5 Key Skills Great Product Owners Have

Being Product Owner is hard. Actually, that’s not quite true. Anybody can make a list of things to build, call it a backlog, and bring it to a few meetings every month.

Being a great Product Owner is hard. Development skills are essential, but it doesn’t matter how fast your team delivers and how good your quality is unless you’re delivering the right thing every day. Identifying and expressing that “right thing” at every level of detail is a big job.

To improve our CSPO classes and our PO coaching, Bob and I made a tree of the skills that the best Product Owners use. While there are over two dozen skills on the tree—see, it’s not an easy job!—here are 5 you can work on to have an impact on your team right away.

Skill #1: Clearly express the connections between larger business goals and small backlog items

Many POs are good at making a business case for a project, but end up with a backlog of items that seem disconnected from that larger goal. By the time the team gets a few sprints into the project, half the team (and maybe the PO) have forgotten the business case and are just delivering on the details. They can no longer see the forest for the trees.

A great PO distills the business case into a short vision, makes it visible, and can point to it to explain every little thing on the backlog.

There are lots of ways to write a vision. One of my favorites is a variation on the elevator pitch template from Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. It goes like this:

FOR target customer
WHO need or dissatisfaction
product name IS A category
THAT key benefit (not key features, but what the features allow the customer to do).
UNLIKE alternative way of meeting the need
OUR PRODUCT how it’s better for the customer than the alternative.

Can you answer all the questions posed in this template? Could any member of your team? If not, you’d do well to fill in the template.

This doesn’t always make the most pithy, literate vision statement—it can sometimes be too formal or clumsy—but I love how it makes you answer some key questions about your product in a couple sentences. A slightly clumsy vision statement is better than none at all. And once you have a draft in this format, you can revise it read better.

Here’s an example for our Humanizing Work Conference:

FOR Agile For All alumni
WHO want to get better at their work
Humanizing Work IS AN Agile conference
THAT allows Agile For All alumni to learn advanced content from us and from other like-minded Agile practitioners.
UNLIKE a public Agile conference,
OUR CONFERENCE is built from the ground up on brain-friendly accelerated learning methods and has attendees who share a common language and understanding of the principles behind Agile (which lets every session go deeper).

This vision gives us a filter for every decision we make about the product. It prompts us to ask questions like:

  • Is that session relevant to Agile For All alumni?
  • Is it advanced content, or would they already have learned it in one of our classes?
  • Is ______ brain-friendly or just how conferences always work? Could we make it more brain-friendly?

Sometimes you have more than one kind of target customer. For the Behavior-Driven Development with Cucumber book I’m writing with Paul Rayner, we’re targeting people in four different roles who have different needs. BDD is a practice for collaborating across roles, so we have to meet the needs of all these roles. So, we drafted four parallel visions, like this:

BDD with Cucumber Book Vision

We had a client in education software who had to do this for students, teachers, and school administrators.

Once you have a vision statement, make it visible. If you’re on a colocated team, make a big poster and stick it on the wall. As a distributed team, we tend to use tools like Google Docs, Slack, and email. But when we’re together, we collaborate with paper.

Having a visible vision statement is great. But take it a step further: explicitly connect the vision to the details in your backlog. Say things like, “We’re doing this user story because it helps differentiate us from [alternative],” and, “Remember, we’re not building this story for everybody, it’s just for [your target customer], so we don’t have to do [some variation your target customer doesn’t need].”

You can practice this today:

  1. Write a vision statement if you don’t have one already. Don’t worry about making it perfect, just fill in the blanks for a first draft.
  2. Make it visible to your team. Incorporate their feedback to improve the vision.
  3. Go through the top items on your backlog. For each one, write a sentence or two explaining how that backlog item moves your product towards the vision.

Learn about the other four key PO skills »

On Human Capital – HR and Agile

Human capital business diagram management strategy concept chart illustration

Human capital business diagram management strategy

What is Human Capital? 

Human capital is just one of an organisation’s intangible assets. It is basically all of the competencies and commitment of the people within an organization i.e. their skills, experience, potential and capacity. Other examples of intangible assets include: brand, software, design, working methods and customer relationships. The human capital asset captures all the people oriented capabilities we need for a business to be successful.

It’s important to remember, however, that individuals are only an asset insofar as they choose to invest their human capital in an organization, which should be encouraged by leadership…

Some people find the term Human Capital somewhat mechanistic, but human capital is not about describing people as economic units (like calling people “resources”), rather it is a way of viewing people as critical contributors to an organization’s success. This then throws the spotlight on how businesses invest in their human capital asset, in order for it to add value. For any commercial organisation, this is an important component to understand. If a company understands how its human capital contributes to their business success, it can then be measured and managed more effectively.

Human capital management is a reciprocal relationship between supply and demand: employees, contractors and consultants invest their own human capital into business enterprises and the business enterprises need to manage the supplier. Any organisation interested in its performance will naturally ask how well they are managing this asset to ensure maximum return on their investment. In the same way, all employees, contractors, consultants and providers of human capital want to ensure they are getting the appropriate return for their own human capital investing through salary, bonuses, benefits, and so on.

Understanding how and why people add value or not to an organisation is an important, and difficult, management skill for the 21st century.

Why is Human Capital an increasingly important issue? 

[Read more…]

Is Aiming For Potentially Shippable Good Enough? [Agile Safari]

Agile_Safari_Accidentally_Shippable

What if we used accidentally shippable instead of potentially shippable? Would that help us aim higher?

Tweet the Agile Safari Cartoon!

I was working with some new agile teams and in the process of explaining potentially shippable, I said that it should be okay if it accidentally ships. That seemed to freak some people out. I guess using ‘accidentally’ is not a word people tend to like to see. The term seems to get people’s attention as I’ve continued to use it.

So who is right?  Is the pig right? Are we aiming for only “potentially” shippable? Or is the rabbit? Should completed work actually be ready to ship, even “accidentally?” [Read more…]

The future of agile: changing the world of work

I gave a presentation at the Scrum Gathering in Phoenix AZ about the historic context of Agile and Scrum, and where we are headed next. While agile practices like Scrum and XP are fairly mainstream in software companies, Agile as a mindset is still in the early adopter phase in the business world at large. What can we do to help it “cross the chasm” to broader adoption?

Below are the slides and the talk track. The presentation was in Pecha Kucha format – 20 slides, 20 seconds each on an auto-advance timer, which was a fun challenge to put together!

[Read more…]

Laloux Cultural Model and Agile Adoption

Laloux and Agile Adoption

My Story

I had invested years of my life in a ground up, large-scale agile adoption. The early years of the adoption seemed to go at breakneck speed. Teams were adopting scrum with great success. People were feeling more engaged, products were getting better, and the company was benefiting. And then it felt like we hit a wall. Despite what felt to me like a groundswell of support from teams, managers, and directors, we were struggling to make the leap to real organizational agility.

The Breakthrough

While reviewing a draft of a good friend’s upcoming book, a single reference leaped off the page:

“There is … evidence that the developmental stage of the CEO determines the success of large-scale transformation programs.” (Tolbert, cited by Laloux, 2014)

I immediately bought and read Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations, which provides a comprehensive overview of how humans have organized in groups over the centuries. The prevailing perspective today (what Laloux labels “orange”) seemed to describe my organization in an almost clairvoyant way. It helped me make sense of what my organization valued the most, how I could continue to be effective in my role as agile transformation leader, and what was likely possible given our cultural values. Keep reading to learn more…

[Read more…]

MHA 2015 Slides: Resistance to Change Doesn’t Exist

Thanks to everyone who attended my Mile High Agile 2015 session, “Resistance to Change Doesn’t Exist.” Here are the slides and handouts:

Resistance-to-Change-Doesnt-Exist-tn

MHA15-Resistance-to-Change-Handouts-tn

If you missed the session, you can catch it again at Humanizing Work 2015, our alumni conference, along with lots of other great advanced content.

The Power of 3 Words

love-in-a-book-agileSome of the most significant messages people deliver to one another often come in just three words. When spoken or conveyed, those statements have the power to forge new friendships, deepen old ones and restore relationships that have cooled.

Yes, this stuff can even have value in corporate work… you’d be amazed at what I’ve seen in terms of organizations and companies that need healing… but it all begins with people, people caring about other people. That, is how powerful services and software begin.

The following three word phrases can enrich every relationship:

I’LL BE THERE – Being there for another person is the greatest gift we can give. When we are truly present for other people, important things happen to them and to us. We are renewed in love and friendship. We are restored emotionally and spiritually. ‘Being there’ is at the very, very core of civility.

I RESPECT YOU – Respect is another way of showing love. Respect conveys the feeling that another person is a true equal. It is a powerful way to affirm the importance of a relationship.

MAYBE YOU’RE RIGHT – This phrase is highly effective in diffusing an argument and restoring frayed emotions. The flip side of “maybe you’re right” is the humility of admitting “maybe I’m wrong.”

PLEASE FORGIVE ME – Many broken relationships could be restored and healed if people would admit their mistakes and ask for forgiveness. All of us are vulnerable to faults, foibles and failures. A man or woman should never be ashamed to own up to he/she has been in the wrong, which is by saying, in other words, that he/she is wiser today than he/she was yesterday. [Read more…]

20 Common Logical Fallacies – Don’t Be a Victim!

The 20 Most Common Logical Fallacies

  1. Appeal to ignorance – Thinking a claim is true (or false) because it can’t be proven true (or false).
  2. Ad hominem – Making a personal attack against the person saying the argument, rather than directly addressing the issue.
  3. Strawman fallacy – Misrepresenting or exaggerating another person’s argument to make it easier to attack.
  4. Bandwagon fallacy – Thinking an argument must be true because it’s popular.
  5. Naturalistic fallacy – Believing something is good or beneficial just because it’s natural.
  6. Cherry picking – Only choosing a few examples that support your argument, rather than looking at the full picture.
  7. False dilemma – Thinking there are only two possibilities when there may be other alternatives you haven’t considered.
  8. Begging the question – Making an argument that something is true by repeating the same thing in different words.
  9. Appeal to tradition – Believing something is right just because it’s been done around for a really long time.
  10. Appeal to emotions – Trying to persuade someone by manipulating their emotions – such as fear, anger, or ridicule – rather than making a rational case.
  11. Shifting the burden of proof – Thinking instead of proving your claim is true, the other person has to prove it’s false.
  12. Appeal to authority – Believing just because an authority or “expert” believes something than it must be true.
  13. Red herring – When you change the subject to a topic that’s easier to attack.
  14. Slippery slope – Taking an argument to an exaggerated extreme. “If we let A happen, then Z will happen.”
  15. Correlation proves causation – Believing that just because two things happen at the same time, that one must have caused the other.
  16. Anecdotal evidence – Thinking that just because something applies toyou that it must be true for most people.
  17. Equivocation – Using two different meanings of a word to prove your argument.
  18. Non sequitur – Implying a logical connection between two things that doesn’t exist. “It doesn’t follow…”
  19. Ecological fallacy – Making an assumption about a specific person based on general tendencies within a group they belong to.
  20. Fallacy fallacy – Thinking just because a claim follows a logical fallacy that it must be false.

[Read more…]

Agile For All adds three new members to the team

gI_86400_petergreen-agileforall-announcement

Peter playing his trumpet!

In case you missed the press release, Peter Green, Adobe Systems Agile Transformation Leader, will join our Agile For All team on March 16th. I am personally excited about Peter’s amazing contributions to the Agile community and his enterprise level experience. I’m also excited to say that Peter isn’t the only one joining the team! See below for more details on all of the exciting news.

For those of you that don’t know him, Peter led a grass roots Agile transformation at Adobe from 2005 to 2015, starting with his own team, Adobe Audition. His influence includes the teams behind such software flagships as Photoshop, Acrobat [Read more…]

Be an Expert in a Year – Growing the Agile Way

The guys over at Expert Table Tennis had a great idea. What would it take to become an expert?

Dedication? Heart? Perseverance?

The Expert in a Year Challenge took part during 2014 and followed the progress of novice table tennis player Sam Priestley, as he attempted to go from beginner to expert in just one year and break into the top 250 players in England.

Sam (the subject of the experiment) has been playing recreational ‘ping-pong’ in his kitchen with his flatmates for a few months. He then decided to buy himself a table tennis robot to practice with. He then, with the help of his friend Ben Larcombe, started a challenge…

You can find the whole story here.

What I find most fascinating about this story is the fact that there is almost a universal truth in all of this: As we increase investment in experience, we will become (over time) more productive and efficient. 

This is at the heart of what we do here at Agile for All.

Agile for All Consulting Philosophy

  • Training – to start the agile adoption by setting up the framework which will be used. We like to teach Scrum as the basis, but we include many ideas from other agile processes and lean thinking.
  • Coaching – to cement the training into a permanently changed way of thinking and doing things.
  • Practice – continuously reinforcing the training with correct practices which lead to high quality results.
  • Patience – remembering that change takes time and also requires a settling of ideas into solid and repeatable patterns for the organization.

The practice and patience is where the organization is taking on all of the “hard work” in the sense that they must invest time in experience “being Agile” rather than just “doing Agile.”

I find, that one of the most powerful conversations I often have with people from all levels of an organization is around the art of possibility. Vision casting the (very much real) potential of the company to do great and extraordinary things.

It takes time, dedication, perseverance, and heart. The heart… that’s where we start.