Category Archives: Product Owner

Your first Sprint as a Product Owner

Scrum is getting more and more popular. And one role that doesn’t get too much attention is actually one of the hardest in my eyes. The Product Owner.

This blog is dedicated to help professionals grow their skills as Product Owners or start to become one. It is driven from experience of working more than 5 years as a Scrum Master together with Product Owners and being one myself fore more than 1 year. If you came here as reader of my old blog better change your bookmark since this will be the new address where I’ll provide you with content from now on. Together with my 2 partners in Oikosofy Vasco Duarte and Luis Goncalves we’re providing you with everything that you’ll need in your venture to become Agile, Lean and create products that matter and delight your customers.

Who is this for?

You’re brand new in the role of Product Owner or you’re planning to become one in the near future? Then this is for you. It also helps people new to Scrum to understand better what the role of the Product Owner includes and how what a Product Owner does in reality.

  • Product Owners
  • Scrum Masters
  • Leaders looking to use Scrum for their organisation
  • Anyone interested in getting insights to the role of Product Owners

ProductOwnerTeamStakeholders

Assumptions

For this rough recipe the following assumptions are used:

Sprint length: 2 weeks
Testing: mainly done manually
Team: collocated in one room
Stakeholders: All in the same location and country
Backlog: The product backlog is already in place and filled
Planning: A roadmap reflecting the current and upcoming sprints exists

In the next part I’ll describe some of the major Scrum activities as well as the specific Product Owner duties and activities. This is an exemplary list and kind of “by the book”. You’ll rarely find a Product Owner doing all these activities. But if you start doing it you should aim high, no?


Your very first Sprint as Product Owner

Day 1 – Sprint Planning

The Sprint always starts with the Sprint Planning. The Product Owner brings along the Stories that she has prepared beforehand and ordered in terms of criticality and business value to present it to the team and then together collaboratively create the Sprint Backlog. Depending on the preparation this can last from as short as 20-30 minutes to 2-3 hours (for a 2 week sprint).
The goal is to have a common understanding of the Sprint Goal, the scope of the sprint backlog defined, the Stories well understood by the team and Acceptance Criteria defined to be used at the end of the Sprint for the Sprint Review.

  • Set the sprint goal
  • Motivate and engage the team for a challenging yet doable Sprint

Day 2

  • working with Stakeholders to update Release planning and Roadmap
  • answering questions of the team
  • (optional: reviewing and accepting Stories)

Day 3

  • working with Stakeholders to update Release planning and Roadmap
  • answering questions of the team
  • (optional: reviewing and accepting Stories)

Day 4

  • answering questions of the team
  • (optional: reviewing and accepting Stories)
  • working on the Product Backlog to prepare the PBR

Day 5

  • answering questions of the team
  • (optional: reviewing and accepting Stories)
  • finishing the preparation for the PBR to fulfil the Definition of Ready

Day 6 – Product Backlog Refinement

In the Product Backlog Refinement the Product Owner and the team can clarify upcoming topics. These could be epics or features that haven’t been further analysed and need clarification. The Product Backlog Refinement is a good occasion to break Features down to Stories and add useful information to the Stories.

  • answering questions of the team
  • (optional: reviewing and accepting Stories)

Day 7

  • answering questions of the team
  • (optional: reviewing and accepting Stories)
  • clarifying open questions from the PBR in preparation of the Planning

Day 8

  • answering questions of the team
  • (optional: reviewing and accepting Stories)
  • clarifying open questions from the PBR in preparation of the Planning
  • working on the Product Backlog in preparation for the Planning
  • negotiating priorities for the Product Backlog with stakeholders
  • updating Release Plan and Roadmap with stakeholders

Day 9

  • answering questions of the team
  • clarifying open questions from the PBR in preparation of the Planning
  • working on the Product Backlog in preparation for the Planning
  • negotiating priorities for the Product Backlog with stakeholders
  • updating Release Plan and Roadmap with stakeholders

Day 10 – Sprint Review

In the Sprint Review the Committed Sprint Backlog will be reviewed in the form of running tested software. The Product Owner and team will check if the agreed Definition of Done is fulfilled for each Story and will reject Stories that don’t fulfil it.
The Sprint Review is an open event that everyone can join and especially real end customers can and should take part in it if possible.
The Product Owner as spokesman for the customers will decide what’s finished and can be released to the public and what not.

  • Celebrate with the team
  • Thank the team and give them a small pause to do the Retrospective and recharge batteries

What next?

This is an exemplary schedule of a Product Owner.
A Product Owner should always aim to have exactly the availability that the team needs to answer questions or review work in progress. Every hour that can be saved for reworking Stories that weren’t finished as “intended” during the Sprint is a big saving compared to do it after the sprint.

Managing the Stakeholders is a difficult task. Especially balancing the time used for meetings with stakeholders versus working with the development team. If you can get this right, you’re set up for success. Many Product Owners that I’ve worked with were swamped with meetings trying to please all stakeholders and left the teams alone during the Sprint. This is an anti-pattern that should be avoided.

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This blog will be a source mainly for Product Owners and related topics.
In future posts I’ll dig deeper in what you saw under Assumptions. E.g. creating your first Product Backlog and how to do regular Roadmap updates and Release planning.
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Sven Schnee

10 Myths about POs

Hi dear readers,

today I want to share some of my latest experiences with you.
Right now I’m not helping teams to improve but I am the PO for a team.
Normally I’m working as a Scrum Master together and for a team and the PO is “on the other side”.
So being on the other side opens your eyes for a completely new perspective.

So here are the Ten Myths about POs that I hear and feel every day, when working as a PO.

Ten Myths about Product Owners

1. POs are writing stories and detail out everything the team needs

Either as a Scrum Master or a PO you most likely have heard the following in a Retrospective or on another occasion:
  • Requirements are not detailed enough, we don’t know what to do
  • Acceptance criteria are not clear
  • Stories are poorly written
  • We don’t know what to do
So, here’s the hard truth. If you expect a specification in the form of a user story that will help you switch your brain off and just do checklist coding, Scrum and Agile is not for you.

2. POs are working on the backlog 90% of their time and use the rest for Scrum Meetings

The product owner is the one who knows exactly what she wants and will formulate that as precise and crystal clear prioritised list of Backlog items.
Once a product owner is not meeting with the Scrum team in a Planning or PBR session or answering their questions she’s sitting at her computer to write stories and keep the backlog in shape.
Bad news is, there is much more about creating  a product than only writing stories and dealing with questions of the teams.
  • stakeholders want their attention and they will constantly want to change priorities and do exactly the opposite of what they wanted 2 weeks before
  • having different stakeholders with separate agendas will put the PO in a mediator role between them to find compromises that everyone can live with in the form of priorities
  • customers need to be involved in the feedback loop and their feedback needs to be heard and transformed into something useful for the team

3. POs are available for the team all the time

So the theory is that a PO should always be there for the team to answer their questions. The team is the one delivering what the PO wants so it’s only fair that they have her for dealing with questions, whenever they need.

Well in practice I normally see the exact opposite:

  • PO being rarely available for the team and mostly in meetings
  • POs that have more than one team often 2-3 and by this most of the time in Scrum Meetings with little or no time in between them to do anything important like talking with the team or working on the backlog

4. POs know everything about their product

Since she is the owner of the product, she has to know exactly what she wants. And she’ll be able to express that without the need to ask any questions.
New functionalities can be explained by the PO in a way that stories are only a small reminder of what needs to be done and to check after the implementation that nothing was forgotten.

On the contrary.
Often the PO will be able to tell what user value is at the end of an idea, but the way there is the same adventure for him like it is for the team.
The PO can be lost if the team doesn’t help with:

  • doing spikes and prototypes to get rid of uncertainty
  • requirements analysis, discussing the HOW of the story
  • wireframes, quick design sessions, whatever helps to get a good understanding about how to get the idea to life

5. POs are evil guys that stress teams to the max for delivery

Well, sorry this one is true.

6. POs and Scrum Masters are enemies by nature

Since the PO always will ask for a higher velocity the Scrum Master will always have to protect the team and tell them to go where the sun doesn’t shine.

What I’ve seen in reality is that both of the above don’t have to become reality, if the Scrum Master does a good job of coaching the PO. Having good practices to find out the highest business value and the right priorities will actually lower the stress on the team and make the PO’s and Scrum Master’s life easier.
But then there are these myths about bad scrum masters. But that’s a different story.

7. POs know how to be visionaries and guiding teams

Before a new product development is started there will be a ceremony. It’s called the vision gathering.
The PO will hold a speech in front of all the company alluring them with a sweet voice and painting wonderful pictures in their minds about the glorious future.
Well, how many real visionaries did you see so far around you?
This is by far the one thing I’m waiting to see in a PO.

8. POs are not needed, the team can do that completely alone

More and more teams in my surroundings don’t have dedicated POs.
Well a team CAN do without a PO, this is without a doubt. It’s like having a car without a driver. If the driver jumps out the car will move on for some time. With cruise control it will even keep the speed, but just wait for the first bend in the road.

Whenever I see a team without a PO I ask them to get one. Either from inside the team, from the customer, wherever it makes sense. Doing this on the side can work somehow for a small amount of time but not taking the role serious is a severe mistake that will strike back heavily.

9. POs are Masters in Agile Release Planning

Every PO knows how to do a Release Plan. They are used to techniques like Story Mapping, defining Minimum Operable Feature Sets and constantly updating the roadmap to help the team keep the big picture.

Most of the POs I’ve seen so far are able to get the idea of Stories. Talking about Epics and Features and creating a continuously update release plan confuses most of them.
If they are not young and open to new ideas but have “old ways” of working still memorised trying to put everything in a giant backlog and getting numbers on all the parts of the checklist will be the preferred way to go.

10. POs are Managing a Risk List and update it constantly

Each feature has a risk indicator showing how hard it is to implement and how likely the effort that was estimated will meet the initial numbers. Since there are no longer Project Mangers in Agile environments the PO will also keep a list of non product related risks together with mitigation strategies. Cost of Delay will show how much a delay per day or week of a feature will cost.

If you ever had a PO doing that, please put me in contact with them. I’d like to get to know them 🙂

To be a PO is a really hard job and involves much more than writing stories and order some post-its on a wall. So tomorrow if you go to work ask yourself how you can help to create a great product.
It is and always will be a joint effort. Get your hands dirty and support the product owners.
They are not evil