Insights for PO during Agile transformation

Recently, my former NSN colleague, Huang Hongqiang, and me reflected on the lessons learnt from Product Owner perspective during our Agile transformation. We used to work together for one product area with 100+ people, 10+ teams for more than 3 years. He has been the Area Product Owner, who provides the leadership on product, while i was the Area manager, who focused more on enabling environment, supporting teams and developing people. We were accountable for the success of the product area, and together with other areas, for the success of the product and team.

The main learning is summarized with 4 stages. Each stage provides the different focus. They are not strictly sequential, but the focus does switch over time.

Stage 1, get visibility

When your Agile transformation gets started, it is very likely that every team seems busy, but nobody really knows the overall status particularly regarding the work value and priority. As Product Owner, your single most important focus shall be getting the visibility by creating the product backlog. Evaluate legacy product, are they really working? do they incur technical debts? What is the maintenance load? Consider value, be prepared to have surprises, e.g. some teams may have been doing low value work for years.

Stage 2, improve predictability

Chances are, there is still lack of trust between business and R&D. You want to build the trust by improving the predictability, i.e. delivering commitment and managing the expectation. Challenges include dealing with wishful commitment, not knowing velocity or unstable velocity to begin with. The visibility improves the predictability. Moreover, you want to delay making the commitment, negotiate for flexibility, get teams involved into continuous analysis.

Stage 3, deliver value with quality

Velocity depends on the team's capability, which only improves over time. As Product Owner, you should not expect higher velocity soon. Instead, focus on delivering less but valuable features. You want to achieve this by working closely with business side and customers, collaborating with team on why, and splitting features into small ones to identify what's the most valuable minimum. Under any circumstance, you should not sacrifice Definition of Done and quality.

Stage 4, increase productivity

Finally, you help team on increasing productivity. Understand "slower before faster" by planning only 80% of your team's capacity. Work together with team to invest on improving engineer practices and paying back technical debts. Agree with team on feature, including legacy, responsibility so that teams continuously improve the product. Discuss with team how to extend their area so that it matches business needs while sustaining velocity.

Hongqiang and me will give a presentation on this topic in the coming Shanghai Scrum gathering on June 24-25. If you want to learn more details, please join our session:-)

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This page contains a single entry by Lv Yi published on May 22, 2011 9:08 PM.

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