Saturday, August 20, 2016

What makes a good Agile Product Manager/Product Owner?

It depends on who you ask and where you ask it.  Over the past 8 years I have been exposed to a myriad of industries, coaching agile product managers/product owners (APM/PO) on their new role and influencing organizations to consider product model structuring. I want to share the most common success patterns I have seen so far.

The most common success patterns are surprisingly simple in theory yet hard to balance for some brilliant people. The following is my top 5 but certainly not conclusive list.
1. Entrepreneur Spirit.  The APM/PO is the team(s) leader.  She is acting CEO, protecting the company's product or services as if it were her own money being investing. 
2. Leadership. Takes responsibility and leads by example. Facilitates the best possible course of action and garners buy-in from the right people. Self-aware and able to make decisions.   
3. Inspirational.  She is the most excited person in the room and glimmers with passion for the product vision. Always ready to back up decisions with convincing evidence and respecting opinions when provided.
4. Customer centric. The APM/PO doesn't neccessarily need to be the expert in all things, but understands the need for experts in customer journey mapping, user experience design, market research, customer trials and feedback groups.
5. Organized. Understands the process and aligns herself to the best possible business outcome.  Coordination between large groups and getting results out of a large system requires skills and knowledge of the process.

Some folks might be thinking I forgot to include knowledge about the product.  I think this is important but I think a great APM/PO leverages the expertise of those that are closest to the subject.  One cannot be an expert at all things but one should have the wherewithal to make smart decisions immediately and when to facilitate feedback for riskier decisions.  After all, shouldn't we all be listening to the market and other reliable sources of intelligence?  Shouldn't we never stop learning?

So what makes a good agile product manager/product owner? Someone who can balance their act between the 5 patterns listed above.  Some organizations are not mature enough for the highly evolved APM/PO, so organizational skills are valued more than inspirational.  Some organizations are trying to disrupt the market so the entrepreneur mindset is more attractive than someone who follows process.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Product Owner role in SAFe

The Product Owner role in SAFe.  Many organizations that have experienced the benefits of implementing scrum at the ‘team level’ do not realize that Scrum scales too and that most well practiced Scrum teams would scale appropriately over time.  These organizations prefer to implement a prescriptive approach that allows an organization to map their current structure to something tangible with structure.  Personally, I think any movement toward agile is a good move so long as the organization keeps trying to do what is right for the business and the people.  This blog is about how to implement SAFe’s content authority roles when organizations have already scaled scrum.

Why did I decide to write this?  After years of being a very effective Product Owner and Agile Coach, I paid top dollar to get SPC certified by Dean Leffingwell in Boulder, CO on SAFe v3.0.  I learned that the product owner group was represented quite a bit different in SAFe.  Product Management and other management level roles own most of the content authority, which means they assign value and prioritize all work.  Product owners do not write features and they do not decide what features are developed.  Product owners take direction from Product Managers whom of which are part of product management.  The team gets to interact directly with the Product Managers and Business Owners every Program Increment.  The Product Managers interact and coordinate higher level decision makers consistently.   In short, the SAFe product owner does not need to have the technical, marketing or sales wherewithal to prioritize the team backlogs.

How does Scrum scale? In simple terms, scrum scales the product owner role and the product backlog enforces There is one roadmap and one product backlog.  (SAFe would call this the portfolio backlog).  Alignment and prioritization via a bi-weekly MetaScrum meeting with all stakeholders and management.  The product owner hierarchy may include feature or application product owners all the way up to the Chief Product Owner whom is an executive with fiduciary decision making capability.  This person is responsible for understanding the total cost of ownership and financial impacts.  All levels of product ownership team utilizes product management members as advisors to prioritizing the backlog.  The product ownership team interfaces with customers and stakeholders but must be available to the teams.

Let’s assume that all the content authority roles in SAFe need solving for the advanced Scrum practitioner.  The Content authority roles in SAFe include
  •         Program Portfolio Management and Epic Owners
  •         Product Management
  •         Product Owner

      Scrum to SAFe content authority roles
  •         Program Portfolio Management and Epic Owners > Chief Product Owner
  •         Product Management > Product Ownership team + Agile Product Management
    1. -  Product Ownership team (Includes the entire hierarchy from Chief to feature product owner)
    2. - Agile Product Management (Includes Product Marketer + Product Strategist + Product Technologist)
  •        Product Owner > Feature or Component Product Owner

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year Resolutions

As a product owner, I have specific New Year resolutions to make me a better leader to my team(s) and contributor to my company's success. 

To be a better leader to my team, I will schedule recurring chucks of time to groom the backlog and hold all invitees accountable to show up. No more excuses.  I will reflect on retrospectives that surfaced blockers I failed to resolve and action plan for the highest valued items. I may even learn something new about the team along the way.   

To be a better contributor to my company's success, I will look for simple solutions to gain sizable wins and ensure a competitive product vision is in place that aligns with the strategic overall goals.  I will forge relationships with end-users and/or customers.  

To all you new product owners or product owners surviving in transitioning organizations, keep learning and be energized this year.  The single greatest value you can offer anyone is energy. When change is underway and most are feeling sluggish, you be the one that keeps spirits high.  How does one keep themselves energized?  Get good rest, exercise, healthy diet and positive thoughts.  Read about taking good care of yourself and the recipe for energizing yourself in order to energize others comes naturally.

Happy New Year my esteemed Product Owners and fellow agilists!