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?

Be who you are – Essentials of a ScrumMaster’s role

A ScrumMaster is a lot of things – Mentor, Guide, Buddy, Coach, Shoulder to cry upon, Teacher, Specialist and many more ..

But, if we think deeper….Can one person really be all of these at once??

I think the nearest super humans we know, who can pull of all of these responsibilities without batting an eyelid , is our mothers who can be awake at 4 am every morning, work till 1 am in the night and be raring to go once more at 4 am.

But obviously, we can’t be like our moms (even if we try), more so in a professional setting, so as a Scrum practitioner ( Read again, I did not mention ScrumMaster ), before you can decide to become a ScrumMaster or a Trainer or a Coach, you need to understand and decide who you are ..else just like our furry friend in the video , you might be thinking…ok now what?

Now, the next dilemma is how do I know what I want to be and where I want to be. So, here is a simple matrix to help you understand:

Excerpted from adoption of Choosing a Consulting Role: Principles and Dynamics of Matching Role to Situation. Douglas P. Champion, David H. Kiel and Jean A. McLendon by DandyPeople

As a ScrumMaster you are a teacher, coach, mentor and facilitator, but in your profile and future vision if you lean towards the other roles, may be its time for a realignment of priorities and career expectations.

Do reach out to your coaches and mentors to help you understand your own self better and then decide accordingly

PS: A little bit off the track, but unfortunately, most of the “Agile coaches” Job descriptions advertised these days, expect you to be a Hands-on expert (on everything!) and then when you take up that role, the misses and disappointments start popping up!!

Choose Wisely…. Does your future organization really understand the role of an Agile coach or a ScrumMaster?

The various hats of a Scrum Master

Process Champion, Facilitator, Buddy, Coach, Mentor, Ear to listen to, Shoulder to cry upon, The friend you can confess with, The non-judgmental listening box, the savior, the rescuer and more…

Well, if you combine all these adjectives , what you get is your Ideal Scrum Master.. but..

but but.. nothing in this world is IDEAL not your wife or husband , girlfriend or boyfriend … and the checklist to find one is something like this :D…

But this is what gets your there, yes, right there up to the top.. but then the question arises, how do we take those first steps to become that ideal one?

Well, unfortunately, no institute or certification can guarantee you to be perfect in your work as a Scrum Master and be able to handle every single situation. But, for sure, these are things that can be learned, imbibed and practiced.

So, let’s start this journey. TBH, there is no one good place to start, you can go in any order you want but make sure you learn and practice as much:

Scrum Master as a facilitator:

By definition, facilitation means to make an action or a process easy or easier.

So , here you are not an expert but much rather helping your Scrum team, your unit, your management complete the processes in an easy way. This could be a sprint planning event or that difficult meeting with the client or conflict resolution between two team members, you are helping the team go through those seamlessly by calling for the meeting, identifying the right agenda and people, identifying a suitable place and ensuring that the event goes on smoothly and the event goal is reached. You may actually feel like Doraemon, and rightly so…

There are many facilitation techniques that you should be aware of here including effective listening , non verbal communication, visual facilitation, facilitated conversations and more and it’s important for Scrum Master to learn as many of these to help the team

Scrum Master as a teacher:

A teacher is the one who shares his knowledge with those who listen and want to learn. It require skills, attention , preparation, practice and patience.

Imagine being on a stage, with 800 eyes focusing on every move that you make, every word that you say, every expression that you give. If you cannot engage your audience and they sleep mid-way through your play, you have lost the plot.

As someone who is expected to know Scrum framework and Agile philosophy in and out, you would be expected to teach Scrum to your team, your business stakeholders, your customers et al. So, it’s time to tighten your seat belts and practice as much as you can.

Scrum Master as a coach:

This is where it gets more interesting. As a coach, you may not answer all the questions but you are there to help them find the answers.

Yes, that’s where it gets difficult too.

To keep your mouth shut, to help them learn.

It’s easy to jump in and be the shining knight in the armor and solve all the problems of your team, but for the team to be self organized, it is important that you ask them the right questions, so they can discover solutions by themselves . Yes, they would hem and haw and fail occasionally, but that’s part of the learning process the team has to undergo to be in-charge of their own destiny and be truly self-managed.

There is so much material available on the web today about how to become a good coach , there are so many instant potion classes which claim to make you a coach in three days; but, to me, it’s truly a journey, where you discover yourself too as you help your team

Scrum Master as a mentor and guide:

Mentoring is the longest engagement out of all the above. This requires that you are invested both in the outcomes as well as the process. You are there with your team and team members, almost through the lifetime.

This is where you are helping them identify their team and personal goals and helping them as a teacher, facilitator or a coach at every step to help them reach those goals. So, it requires patience and perseverance and yes, true Agility (Responding to change over following a plan).

Ok, to summarize, you are almost like a parent to your team. Being there for them , always, in many forms, many situations and many ways.

Enough of reading…

Now, go figure out and make a plan how you are going to put all of the above in action from tomorrow morning 😀