OMG! I Am a New Product Owner. Help!!!

If you are reading this blog, there is the possibility that you are a new Product Owner searching for resources to better understand the role. My guess is that you have read the Scrum Guide only to be underwhelmed by the lack of guidance it provides regarding the Product Owner role.

You see, there was a time when the Product Owner was not considered part of the traditional Scrum team. The notion was that developers make up the Scrum team and the Product Owner, although heavily engaged with the Scrum, was not necessarily “part of the team.” In recent years, opinions have changed, and Product Owners find themselves not only part of the Scrum team, but a leader of the Agile movement. This blog’s aim is to present a realistic correspondence between a new Product Owner and a seasoned Agile coach. The correspondence platform pivots between email, instant messaging, and dialog, to make it more realistic to the reader.

To: Jim Manzzullo
From: Kim Eisenmann
Date: October 1st

Hey Jim,

It was great catching up at the last social hour. Enjoyed the SAP Agile transformation conversation and how your role as Agile coach will help new teams adjust. What a coincidence that I have recently been assigned a new project and the team will leverage the Scrum framework as their working process. I have been assigned the role of Product Owner, but I am not sure what my responsibilities to the customer and team are? I have read the Scrum Guide, but it feels a bit empty regarding how I can ensure I “maximize the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team”

Do you have time to help me understand this new role?

Honestly, I am lost on this one, so any help would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance,

Kim

To: Kim Eisenmann
From: Jim Manzzullo
Date: October 2nd

Hey Kim,

Congratulations! I am more than happy to help work with you to help you understand the role of Product Owner.

I am going to start a weekly call for us to have a dedicated time to discuss your journey into the new role. I intentionally use the word “journey.” It will take time to get comfortable with the Product Owner role and with the mindset shifts that come along with it.

Let us take a step back a bit by considering the following questions:

1) What does the new role mean to you?

2) How can you help the team with their agile transformation?

In the meantime, I would recommend that you visit the Dojo and start work on the Agile domain with a focus on completing the green belt. There are a lot of useful resources that will help you better understand the Agile fundamentals. You may even find help with the answers to the questions I asked above.

Looking forward to our conversation,

Jim

OCTOBER 10TH – THE MS TEAMS MEETING HAS STARTED

“Hi Jim”

“Hi Kim, how has the Product Owner journey been for you so far?”

“Thank you for the recommendation to visit the Dojo. I have started working through the Agile green belt curriculum and I find it extremely useful. I have been considering your questions and think I have a better understanding of what is expected of me.”

“Sounds good. What does the role mean to you so far?”

“I will be working with the customer more closely than I have on previous projects. I will be in constant communication with the customers and stakeholders to ruthlessly set priorities, surface risks and ensure that the products we are building are high quality. We will work together to build a narrative for our upcoming sprints and capture that narrative in our product backlog. This narrative will be represented by crafting “user stories”. These user stories will be hosted in the team’s product backlog.”

“You’re on the right path. The team needs to deliver customer value every sprint based on the customer priorities. Product Owners negotiate with the customer to ensure the team can deliver. They also surface any risks with the customer up front and work through them during the development process. You mentioned the product backlog. What does the product backlog mean to you?”

“The product backlog must also be high quality if we are anticipating the creation of high-quality products.”

“Yes! The product backlog acts as the team’s North star in the Scrum team’s product development journey. If the product backlog is low quality, it becomes subjective, and the team could lose sight of the priorities that were agreed upon. What are your next steps with the project?”

“I have been assigned a ScrumMaster and anticipate having my first call with the customer next week. My goal is to establish our first sprint goals and start the team’s first sprint shortly after.”

“Sounds like a plan. Feel free to reach out to me after your first sprint is underway”

“I will! Thanks again for the collaboration. Talk to you soon.

MS TEAMS CHAT

Kim: Hi Jim. The first sprint is well underway! The ScrumMaster is doing an excellent job leading the team through the Scrum events, but the team is pushing back against the number of Scrum meetings that have been scheduled. Any advice?

Jim: Hi Kim. You mentioned that you have found direct value in the Dojo Agile domain. Have you considered having the team achieve their green belt in the Agile domain as well?

Kim: Hmmm, that is not something I considered.

Jim: It may give you common ground for the Agile conversations that will continue to occur. They must understand what is in it for them or else why should they care? The team not only negotiates what products they are building and when, but how they are building them. This negotiation starts with open and honest dialog.

Kim: Thank you for the advice. I will craft a user story for the team to start working on their Dojo Agile green belt.

Jim: Sounds great!

Kim: I have one more question. I did struggle with some of our initial Scrum events. There is a lot of room for improvement, but I am not sure where to turn to. There is only so much that books, videos, and articles can provide. Any advice?

Jim: Have you considered shadowing another Product Owner for a few sprints? If you are interested, I can connect you with a seasoned Product Owner.

Kim: That would be great!

Jim: You bet I will set up the introduction call to get things underway.

Kim: I cannot tell you how much this will help. Thanks again!

Jim: Anytime.

To: Jim Manzzullo
From: Kim Eisenmann
Date: November 14th

Jim,

Thank you for putting me in touch with the Alpine team’s Product Owner. I was able to shadow their sprint events and it was very enlightening.

During the sprint review, the team focused heavily on showcasing products being delivered as part of their sprint goal commitments. After each presentation, action items were created based on the feedback the team received from the audience. Listening to the Product Owner speak, it was apparent that these action items would be considered as future work efforts. This leads me to believe that the first area of focus is the product. The customer and team must both have a shared understanding of what value is expected to be delivered and why.

During the sprint retrospective the team discussed the product development efforts during the last sprint. It was interesting to listen to, as they focused heavily on how they worked together and not necessarily the product itself. After the call I realized that the Scrum team was providing themselves with feedback on how to better align on sprint goals, knowledge transfer and grow as a team. The second area of focus is the Agile process.

The Product Owner established sprint goals early during sprint planning. The Product Owner and the team then negotiated what they would pull in for the sprint based on overall velocity and risk. It was an intense conversation, but ultimately led to a positive commitment from the team. I will need more guidance with this event.

Being able to shadow this team allowed me to understand the initial agile gaps I have with my team. I can guide the team through the Scrum events now with more focus and understanding. I now clearly understand the purpose and value of each event. Working with the ScrumMaster, I can help guide the team through each of the events.

To be honest, I am stumped on the third area of focus. I understand that focusing on the product is important. That was clear. After listening to the retrospective, I realized that even mature Scrum teams are constantly challenging and refining how they work together. This led me to understand how we build products is just as important as building the products themselves.

I must be missing something, help?

Kim

To: Kim Eisenmann
From: Jim Manzzullo
Date: November 15th

Kim,

I am glad you were able to shadow the Alpine team. Many times, we can get a better understanding of Scrum if we watch it in action. You also have a weekly meeting now with the Alpine Product Owner to discuss developing your new Scrum team. Building bridges with other Product Owners is a wonderful way to accelerate your Agile approach, as well as learn from each other. Kudos!

Yes! The first area of focus is the product. In Agile we deliver workable solutions each sprint, constantly building upon the last iteration of product development. This is different than traditional product development approaches that tend to deliver a product once it has been fully developed. Feedback is a crucial component to iterative product development and having outside perspective provides feedback is invaluable to a Scrum team. If we do not include customers and stakeholders in our sprint reviews, the team is relying on their own feedback counterintuitive to the principles of Scrum.

You are doing well! The second area of focus is indeed the process the teams leverage to build the products. The products that teams build is a direct reflection of how they build them. Mature Scrum teams understand this and are constantly scrutinizing how they work together. The sprint retrospective is a time where the team reflects on the previous sprint. They consider what worked well and what did not work so well. It is good practice to create action items from the retrospective and create user stories for improvement. These stories eventually make their way into the product backlog and become part of the team’s sprint goals. Keep in mind that sprint goals are not always about the product. We should consider all three areas of focus when prioritizing sprint goals and dedicate time to each.

I think I can help you with the third area of focus. The Dojo offers a Mindset domain. This domain is supported by a community known as the “Mindset Circle.” They meet weekly to discuss anything and everything mindset. I encourage you to attend one of these meetings, as you may find the answer that you are looking for.

Jim

MS TEAMS CHAT

Kim: Hi Jim. I attended last week’s Dojo Mindset call and what an experience. The topic of the conversation was, “Can you have trust without empathy.”

Jim: Did you find value in the conversation?

Kim: I did. I made me reconsider several approaches I have been taking with the team. I admit that this was a different kind of community, one that I was not used to participating in.

Jim: How so?

Kim: It was a very intimate and meaningful dialog between the participants. At times, there was tension in the conversation and at other times that tension was released. Everyone was respectful and it was apparent that everyone was engaged in the conversation.

Jim: The Dojo’s Mindset domain aim is, “To learn how to embrace struggles in ways leading to growth.” Do you feel that occurred on the call regarding the topic?

Kim: I do. It made me consider that we all have different perceptions of what is going on around us. The team must take time to understand each other’s individual’s perceptions when tackling product development to build a shared understanding. As the Dojo states, “Discovery through dialog leads to artful refactoring.”

Jim: What does that mean to you?

Kim: It means that we stay in the conversation until every voice has been heard. We must be empathetic to each other perceptions and continuous work through conflict instead of circumventing it.

Jim: And?

Kim: And I know what the third area of focus is now. The third area of focus is the individual. People.

Jim: You are correct.

To: Jim Manzzullo
From: Kim Eisenman
Date: December 1st

Jim,

I cannot thank you enough for your guidance over the last few weeks! Let me recap where I am at now:

I have a weekly meeting with my ScrumMaster now to discuss the teams Agile approach and how we can continuously work towards improvement.

I am shadowing a seasoned Product Owner who has been invaluable to me.

The team and I are currently working through our Dojo Agile green belt.

I will be asking the team to work through their Mindset green belt after they complete their Agile green belt.

The team is starting to really get engaged with the technology now and are ready to start product development. We have had a few bumps in the road with the Agile approach, but we are working through them every sprint by creating action items in our backlog.

I do have a few more questions and concerns now that the team is ready to roll their sleeves up and jump in. Would you mind meeting with me after I complete a few more sprints with the team?

Kim

To: Kim Eisenmann
From: Jim Manzzullo
Date: December 5th

Hi Kim,

Sounds like you have a solid framework in place to assist with your acclimation into the new role.
I am available to further our conversation any time.

Jim

Jim Manzzullo

Agile Coach/ScrumMaster/Dojo Sensei
ISBN Cloud Operation – SAP

Dojo reference: How SAP built a Dojo Community of Practice to support a cultural shift to DevOps

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