revolution by changing their organisational network structure, moving to a more-organic design and distributed management style. The key innovation was greater reliance on self-organising teams to make decisions.
More than a game
In 2001 a group of software developers codified a new way to develop software in a more iterative, less process-laden way. It appeared in an ‘agile manifesto’ as a rejection of the traditional waterfall development method.
Although agile became associated with software development its historical roots actually lie in manufacturing – the most commonly known movement of agile was in Japan at the Toyota production system.
Applying iterative thinking to develop new products had also already been alluded to in 1986 in the Harvard Business Review article The New Product Development Game.
Agile was quickly adopted by software and technology companies and gained momentum between 2001 and 2010. Tech companies such as Microsoft had pockets of agile in various functions in the 2000s and decided in 2011 to move the whole enterprise to agile.
Meanwhile some new tech companies decided use agile from the onset. Spotify was founded in 2006 and used agile from the get-go as a way of working across the whole company by setting up autonomous cross-functional teams to encourage experimentation of new ideas with laser focus on creating customer value.