Christian Bale And Matthew McConaughey Teach Product Managers About Agile Development

Yesterday we summarized “Reign Of Fire” In 10 Screencaps Or Less™. Now let’s extract a product management lesson from 2002’s most dragontastic action/sci-fi film.

One of Reign’s big conflicts is between Quinn (played by Christian Bale) and Van Zan (played by Matthew McConaughey). Quinn is trying to keep innocent people alive; Van Zan wants to kill the sole male dragon and drive the dragons to extinction.

The ongoing argument between product management and agile development is pretty similar, just minus all the incinerating.

To make sure we’re on the same page, we should first describe agile development:

The tenets of agile development are basically rooted in “uncovering better ways of developing software”. Their values are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

If you’re hearing a giant groan–that’s the sound of many traditional product managers responding viscerally to those thoughts. Frankly, it’s easy to see why: What we just described, to many PMs, sounds like complete CHAOS. And it could be.

When you boil things down, agile development seems to be a response to something other than just developing software. It looks like a direct response to ineffective management.

What’s ineffective management? Having engineers write documentation rather than code. Or having engineers generate time estimates for features that a) haven’t been thought out, so b) there’s now way anyone could reliably generate an accurate estimate on how long it will take to develop.

It’s easy to see how that kind of management could lead people to seek a different path, a different way to Get Things Done.

At the end of the day, the developers MUST make what the product managers have specified–that’s not up for debate. But that does put a greater emphasis and responsibility on the PM to make sure you’re doing a good job–both for the product, and also for your team.

If smaller iterations will help your team adapt to change more quickly, try it. If there’s a sense that there’s too much process or too much of a focus on perfect documentation, ease up on those things.

In Reign Of Fire, Quinn and Van Zan are most successful when they’re working together to defeat the dragons. They’re at they’re weakest when they’re competing for resources and working at cross-purposes.

Are product management and agile development natural born enemies? Not necessarily. Like anything you need to keep that balance: You need to complete the projects, and create product that meet the demands of your target market.

If pure agile development does that, great! If not, find another path together that leads where the product needs to be.

Remember: Keep the balance. Otherwise, someone’s going to be gobbled up by a dragon, and that’s no good for anyone.

Additional Resources

How are agile development and product management balanced in your organization? Are they complementary or competitive?

5 thoughts on “Christian Bale And Matthew McConaughey Teach Product Managers About Agile Development

  1. If it works for the product and it works for the business, should it matter whether we’re “agile” or not? I’m new to product management and don’t feel at least like I subscribe to any other thought process than getting the projects completed and making sure they’re tailored to customer needs and satisfaction.
    – ari

  2. Thanks for the article, Carlos. To both yours and, I think, Ari’s points: I think the keys is to create products that meet the demands of your target market.

    Although, I’m not sure that I would take Derek’s “tips for being an agile manager” as anything other than just being tips for being a solid product manager, period.

    Being aware of your situation, in your team and in the marketplace, and being adapt to changing situations–those are traits any good product manager should have.

    Ari: I wouldn’t worry about having the right “name” or framework for what you do. As long as the product is advancing and you’re doing your job, you can call the process whatever you want 🙂


  3. Hi Maria –

    No, I did not go but it certainly sounds intriguing. Brian Marick’s seminar,
    “Seven Years Later: What the Agile Manifesto Left Out” sounds like it would be enlightening.

    Did anyone attend? Share your thoughts and/or links!


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