Father of the Bride: Essentials of the Product Owner’s role

Product Owner’s role is one of the primary roles on the Scrum but as it is with most of the Scrum practices and Agile principles , Everyone interprets it in their own way.

As was trying to find examples of a PO’s role, I remembered Steve Martin (who else…..) [And if you are thinking why and how.. you are certainly a Gen Z rather than a millennial or the GenXer]

If you were born in that era, you would certainly remember the Steve Martin cult movie and the big fat weddings, demanding in-laws and the farting, passed out uncles which were the quintessential part of the big fat wedding

If you have been to a wedding in that era, you would also remember that guy who was supposed to be in-charge of everything, in control of every single bit yet he was the most tense, most haggled of the lot..

Yes, yes… I am talking about the Father of the bride, the ever beaming, smiling one… That, my friend is your inspiration for the PO’s role

BUT not to worry if you have not experienced that feeling of being powerful but still being like ice-cream (trying to make everyone happy I mean..).. let me take you through the journey, my dear co-learner…

If you are the Father of the bride (ummm… Product Owner I mean)… who are you really..:??? Let’s discover


The Cupid/ The Matchmaker or simply ‘Sima Aunty’

( Sima aunty is now in season 3 on Indian matchmaking, making matches, do you know and remember her ;))

The first task of the parents of the bride is to find the suitable match. You would be lucky if your child says, they already have a partner but if they say, we will marry with a person of your choice.. be prepared, It’s a long, bumpy ride ahead and the storm is brewing… because you child is now the customer and they have a lot of ever changing demands, multiple meetings, screaming matches, tantrums et al, yet you are the one trying to be the matchmaker and find that suitable life partner for your beloved child…

and very very similar to this, the PO’s role is to ensure the Developers and Customers know each other, talk to each other frequently, understand each others’ needs well and promise to be friends forever (impossible almost but we can always give it a shot :D) …

Easier said than done though, so here is your survival kit as The Matchmaker:

The Facilitator: You would need facilitation skills to ensure that the developers and business people behave like perfect buddies and actually reach conclusions during meetings

The Negotiator: Negotiation skills to ensure that they don’t start the World War V between the business and developers and also , developers do not take up more than what they can chew.

The Diplomat: to ensure that both business and technology understand each other. If not, get some interpreters on board aka Architects, Product designers, BAs etc.

The Wedding planner

So, after a lot of meetings and ever changing needs, finally we have a match ..and now starts the big task.. planning for the D-Day…and that includes everything from identifying the kind of wedding, to venue, to deciding when should the guests start rolling in and kind of food and everything else to make the occasion unforgettable

Similar to this, as a PO, you are the future gazer of the team. Helping the team build a vision statement, identifying product goals, establishing milestones, identifying what PSI and MVP means for us and much more…

But, this is not a one time activity, because as a wise man said once, planning is important , plans are useless. So, continuously updating the Product plan, strategy and roadmap ,based on the feedforward received from customers and stakeholders, sprint over sprint, is an essential part of the PO’s role.

But when the going gets tough, the tough get going, so here is your survival skillset:

The Astrologer: Being able to understand and envision the future, understand market needs of today and predict the future.

The Planner: to plan for the broad horizon as well as the minute details, to ensure that we do just enough plans and adjust them as the team sprints.

Kuber- The chancellor of the exchequer

A big fat wedding means a lot of people and a lot of demands and ever changing needs of the relatives. But while the demands are endless, the money is not.

So, sometimes as the person in-charge, you have to make some tough decisions ; which wedding item/ ritual to focus on first and what can wait for later, when we have more funds., whom to invite and whom not to go, what venue do we want etc. etc. etc.

Akin to this, your customers would have a lot of demands from the team, but which ones can we do, which we cannot , which should be done first, what can wait for later; these are tough decisions that you would need to take as a PO. And chances are not everyone may like the decisions you take, so its better to be prepared with your survival skills:

The Chitragupta aka the accounting person: You would need to have an understanding of budgets, priorities, hiring, Balance sheets and more to ensure you take the right decision which create value for the business and customers

The astute businessperson: You should know where to invest the penny and how much is it worth, what time to launch the product, what do the users like and what will maximize the profits for the product.

The Iron smith aka Completer Finisher

On the day when the urge to forge comes upon him,
The bellows do everything but speak.
The pile of slag rises higher and higher.
Just look at what has been forged

-Shona praise poetry-Ironsmith, Zimbabwe

It’s the night before the wedding, its well past midnight and everyone is asleep , the wedding planners have done their job and made everything ready…there is a silence all over but there is one guy, who is checking and double checking everything; ensuring and worried everything goes smooth; instructing the wedding planners to make some final changes so everything is perfect on the D-day. There is the father of bride.

The PO is there to ensure that when the team says ‘Done’ , doublechecking and confirming if it is indeed done. When the team needs any clarifications making sure, they get the details in time.

But the final survival skills that you would need are here:

The completer finisher: Ensuring everything is DONE; Definition of done and Acceptance tests have all been completed and quality is inherent in the PSI the team is creating

The tough soul: At times as a PO, you might need to take hard decisions about the product. Focusing on logic rather than emotions about the product you are building.


To conclude , the PO role is an all encompassing role who is responsible for generating value for the customer, frequently and efficiently delivering the right build and product

So, Are you ready for it , Dear Product Owners?

Is ‘Agile’ a substitute for your messy culture?

800 teams , more than 100 organizations that I have coached to build an Agile culture and practices, but a peculiar thing that I have noted.

I probably had not paid attention to this earlier, but as I was looking back and analyzing the pre and post transformation status of lot of my clients, I was almost amazed on how I missed it!

What I realized was for almost half of my customers who went for an Agile transformation, Agility was not about being more flexible or faster time to market or better employee satisfaction (though these were the stated goals) , what my team and yours truly ended up doing was, focusing on bringing discipline and actually documenting and tracking some KPIs (Where there were none!).

You must be wondering if my coaches are advising more documentation and tracking, how can it be called Agile?

Sample this: The project managers of one of the very large and global organizations, track their progress not in terms of days and hours but rather in weeks. Task A would take 8 weeks, Task B would take 16 weeks and more. All this is documented not in any tool or spreadsheet but in a powerpoint slide set and that is updated only by the Project Manager.

The culture is almost perfectly “Agile”.. team members decide the timelines, there is a great camaraderie between team members across the team, they respond to change as needed based on market conditions and change the plan, almost too good Agile … a perfect Agile team….!!!

BUT …..

…they deliver their projects on an average from 18 months to 27 months even though the mandate is 6 months or less for an average project.

…Whenever the status is updated, it is not in terms of number of hours (or days ) pending but just a simple percentage, 50% done, 80% done etc.

Because the organization is truly Agile and cares about its employees, employees reject team and project meetings half an hour before the meeting, because they simply couldn’t come to office that day or were too busy with other stuff.

So, would you call this organization Agile or not Agile. As a coach, if I call for the enterprise to be more disciplined first before using Scrum practices, would I be exaggerating?

Does Agile comes with just the employee friendly rules and culture or there’s more to it, which is as important as setting up a nice team culture?

I await your comments and any similar experiences you have in your organization?

Handovers are costly, but do we learn our lessons?

With the arrest of Shivinder Singh and Malvinder Singh, the famed Singh brothers of Ranbaxy, the all too familiar story in the Indian conglomerates is getting repeated. Few years back it was the Mallayas and even before that, the Ambanis!

So, what are we talking about here? Well, it is the monster in the room that we all know but rarely talk about, The costliness and ills of handovers.

The story of Ranbaxy, United Breweries and Reliance tell us of an oft repeated syndrome in the industry–

When the reins change, the control changes, those over not necessarily share the same passion, same vision, same focus as the ones who created a product or system in the first place. Even though the founders in the case of all three behemoths mentioned above, tried to mentor their successors, but the end game was still a failure ! Family business nurtured and crafted over many decades has to be shut down or handed over to others.

You may create as many documents, have as many meetings, run a Risk assessment, have the best auditors qualifying that the ‘process’ was right but what goes missing, is the passion and vision. You can handover the written word but not the heart and mind.

BUT like our past has been a testimony, Do we learn lessons? Never?

The Indian industry still believes in “Projects”.

Handover after the main functionality/ features are delivered, then let another team/company take care of the mess left behind by the original creators. There are reams of documents created to future proof the systems and make the HOTO process easy but yet every ‘Support and maintenance’ person I have ever met, cribs about how bad the original product/ system/ code was.

and, if this was not enough, the software industry went one step ahead to take the mess to greater heights ( Delhites might be reminded of Ghazipur landfill here :D).

Requirements Analysis by one vendor, design by another, code by a third one, testing by the next and yet the deployment by a totally different team, having long handovers, documents at each step, All in the name of reducing risk and getting more transparency. But, Dear outsourcing customer, please retrospect, did you get more benefits or more headaches?

ok, enough of cribbing but what’s the solution?

Stable teams that continue for long. Teams that live together, grow together, cry together and celebrate together.

“A team that everyone wants to join”

Can your ‘team’ boast of being that dream team today?

If no, what steps would you take to make it that ‘Dream team’?

Corner room Churn: Burnout on the Hamster wheel!

The pressure is growing…

The results are frustrating…

Stakeholder expectations are mounting…

Easy way out… Quit !

As per a data collected from nseinfobase.com and analysed by @economictimes, the churn of CEO and MDs almost doubled between 2013-2018 (This data is only for companies listed on NSE)(https://bit.ly/31NuTvY)

We also have examples of Shri V G Siddhartha, Shri B Ramanlinga Raju who despite of being some of the most respected doyens, gave up after riding the tiger for years.

So, is it the downturn, which is causing these apparent failures OR it is the politics OR is it the pressure of results ?

You definitely could say these are the contributing factors but are these new? Economic downturn, recession, change in market conditions..these are all risks of the game which everyone at the corner office is geared upto.

But then, where in, lies the problem???

The problem is the ‘Superhero‘ syndrome.

In a world, where we have thrived since childhood on super hero comics and tales (Chacha Chaudhary, Nagraj, Superman, Spiderman, Batman,Shaktiman)..we come to expect the same from humans too. Even Bollywood and Hollywood movies epitomize this superhero culture..

So, is it a surprise we try to expect the same from people that we work with:

Shareholder problem, call the CEO

Stock problem, call the CEO

Hiring problem, call the CEO

But does the CEO/MD have a magic wand to solve all the problems ?? Well, the bad news is NO

The problem is compounded by the executives themselves by showcasing ( During the interview and afterwards) as the self made Avatars, who has a god given gift to solve all the problems in the world.

The result of this culture:

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But is there no way out. There indeed is:

and it involves a small tiny change. Just think 2Cs

“Communication and Collaboration”

In his book “Inviting Leadership” @DanielMezick, suggests that “command and control” leadership styles are less and less effective with each passing day as rapidly accelerating change, driven by technology, is disrupting the world of work and redefining the game of leadership.

Two minds think greater than one.

Involving your whole workforce ( I am not talking just the board and executive teams), not only gives you more ideas but it also creates an impromptu, spontaneous ownership with every team member, which gives your organization the foundation and strength to weather the storms.

And when I say this, I always get IFs and BUTs. Why? because we have been wired in since childhood to respect authority and experience! Without question!

Whatever the BOSS says is right..

It’s high time we break this Dogma around leadership… CEO/MD being the lone torch bearer, the head to crack when something goes wrong… and move on to something simpler yet effective

Invitational, open leadership where everyone is heard and everyone feels the ownership.

But that means “CHANGE” and every change causes Grief! And those who overcome this grief come out the winners.

As Walt Whitman once said:

“Not I or anyone else can travel the road for you, You must travel it yourself”

Start this new journey, O’traveller and the world would walk with you soon!

Certified ScrumMaster/ Certified Agile Coach – an achievement or a beginning ?

In Japan, the April – May season is synonymous with the beautiful beginning of Spring. The Sakura flowers cover the ground, trees and just about everywhere. You can see them in their beautiful hue making the spring season magical.

And that, reminds me of the bloom of ‘Agile Coaches’ in India, Asia and across the world. You see them every where , in companies ,big and small, alone or in packs, with certifications and without certifications, technical or non-technical, SAFe or UnSAFe, but they are un-ignorable, unmissable and almost unforgettable ( one way or the other ;)) these days.

But is getting a Certified Scrum Master ( or PSM or ASM or SSM , phew the list is long) or ACP( Agile Certified Practitioner, I donn’t quite know, what that means) or ACC( Agile Certified Coach, I don’t know what that means either, but it’s the latest craze, so will take it in the right spirit) a culmination or it is just a beginning.

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If, you are just getting these certifications for a mere role/job change because it is the ‘in’ thing in the market, you are probably doing a great disservice to the Art and Philosophy of Agility, the clients, the community and may be, to yourself too.

Yes, it would give you better chances to get a good job and good income for few years but what after that??

If, as a coach you still don’t leave the Managerial mindset behind, you still direct your teams to follow Agility like a check list ( Daily Stand-up – Done, 2 week sprints-Done etc. etc.), you prepare an Agile SPIDER CHART and Agile Maturity Model…think again!!!!

ARE YOU MADE FOR THIS ROLE?

Being an Agile Coach is not about the number of grey hair you have or the number of years of experience you carry, it is about living the change, DAILY, till the remainder of your work life. Because a teacher is always a teacher and you don’t get a promotion or a higher designation. You are still a coach after 30 years!!!

Are you really ready to run in the grind and take all the b***shit that comes along trying to transform the unwilling, trying to change habits cast in stone, trying to make a difference as an outsider!

It is like trying to repair a 24 wheeled monster truck, when it is in full motion. You may not even know when it hits you and the survival would be difficult.

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Your Certification is really the beginning of a beautiful yet treacherous journey. To learn and let others enjoy the fruit of your learning, like a firefly lighting up a dark sky.

Coaching is not a honeymoon which lasts forever, but it mimics real life. It has it shares of up and downs, lows and highs and you need the fighting spirit to come and live life in its full bloom

Here I remember a famous couplet from Sant Kabir:

पोथी पढ़ि पढ़ि जग मुआ, पंडित भया न कोय, ढाई आखर प्रेम का, पढ़े सो पंडित होय।

(Reading books everyone died, none became any wise, One who reads the word of Love, only becomes wise)

This is the spirit of Agile coaching. Learning from life everyday, living the life of your mentees everyday

Are you ready?

Agile: It’s about a matter of choice

I vividly remember that December of 2003.

Sitting down with team from my employers and IJI (Ivar Jacobson International), we were discussing on how we could create a tool, which would help Agile and Scrum practitioners, find out their way around being more Agile, as everyone than was confused: how to start using Agile?

and the world has come a long way from that.

From a handful of companies trying to use Scrum and XP, to now everyone ‘talking’ Agile, the world has indeed come a long way

and yes, I am getting old. My CSM license number was 019375 and the latest of my co-learners had theirs in 8xxxxxx series.

But why I am walking down the memory lane on a fine weekday morning…Because something has still not changed !!

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What we started to change in 2001, does not seem to be changing or rather its slow as much as it can be.’The Elephant’ doesn’t seem to be dancing or moving rather it is being dragged on its sides.

Enterprises, Corporations, Individuals in their quest to showcase themselves as ‘AGILE’ have spent millions of dollars on training, coaching, subscriptions, conferences and more but has the ROI been generated. Probably NOT!

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So, what’s missing you ask. The answers are many, but here I present a few that I feel immediately need attention in our industry:

Is ‘Agile’ a process?

The Agile Industrial Complex has been working overtime to ensure the “Agile Philosophy” is implemented not imbibed and absorbed as a culture.

And the result:

Checklist Agility:

  • Daily Stand-up done: You are Agile
  • You are running two week sprints: You are AGile
  • You have a ScrumMaster Role: You are AGIle
  • You are using Story Points and User Stories: You are AGILe
  • You are using the world famous tools: You are definitely AGILE

If that sounds familiar, you are simply updating from one process: Waterfall to Scrum or SAFe or Kanban or something similar but the culture remains the same. So what are you really changing than!

Here is what I ask the leaders, managers, fellow coaches and trainers:

  • Did you give your teams a choice to decide which process/framework they can use?
  • Were they involved in decision making process about deadlines, timelines, scope etc.?
  • Did your senior most guy took over the ScrumMasters’ role or did you choose the right fit?
  • Is your team aware, that there are ways beyond Scrum that team can explore as their way of working?

If not, what kind of Agility you are adopting ?

Is certification enough?

Individuals and organizations have set out on a mission to gain as many certifications as possible for themselves and their staff members.

> I still feel amused to remember seeing the business card of a fellow colleagues couple of years back who had 23 certifications to his name ! :o.

> I see co-learners walking into a class like a zombie, be there for 2 days to get the coveted stamp on their CV.

 > I see fellow trainers, teaching classes to fulfill only the learning objectives of the class and exam.

but is that enough ?

If you are wondering being a CST myself and having authored two Agile frameworks over last few years, why I am ranting about the certification and certifying bodies..

The RANT is not about certifications and certifying bodies. They were all created with good intentions at some point of time.

Your certification is a powerful tool:

You can just use it, to put it on your CV, Blog, company profile, brag about the number of certifications you have got or number of Certifiedxxxx your company has got and get a new job or a new client

OR

You can use the workshop that you attend to find out those 2 things that you want to change, in you, around you and in the world around you.

OR

your can keep RANTING , my leadership and my customers do not understand Agility, what a poor me can do!

I call it ‘The Wall’ Agility.

Trying to prove what others are doing is wrong and what you think , believe and practice is the right form of Agility is nothing but a mentality that does not help anyone but simply troubles people around you and you still do not fulfill your objectives on why you decided to adopt agility in the first place!

So, Is there a Hope or its Doomsday for Agile already?

Agile naysayers and quite a few number of my fellow coaches have been shouting from the top of their voices:

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Agile is Dead! Scrum is useless!

The Agile bubble is about to burst!

We need the next big thing. Let’s move from ‘Old’ Agile and Scrum etc to something new, different exciting ( lik DevOps may be)

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BUT, are we again saying just another process! Just another toolset! just packed in a different envelope!

What happened to the first tenant of the Agile Manifesto: “Individuals and Interactions matter more over Process and Tools’ ?

In the race to ‘Be Agile’ , did we forget the ‘People’ somewhere…?

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

It’s about time we give Agility back to people. Give them the power of choice!

Let them choose which process/framework and certification suits them

Let them give you a deadline and scope rather than you giving them a deadlines/scope and telling them to use something called ‘AGILE’

but are YOU ready to LET GO??