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 Elastifile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Elastifile Cloud File System (ECFS) is software-defined data infrastructure designed for seamless and efficient management of dynamic workloads across heterogeneous environments. Elastifile provides the architecture needed to optimize your hybrid cloud environment, by facilitating efficient...
As DevOps methodologies expand their reach across the enterprise, organizations face the daunting challenge of adapting related cloud strategies to ensure optimal alignment, from managing complexity to ensuring proper governance. How can culture, automation, legacy apps and even budget be reexamined to enable this ongoing shift within the modern software factory?
There is only one world-class Cloud event on earth, and that is Cloud Expo – which returns to Silicon Valley for the 21st Cloud Expo at the Santa Clara Convention Center, October 31 - November 2, 2017. Every Global 2000 enterprise in the world is now integrating cloud computing in some form into its IT development and operations. Midsize and small businesses are also migrating to the cloud in increasing numbers. Companies are each developing their unique mix of cloud technologies and service...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Golden Gate University will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Since 1901, non-profit Golden Gate University (GGU) has been helping adults achieve their professional goals by providing high quality, practice-based undergraduate and graduate educational programs in law, taxation, business and related professions. Many of its courses are taug...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo taking place Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 21st International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is ...
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to w...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Grape Up will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company specializing in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the U.S. and Europe, Grape Up works with a variety of customers from emergi...
With Cloud Foundry you can easily deploy and use apps utilizing websocket technology, but not everybody realizes that scaling them out is not that trivial. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Roman Swoszowski, CTO and VP, Cloud Foundry Services, at Grape Up, will show you an example of how to deal with this issue. He will demonstrate a cloud-native Spring Boot app running in Cloud Foundry and communicating with clients over websocket protocol that can be easily scaled horizontally and coordinate...
From 2013, NTT Communications has been providing cPaaS service, SkyWay. Its customer’s expectations for leveraging WebRTC technology are not only typical real-time communication use cases such as Web conference, remote education, but also IoT use cases such as remote camera monitoring, smart-glass, and robotic. Because of this, NTT Communications has numerous IoT business use-cases that its customers are developing on top of PaaS. WebRTC will lead IoT businesses to be more innovative and address...
21st International Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Me...
The question before companies today is not whether to become intelligent, it’s a question of how and how fast. The key is to adopt and deploy an intelligent application strategy while simultaneously preparing to scale that intelligence. In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sangeeta Chakraborty, Chief Customer Officer at Ayasdi, will provide a tactical framework to become a truly intelligent enterprise, including how to identify the right applications for AI, how to build a Center of Excellence to ...
Most companies are adopting or evaluating container technology - Docker in particular - to speed up application deployment, drive down cost, ease management and make application delivery more flexible overall. As with most new architectures, this dream takes a lot of work to become a reality. Even when you do get your application componentized enough and packaged properly, there are still challenges for DevOps teams to making the shift to continuous delivery and achieving that reduction in cost ...
In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Scott Davis, CTO of Embotics, discussed how automation can provide the dynamic management required to cost-effectively deliver microservices and container solutions at scale. He also discussed how flexible automation is the key to effectively bridging and seamlessly coordinating both IT and developer needs for component orchestration across disparate clouds – an increasingly important requirement at today’s multi-cloud enterprise.
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to w...