May 10th, 2016 by Christian Hauschild

This is the 4th installment of our series about being a Product Owner. For the other posts, see here, here and here.

Give me information

The Gatherer mainly focuses on gathering as much information/feedback from stakeholders as he can. This helps him build a direction for the product for a specific period of time. Although he gets new requirements, features and requests, he strives to keep the direction steady and aligns new requirements to it. Together with the team, he prioritizes the backlog consequently. This helps him ensure that the direction is clear to the team.

Remember to write it down

The Gatherer keeps a personal log for all the possible long-term features that could be implemented in the product. He notes everything down regardless of whether the come from from customers, or by comparing with other similar products in the market. As soon as one of these features is barely considered valid for implementation, adds them to the product backlog and discussed it with the team.

Groomed and clean

He insists on frequent grooming sessions; they keep everyone in the team informed and mentally prepared for the forthcoming tasks. Moreover, grooming sessions keep the backlog clean and optimised, since most of the old issues would have been already solved and need to be deleted or rephrased.

 

Team, Team and Team

The Gatherer always tries to keep the team involved. At the regular meetings with customers, he usually summarises the notes and shares them with the team. Likewise, he tends to convey the feedback from stakeholders (positive or negative) about the development process, the quality of deliverables, and their expectation to the product and the team.

 

A responsible role

As a Product Owner, he believes in the role as responsible for defining the product path. That is of course after analysing requirements, business needs and use cases. He has established a strong relationship with the customers, based on mutual trust and sending a clear signal that he takes product ownership seriously.

 

This post concludes the series about different flavours of a Product Owner.

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April 26th, 2016 by Christian Hauschild

This is the third installment of our series of blogposts about different ways to be a PO. For the previous posts see here for part 1 and here for part 2.

The Buy-in pwns

If you look up “complete ownership”, there’s likely to be a picture of this Product Owner. He identifies with the task at hand to an extent that it requires the most stern-hearted 1940’s British nanny to not be won over to his team. If he believes in something, there’s no doubt that he will run in front to get to the finish line. He has a knack for formulating visions and goals which are both ambitious and attractive.

His greatest strength is also a challenge: his own buy-in means he has to work hard to get a similar sense of ownership in the people he works with. He manages this by being really well prepared for any conversation where he suspects it might be necessary to defend a decision or align expectations.

Don’t do it if you can’t sell it

The Buy-in has a knack for selling. He’s not the traditional salesman with well-honed skills of persuasion, but rather he makes a choice. A very conscious choice to trust his own buy-in. A choice to believe in his buy-in and an admirable ability to accept that it is necessary to thoroughly understand those who don’t share his devotion before he is ever able to enjoy their support.

The moment he feels even the most subtle signals of agreement, he sets all sails and his unwavering enthusiasm becomes apparent.

You really have to talk to someone about this

When structuring the backlog, there’s calculated strategy involved. In his case, it’s the communication strategy which prevails. If he can successfully communicate his reasoning for priorities, he feels that the prioritisation is right. This forces him to consider both his customers and his peers and he must make an effort to understand their expectations and perspectives in his work.

 

In the next post, we’ll look at The Confident PO.

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April 19th, 2016 by Christian Hauschild

This is the second installment of the series about flavours of a product owner.

The Inquirer asks a lot of questions.

He does so because it helps him get closer to defining the value that a user story or an epic represents. He understands that users often create their own detailed mental model of a system, which is somewhat removed from the implemented model. Both the questions he asks and the answers he gets, help him discover the users mental model, and translate that to value described in user stories and epics.

To do this, he plays the “Why?”-game.

The “Why?”-game

When a user tries to communicate what he wants by describing his mental model of the implementation, this POs most common response is asking why the user feels he needs the feature and asking for clarification on what the user hopes to achieve.

By asking, he is be able to identify the use case behind the request, and perhaps more importantly, the real value that the user is looking for.

With a clear idea of the required value, he can author user stories which focus on the desired value.

Talking to the team

He can use this to communicate with the team without having to discuss implementation.
This empowers the team to design the implementation and deliver the required value with as few constraints as possible.

During the course of development, the team naturally encounters areas which require additional business input and decisions. The Inquirer makes an effort to return the teams questions and will aim to use their very extensive knowledge and understanding to return to the core value of a given user story. Does the team feel that one or another decision will contribute to delivering the value?

Is there any chance that this PO will also deliberately end a conversation with a question?

 

Next week we meet The Buy-in.

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April 11th, 2016 by Christian Hauschild

What makes us unique as Product Owners?

What defines and characterises each of us?

In the coming weeks, we will try to characterise how we are different as Product Owners in our organisation in order to highlight the quality of variety. By identifying our differences we can work better to support each other – something which is easy to overlook outside the traditional scrum team configuration.

No two the same

Whatever your title, I’m sure you do your job differently than anyone else with that title.

What you focus on is the result of a combination of things: varying expectations (from boss, colleagues, self) or a preference for some specific tasks – probably those where you experience success more often.

Sometimes, you place your focus where you feel the need to improve.

Most important of all, you contribute where you feel your contribution is valuable. If there’s an unoccupied space that you think it would make sense for you to step into, you do it. You claim ownership of that space and do your best with it because you feel it’s the right thing to do at that time.

The choices of an Agile Product Owner

As a Product Owner in a truly agile organisation, you get to make a choice about where you want to place your focus at any given time and provide value to someone. One minute you are working within a development team and the next you are aligning with a customer, trying to make more sense of what value they are actually looking for. To build a useful network and gain more understanding of the product in full, you spend time in the server room with an admin installing hardware and deploying software.
The above tasks are all vastly different aspects of crafting software. All of those things need to be done to make it in our game, but nobody expects anyone to do all of it. That’s why we work in teams.

A team of Product Owners

We are currently 5 Product Owners working with each our product. Some products have overlaps and collaborative opportunities. Others don’t. Regardless, we can use each other and our differences to become better at our jobs and create better products.
Working in a team doesn’t apply only to developers, testers and devops:

That is why we are trying to be a team of Product Owners.
In forming ourselves as a team, we have discovered that we have vastly different interests, skills, experience and focus, which we can use to help each other and deliver more value, faster. Just like a team.
To get an idea of how we complement each other, we are working with identifying what makes us unique as Product Owners; what defines and characterises each of us. In addition, it’s also an attempt to show that none of those unique qualities are better or worse than any other. Rather, it’s to encourage that everybody benefits from us working as a team.

Product Owner Flavour No. 1: The Visual

The Visual Product Owner has an ability to put himself in the users’ place. He thinks visually and spends time generating ideas and designing an experience for the user. This makes it easier for him to communicate the value to the team.

He has a challenge: suggestions for implementation can easily be construed as dictating a solution to the team, so he has to ensure that the experience he designed in his mockups are perceived as suggestions from someone who cares intimately about the product.

Time well spent

He spends a lot of time producing social glue and listening to what the team says about priority and product. As a positive side-effect, he is included in the team to a great extent.
To ensure there’s no doubt about responsibilities, both he and the team sometimes address him explicitly as “PO” when a Product Owner decision or opinion is required. His personal opinion is not always the same as his professional Product Owner opinion, particularly when it comes to prioritisation.

Working with the backlog

When working on the backlog, he looks through what is in the top third-ish and make sure that each user story has a clear description of value using the syntax:

In order to <value>
As a <stakeholder>
I want <feature>

He looks only as far in time, as he can couple with events in “real life”, with the reasoning that: “If I don’t know what I am doing in my spare time 3 weeks hence, it’s likely to change anyway”. It’s the same with the product backlog. Things beyond the structured top of the backlog are constantly subject to change.

Epics are used as a tool for grouping. The groups can be prioritised and the priority of the epics help when working on the backlog. User stories from different epics can easily be worked on at the same time. The epics are more a tool for managing stakeholder expectations to when delivery of specific work is planned.

 

Next week, we’ll look at another flavour: The Inquirer.

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December 28th, 2015 by Daniel Nielsen

tl;dr Make sure to talk about why you do the work you do and what the value of said work is.

Introduction

Historically, we have had several teams working on separate components (stand alone products at the time) for one of our products. The choice of organising in component teams was natural evolution of people’s interests, how we group in the offices and how the separate products grew, before turning into components for a whole product. It might even be a related to Conways Law.

Now, as these components are merging into one single product, several pains are now manifesting.

  • How do we coordinate a release of the full product?
  • How do we ensure a release with consistent quality across the product? What does quality for the whole product even mean?
  • How do we coordinate the implementation of a Stories touching several components
  • When is a Story touching several components done? After each team has completed their Stories with their own Definition of Done? Should we introduce a Definition of Done-Done?

The obvious pitfalls with component teams, like communication on related work and integration testing was handled as best as we could. To minimise the impact of these pitfalls, we tried to coordinate between teams so that related Stories were being worked on at the same time; Hopefully minimizing how much we impede each other and our turnaround time on issues found. Unfortunately, this approach took control of the work to be done away from the teams, and still duplicate work and uncertainty about responsibilities was prevalent.

Value-driven Stories

Previously, much of the work being done has been described with a focus on the functionality (the what) and technical solution (the how) and more often than not, the value (the why) provided would slide into the background. We would all sorta – kinda know why, but our conversations tended to be more about the how. This approach has worked well with component teams, as the tasks describing changes to the components were technical by nature – with focus being on the what and how. But this does not invite discussions about the why.

We would like to increase visibility of the value we deliver and foster discussions about the why. An important step in doing so, is actually talking about the value of the work we do. When we talk value, we talk about it in the broadest sense. We ask questions about the kind of value a given Story adds or subtracts. Does it add value for the user? How about the customer? Could the perceived user value could be achieved in another way? How about the strategic value? Does that influence the customer value? All valid questions and the conversations stemming from these is what we want to have more of.

The introduction of the value-driven Stories did not happen overnight, but it has been a gradual shift in how we talk about the work we do. An interesting side-effect of the value-driven Stories is that it became natural to talk about Stories across the product without being specific about each component. So how did that work with our setup of component teams? The flow for a value-driven Story ended up looking something like this:
Storyflow
“But wait”, the observant reader objects, “is a component story then really a value-driven Story?”. No, no it is not. The component Stories are more like technical tasks.

Enter feature teams

I’ve touched on some of the pains we were experiencing with component teams. Given these pains, we had known for some time that feature teams would be an interesting change. But the final push came from the move towards value-driven Stories. In the above model, the conversations about value were happening between all of the involved people when discussing the product as a whole. But as the component stories were about the what and how, the conversation died in the day-to-day work for the teams.

So we started a journey towards feature teams. For us, feature teams mean that all teams are able to commit to a Story from the backlog and handle work responsibly across all components. We have only taken our first steps on this journey and there are still lots of quirks in how we organize around the feature-driven Stories. We have already had the first wins, like the teams aligning on various agreements around the whole product, such as quality and Definition of Done. It has also fostered communication between teams, as each team has limited knowledge about the other components.

But most importantly, we are now having conversations about why we are working on a Story, and what the value is, on a daily basis. That, I think, is a success.

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August 3rd, 2015 by Daniel Nielsen

… And what does it mean to be a Scrum Master for a team? Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about this, as I recently became the ScrumMaster for a new team.

The classic Scrum Master

According to the Scrum Guide, a Scrum Master’s mission is formulated as follows:

“The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules.”

So a classic Scrum Master is responsible for Scrum ceremonies and keeping the team on the right Scrum-path.

The Scrum Guide does not address anything else. What that means for the every-day responsibilities of a Scrum Master is left open. To see how broad this definition can be, I recommend watching Angel Medinilla’s talk on Scrum Master archetypes.

SAFe Scrum Master

SAFe extends the definition a bit:

“The SAFe Scrum Master is a servant leader who:

  • helps assure that the team follows the rules of Scrum and SAFe
  • helps the team meet their daily and iteration objectives
  • works to remove impediments in the organization
  • helps manage the teams relationships with outside stakeholders
  • facilitates team continuous improvement
  • coordinates solution implementation and delivery with other Scrum Masters on the Release Train.”


As I read the definition, I fear that a SAFe Scrum Master can be pressured to do things that are not in the team’s best interest, as otherwise envisioned by the classic Scrum Master-definition above. Ron Jeffries has written a piece about how SAFe can be improved , including the Scrum Master role. As I read the SAFe definition, the role of a Scrum Master is a little more clear than the classic one above.

The loose definition

What if a team has adapted their way of working so much that it can no longer fit inside the boundaries in the Scrum Guide? Is the role then still called “Scrum Master”? Joakim Sunden has written about how the Scrum Master role became the Agile Coach role at Spotify. They initially said that all teams must do Scrum, but learned two things over time:

  1. Scrum does not fit all teams.
  2. There is value in having someone with team collaboration in mind, associated with the teams.

My experience is, that when most people (except, perhaps, people in the SAFe world :)) talk about a ScrumMaster, they do not mean a ScrumMaster in the classic sense, but someone in the broader Agile Coach sense.

Agile level

I believe that when both team and organization has reached a certain agile level, there is no longer a need for a guardian of Scrum ceremonies and rules. But more a need for an agile coach in the wider sense. Someone who can take a conscious decision about the next step in their agile journey; a learning path that both the organization, team and coach travel together.

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May 4th, 2015 by Mogens Villadsen

Kickstart your new agile project using these 4 simple steps.

It will ensure alignment between stakeholders and project team at kickoff and help establish a foundation for an agile team working in an environment with open and honest communication.

Step 1: Preparation

Help stakeholders state their expectations for the project and team

Expectations from the stakeholders should be:

  • Positive
  • Aligned amongst stakeholders
  • Complete
  • Empowering

Strive for simple and positive statements that address expectations to deliveries, mandate for the team, the team attitude and collaboration with other parties.

Iterate until all stakeholders are aligned and committed to the expectations stated.

Step 2: Kick off meeting

Share stakeholder expectations with the project team

One of the stakeholders presents the expectations to the team. Allow ample room for questions and comments.

If this leads to confusion about the expectations, stop and revisit step 1.

The team coach or one of the team members makes sure expectations are noted for future reference.

When all team members have understood and acknowledged the expectations, proceed to step 3.

Step 3: Team building

Let the team meet and share

Do team building exercises.
Struggling to light fires in the rain and building bridges in your underwear: no. Figuring out how to work together in the workplace on workthings: yes.

It is important to share knowledge about competences and skills within the team in this step. Align expectations to relations, roles and working agreements within the team.

Use activities like Market of skills, Ability Spotting and other team coaching techniques based on systemic practice and appreciative inquiry.

Step 4: Team to action

Find team values and working agreements on how to meet the expectations

At this stage the team knows what is expected of them. The team members know each other and understand how they can support each other. Now it is time for the team to state how they envision to meet the expectations from the stakeholders.

Refer to the expectations stated in step 2. Explore past positive experiences in the team and help the team state a vision for their shared future, as they would like it to be when they meet the expectations. Let them use that vision to decide on actions, rules of engagement, working processes and so on.

  • Explore past positive experiences
  • State a shared vision
  • Decide on actions
  • Agree on ROE (Rules of engagement)
  • Define process

Aim for the simple and operational. Build in reflection and feedback loops.

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