Product Owner = Strategic Thinking – A new dimension, a new thought process

 

We all know that Agile Scrum has 3 and only 3 roles to play for … namely the Product Owner, Scrum Master and the Development Team, all of them put together we have a Scrum Team in place.

Each of these  3 roles have specific elements and responsibilities to execute in order for the product / release to be successful and ensure that the agile scrum practices are well implemented in the given space of things that this team would do.

High Level Snapshot

To see things in a different light, For each role, I have provided a high level element to be associated that would typically define the role and related responsibilities of the same (See diagram attached)

  • Product Owner = Strategic Thinking
  • Scrum Master   =  Influencing Ability
  • Development Team = Execution Focus

Shall be taking each of the roles and approaches a series of ideas to be discussed in the coming blogs of mine …

We shall start with the Product Owner.

At a larger level, we expect the Product owner to own the product backlog, prioritize the product backlog items along with the stakeholders, guide the team in discussions of the user stories, provide clarity and answer queries of the development team to help them understand the requirements and needs of the product and so on …. But somewhere the focus has become very tactical rather than a strategic one, We are all focusing on the current sprint and trying to make it a success by ensuring all the right ingredients are in place for the team to deliver.

But a good Product Owner should always be having a Big Picture view along with the tunnel vision, The tunnel vision is to be used for the current sprint in question, whereas the Big Picture view is the larger approach and broad based thinking that the PO should be involved in and directing the system to move in this direction. For the larger system, we focus on 4 elements that PO should concentrate on:

  • Business Acumen
  • Vision & Purpose
  • Deal with Ambiguity

 General definition of Business acumen is keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome. The term “business acumen” can be broken down literally as a composite of its two component words: Business literacy is defined in Business Literacy Glossary as “the knowledge and understanding of the financial, accounting, marketing and operational functions of an organization.”

A strictly literal definition would be “keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation.”

In practice, PO with business acumen are thought of as having business ‘sense’ or business ‘smarts’.  They are able to obtain essential information about a situation, focus on the key objectives, recognise the relevant options available for a solution, select an appropriate course of action and set in motion an implementation plan to get the job done.  When they discover that changes are required to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, they make the adjustments as necessary and keep the activity moving forward.  They are more often right than wrong in their assessments and choices and are admired by others both for their acumen and business success.

People with strong business acumen use an explicit or implicit business framework to ensure completeness and integration as they assess a business situation. This links to the objectives of key stakeholders, the competitive strategies required for success, the people and activities needed to produce the products and services, and the business processes that support a PO’s ability to deal with the complexity.

Business acumen also requires a thought process that ensures a focus on critical factors, an appreciation of the future consequences of actions taken today and the recognition that future activities require constant monitoring and adjustment when things don’t go according to plan.  These three ideas are summarised by the terms mindfulness, sense-making and resilience.

Why do we think that a PO should have the necessary Business Acumen? The captain of the Agile Scrum flight should be / would be the PO, it is under his / her direction that the decisions are taken and implemented. As the PO owns the return on investment (ROI), it is important that he / she has the relevant business acumen to take decisions, influence decisions at the higher management level and ensure all the necessary approvals with respect to budgets, resources and infrastructure are provided with to the development team.

Understanding the MMF (Minimum marketable feature) would help the PO to prioritize the Product backlog items. Why is MMF important for this, well this would guide the PO as to what is the market expectation from the product, what would be the USP of the product, How the features of the product has to be conceived that would provide the high level of ROI to the system

Important is for the PO to understand where and when a tunnel vision should be applied and how a big picture view should be utilized and drilled into a tunnel vision.

Dealing with Ambiguity

What does ‘dealing with ambiguity’ mean?

The competencies – As a Product Owner one would need to able to do and demonstrate the following:

  • Tolerate and mange change effectively
  • Shift gears/change course quickly and easily
  • Decide and act without having the total picture
  • Tolerate situations where things are up in the air
  • Tolerate and be comfortable with risk and uncertainty.

Leadership, ambiguity and resilience

As a PO, not only do you have to deal with ambiguity but you also have to be resilient and, more importantly, demonstrate and exemplify resilience to team and organization. The two go hand in hand.
Resilience can be defined as  ’bounce-back-ability’, and the competencies (they are all a little different) are generally something like:

  • The ability to deal effectively with pressure and stress
  • The ability to bounce back from disappointment or setbacks
  • Ability to remain optimistic and positive in uncertain, new or complex situations
  • The ability to show and maintain strong leadership in uncertain situations.

Product Owner may feel uncertain, but one must be able to show that they are strong enough and know what you’re doing to others, who in turn  will also be dealing with uncertainty and, probably, the same ambiguous situation from another angle. You need to be sure-footed and make them feel that they are in safe hands.

On this front , the PO’s role becomes important with respect to cancelation / termination of sprint or re-defining the prioritization of the PBIs or when to schedule a formal release to the market / users / production. In such situations, it is expected that the PO would have a clear head and with high level of clarity build-in for taking adequate and correct decisions, as they would in turn impact the system

Vision and Purpose

The way we see it, the purpose of the PO is to answer the question “Why are we developing this product?” On the mission statement, the PO would have the ownership to answer the question, “How will we achieve this?” PO has a purpose to enhance the overall quality of product and well-being of team which works on the product.

Strategic Planning 

Change is an essential component of strategic thinking and planning. This involves moving the organization or program forward to create or change something. Some plans are created out of the need for the organization to move in a certain direction, and other plans develop organically. Mission and vision statements will be important to help communicate the goals of the plan to team and other stakeholders.

PO should emphasize the current mission statement to team, which clarifies the purpose and primary, measurable objectives of the product success. A mission statement is meant for team  and other stakeholders of the organization.

Strategic plans may involve changing the mission statement to reflect a new direction of the product. Highlighting the benefits of the change and minimizing the confusion will help the team and the stakeholders buy into the change.

In the next series of this blog, we shall focus on the Development Team

Advertisements

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s