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Top 3 tips for an Agile Product Owner

Katie Elks, one of SilverStripe's Agile Project Managers, shares tips that help you become a better Product Owner.

Posted in Agile

Tagged ebook, Product Owner

Katie Elks

by Katie Elks

Posted 3 August 2017

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Hello, Product Owners! First, mad respect to you. The Product Owner role is not for the faint hearted but as you probably already know is also extremely rewarding and fulfilling. Among other things, you bring purpose to what we do – it’s very motivating to work alongside a smiling Product Owner that can’t wait to see what the next sprint will bring. I’ve worked with a fair few Product Owners over the years, and it’s so interesting to watch them each on their journey. There’s a lot out there about being an effective Product Owner, but I would like to share the three things that I believe will help everything else fall into place and give you the best possible results from your time with a development team.

1. Be empowered

My absolute, number one piece of advice is to ensure you are empowered by your organisation to do all the things a great Product Owner does. Before the project even starts, sit with your Project Sponsor, Steering Committee, whoever it might be, and agree on what it means to be a Product Owner. Be the voice, the decision maker and the one with the vision. That’s not to say you have to have all the answers all of the time. All it means is that you are empowered by your organisation to make decisions and trade-offs, without having to escalate every small thing to someone else. First of all, that’s no fun for you and second, it creates delays and bottlenecks within your development sprint. The more empowered you are, the quicker the feedback cycle and the more valuable your relationship with the team will become.

2. Get to know and trust your team

This one is a very close second to being empowered. Once you have that sorted, make sure you make the most out of it. Your development team, that wonderful group of clever people, are really excited to take your vision and run with it, exceed your expectations and put a smile on your face. Forming a bond with the team is really important. Of course, you don’t have to be the best of mates, but it’s key that you form good lines of communication and are open to the suggestions that the team put forward. Collaboration is more important than total control, and will always bring a better result, because... well, you don’t know what you don’t know. Sometimes the team will be able to see holes that you don’t or might be able to make a suggestion that totally changes the way you thought about a particular problem or solution. Let them guide you and trust that they know their stuff. Also, remember that your Agile Project Manager or Scrum Master is part of the team and is there to help and coach you. We’ve seen it all, so don’t be afraid to ask us for advice...or a hug.

Co-location

I can’t stress how much co-location will help you form a great relationship with your team. Be with the team as much as humanly possible. The number of wonderful things I’ve seen result from a quick shoulder tap would astound you. To have you physically there with us creates the shortest possible feedback loop as well the comfort and convenience of raising small things, which might otherwise have not been discussed. Of course, messages over Slack or email can be misunderstood – so, if you can’t be there in person, make sure Zoom or Skype or whatever floats your boat is readily available, and don’t be afraid to use it even for quick discussions. Face to face meetings, even the digital kind, are much more valuable (so valuable in fact that it’s Agile Principle #6). There’s also a bit of science behind it – you might have heard that 90% of communication is non-verbal. If you are here with us, on the coal face, we can see that furrowed brow or perplexed look, and make sure that your concerns or confusions are addressed before moving on to the next topic. Co-location also means it’s really fun to celebrate our successes – you can’t share cake from different locations! At SilverStripe, our Product Owners are regulars in our offices. We make sure there is plenty of space for POs to make themselves at home during their project – some of them get so comfortable we can’t get them to leave!

3. Know your good, better, best outcomes

Going in, it can be easy to get excited and carried away in your hopes and dreams for your project. It’s okay to dream, as ultimately we want to get your project to a place that makes you want to shout from the rooftops. However, as we all know, projects come with time and budget constraints. Perfection should not be the goal, as you will always be disappointed. Instead, try to think of the outcomes and deliverables of your project with a Good, Better, Best mindset. For each feature, what’s the minimum it needs to do? What would be the next step up from that? And then what would tick every possible box? Through prioritisation and good planning, you should easily be able to get some of your Better or Best results, but there will have to be some trade offs. Work with your team to understand what Good, Better, Best might look like for each of your story cards and record those details. That way, even if you decide that Good is enough for now, Better or Best could be revisited down the track, or during another phase of your programme of work. Doing this will also help you with your prioritisation in general as you’ll be able to fully understand the possibilities of the work ahead – it may even prompt you to pivot or re-focus the effort of a sprint.

It’s not an easy gig, so if you want some more tips on being the best Product Owner you can be, check our Product Owner Handbook or get in touch with our Channel Excellence team to see how Product Owner coaching could help you and your organisation.

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About the author
Katie Elks

Katie is one of our Agile Project Managers, currently working with the awesome Quantum Dragons and Mech Warriors.

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