Welcome!

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Linux Containers, Open Source Cloud

Microservices Expo: Article

Agile 101: Product Owner - Improved Insight into Customer Needs

Scrum Agile Leadership and communication skills for Product Owner

In a Scrum-Agile project management environment, the product owner acts as a catalyst of change in the organization, enabling value creation through projects and products. Product owners create the required link between how the business would look like in the future and the current state. The product owner is a key facilitator within the organization in bridging the client and the business community with the Agile development team.

Most of what a product owner performs can be defined in the broader sense as: 1) Creating and increasing value for the business, and 2) Eliminating and reducing costs for the business.

The product owner is required to identify business needs and determine solutions to business challenges. We can characterize the role description of the product owner as related to the above tasks into several key responsibilities. The product owner needs to:

  1. Mine for and create epics that guide the business towards value creation and cost savings;
  2. Plan and maintain epics, themes and user stories;
  3. Elicit epics, themes and user stories;
  4. Reach consensus and understanding of epics themes and user stories between the business and the Agile development team;
  5. Focus on user stories according to specific guidelines such as INVEST (Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, Testable);
  6. Communicate and collaborate continuously.

As the product owner is the focal point for strategic and tactical product management, he or she collaborates with many stakeholders and must communicate with all of them. Specifically the product owner interacts with the business community and the Agile development teams on a regular basis. He or she should also communicate with management in making sure that business objectives are indeed captured in themes and epics.

On any single Agile development effort the product owner:

  1. Elicits user stories, making them INVESTabile;
  2. Analyzes them with the team;
  3. Provides feedback to the business community;
  4. Communicates continuously while prioritizing user stories;
  5. Monitors user stories to their respective epics and themes;
  6. Supports the Agile development teams throughout the Sprint - providing clarifications where needed;
  7. Approves and accepts the developed features at the end of the Sprint;
  8. Maintains a rudimentary or full-fledged traceability of user stories to business, to epics and themes, and to any other relevant criteria that he has defined.

Communication is a key differentiator in the product owner's effectiveness and most often an aspect in which product owners are lacking the necessary know how. This, in turn, impacts negatively the product owner's performance. Emphasis is given to the elicitation of user stories since product owners are usually gathering the stories instead of eliciting them.

The main difference between gathering and eliciting is: Elicitation is an analytical, free-flowing communication and collaboration effort which fits well with Agile development as described in the Agile Manifesto. Gathering is a passive activity with little invested analysis. When a product owner is a gatherer he is actually no more than an administrator.

To summarize the points above: it is vital that the product owner understands the context in which he is working, the tools that she can use while performing the work, and the essence of what it means to be a product owner in an effective Agile product development environment.

Improved Insight into Customer Needs

The product owner constantly communicates and collaborates both with the business community and with Agile development teams. Communicating is the basis for collaborating. Communicating has several goals:

  1. Letting others know of something;
  2. Asking for feedback from others;
  3. Convincing others;
  4. Proactively building relationships.

In the process of communication, personal, cultural, intercultural, and language barriers exist. The product owner should be cognizant of these barriers and understand that the same message can be perceived differently than anticipated as well as differently by various groups and teams of stakeholders. An effective product owner understands that messages are received, deciphered and perceived differently by others since they have individual and distinct perception filters. Examples of filter categories can be:

  1. Values-personal - values impact the way a message is perceived;
  2. Interests -  a specific team member interest in a certain user story can impact the way he estimates that story;
  3. Expectations -  different expectations result in different levels of collaboration;
  4. Past experience - past experience can alter how people accept a certain message and respond to it. This for example can result in different understanding of the same user story to be developed.

When communicating we are subjective, moving away from messages that conflict with our ideas and beliefs. We tend to hear just what we want to hear, and we usually pay more attention to things that interest us. Our past experience impact and biases us, emotions and psychological states impact how we perceive a message and how we communicate. Taking into account these obstacles to mutually effective communication, it is vital that the product owner spend time both when eliciting the user stories and also in conveying them to the team. During the Sprint planning meeting or for that matter any other Agile process which includes detailing the user stories to the development team, care should be given to feedback loops and the clear understanding of what is required to be developed.

When discussing the user story with the Agile development team, for example, it is not sufficient to read out loud the user story cards. The product owner should actively ask for feedback to assure understanding concerning the specific story.It is useful to add graphics, diagrams, illustrations and mind maps to emphasize the understanding.

I probably cannot emphasize enough how important this is in an Agile environments. Since Agile is scarce in formal documentation the clear and concise understanding of what is required to be developed during the collaborative process between product owner and the Agile development team, is key to the Agile development process. Without the clear understanding of what needs to be developed, the team might be investing efforts in the wrong direction. Thus, it can be a very efficient Sprint - speedy and producing the stated results; however it will also be an ineffective Sprint - the results received are not the ones that were required.

This constant feedback and communication loop between the product owner and the business community, and between the product owner and the development team, is key to successful product development in Agile environment. It is also a key element in any product development environment; however, as mentioned before, the typical lack of formal documents in Agile necessitates the constant communication and collaboration, clarifying expectations and interests during Agile development.

I suggest that all product owners participate in communication skills training, learn strategies in developing their skills and enhance their facilitation techniques. A practical approach to handle the communication barriers is to make sure that:

  1. One knows the communication objective ahead of time;
  2. Remains cognizant during a communication interaction and analyze the specific situation from both the communicator and the receiver perspectives.
  3. Remains aware of the restrictions imposed by the environment.
  4. Establishes and promotes a multi-way feedback loop;
  5. Is able to communicate in more than one method: i.e. pictures, drawing, diagrams and prototypes. These are great tools to enhance communication.

The product owner's core competencies are facilitation, communication and leadership skills. Effective product owners are able to:

  1. Listen
  2. Emphasize
  3. Facilitate meetings
  4. Handle tough communication and conflict management situations
  5. Be effective presenters
  6. Lead product related business decisions and openly discuss them with the Agile development team
  7. Negotiate, mediate and influence between the Agile development teams and the business community.

Agile Product Owner Michael Amazon

This article is excerpted from the author’s new e-book Agile Product Owner Secrets. A print version of the book is found here

More Stories By Michael Nir

Michael Nir - President of Sapir Consulting - (M.Sc. Engineering) has been providing operational, organizational and management consulting and training for over 15 years. He is passionate about Gestalt theory and practice, which complements his engineering background and contributes to his understanding of individual and team dynamics in business. Michael authored 8 Bestsellers in the fields of Influencing, Agile, Teams, Leadership and others. Michael's experience includes significant expertise in the telecoms, hi-tech, software development, R&D environments and petrochemical & infrastructure industries. He develops creative and innovative solutions in project and product management, process improvement, leadership, and team building programs. Michael's professional background is analytical and technical; however, he has a keen interest in human interactions and behaviors. He holds two engineering degrees from the prestigious Technion Institute of Technology: a Bachelor of civil engineering and Masters of Industrial engineering. He has balanced his technical side with the extensive study and practice of Gestalt Therapy and "Instrumental Enrichment," a philosophy of mediated learning. In his consulting and training engagements, Michael combines both the analytical and technical world with his focus on people, delivering unique and meaningful solutions, and addressing whole systems.

Latest Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Commvault, a global leader in enterprise data protection and information management, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Commvault is a leading provider of data protection and information management...
CIOs and those charged with running IT Operations are challenged to deliver secure, audited, and reliable compute environments for the applications and data for the business. Behind the scenes these tasks are often accomplished by following onerous time-consuming processes and often the management of these environments and processes will be outsourced to multiple IT service providers. In addition, the division of work is often siloed into traditional "towers" that are not well integrated for cro...
As enterprises work to take advantage of Big Data technologies, they frequently become distracted by product-level decisions. In most new Big Data builds this approach is completely counter-productive: it presupposes tools that may not be a fit for development teams, forces IT to take on the burden of evaluating and maintaining unfamiliar technology, and represents a major up-front expense. In his session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Warfield, CTO and Co-Founder of Coho Data, will dis...
Advances in technology and ubiquitous connectivity have made the utilization of a dispersed workforce more common. Whether that remote team is located across the street or country, management styles/ approaches will have to be adjusted to accommodate this new dynamic. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Sagi Brody, Chief Technology Officer at Webair Internet Development Inc., focused on the challenges of managing remote teams, providing real-world examples that demonstrate what works and what do...
With the proliferation of both SQL and NoSQL databases, organizations can now target specific fit-for-purpose database tools for their different application needs regarding scalability, ease of use, ACID support, etc. Platform as a Service offerings make this even easier now, enabling developers to roll out their own database infrastructure in minutes with minimal management overhead. However, this same amount of flexibility also comes with the challenges of picking the right tool, on the right ...
More and more companies are looking to microservices as an architectural pattern for breaking apart applications into more manageable pieces so that agile teams can deliver new features quicker and more effectively. What this pattern has done more than anything to date is spark organizational transformations, setting the foundation for future application development. In practice, however, there are a number of considerations to make that go beyond simply “build, ship, and run,” which changes ho...
SYS-CON Events announced today that AppNeta, the leader in performance insight for business-critical web applications, will exhibit and present at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. AppNeta is the only application performance monitoring (APM) company to provide solutions for all applications – applications you develop internally, business-critical SaaS applications you use and the networks that deli...
Father business cycles and digital consumers are forcing enterprises to respond faster to customer needs and competitive demands. Successful integration of DevOps and Agile development will be key for business success in today’s digital economy. In his session at DevOps Summit, Pradeep Prabhu, Co-Founder & CEO of Cloudmunch, covered the critical practices that enterprises should consider to seamlessly integrate Agile and DevOps processes, barriers to implementing this in the enterprise, and pr...
Eighty percent of a data scientist’s time is spent gathering and cleaning up data, and 80% of all data is unstructured and almost never analyzed. Cognitive computing, in combination with Big Data, is changing the equation by creating data reservoirs and using natural language processing to enable analysis of unstructured data sources. This is impacting every aspect of the analytics profession from how data is mined (and by whom) to how it is delivered. This is not some futuristic vision: it's ha...
Let’s face it, embracing new storage technologies, capabilities and upgrading to new hardware often adds complexity and increases costs. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Seth Oxenhorn, Vice President of Business Development & Alliances at FalconStor, will discuss how a truly heterogeneous software-defined storage approach can add value to legacy platforms and heterogeneous environments. The result reduces complexity, significantly lowers cost, and provides IT organizations with improved effi...
With the Apple Watch making its way onto wrists all over the world, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a staple in the workplace. In fact, Forrester reported that 68 percent of technology and business decision-makers characterize wearables as a top priority for 2015. Recognizing their business value early on, FinancialForce.com was the first to bring ERP to wearables, helping streamline communication across front and back office functions. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kevin Roberts...
Data-as-a-Service is the complete package for the transformation of raw data into meaningful data assets and the delivery of those data assets. In her session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lakshmi Randall, an industry expert, analyst and strategist, will address: What is DaaS (Data-as-a-Service)? Challenges addressed by DaaS Vendors that are enabling DaaS Architecture options for DaaS
One of the bewildering things about DevOps is integrating the massive toolchain including the dozens of new tools that seem to crop up every year. Part of DevOps is Continuous Delivery and having a complex toolchain can add additional integration and setup to your developer environment. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 18th Cloud Expo, Miko Matsumura, Chief Marketing Officer of Gradle Inc., will discuss which tools to use in a developer stack, how to provision the toolchain to minimize onboa...
Cognitive Computing is becoming the foundation for a new generation of solutions that have the potential to transform business. Unlike traditional approaches to building solutions, a cognitive computing approach allows the data to help determine the way applications are designed. This contrasts with conventional software development that begins with defining logic based on the current way a business operates. In her session at 18th Cloud Expo, Judith S. Hurwitz, President and CEO of Hurwitz & ...
It's easy to assume that your app will run on a fast and reliable network. The reality for your app's users, though, is often a slow, unreliable network with spotty coverage. What happens when the network doesn't work, or when the device is in airplane mode? You get unhappy, frustrated users. An offline-first app is an app that works, without error, when there is no network connection.