Full-Day Product Owner Simulation Exercise

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This Product Owner Simulation exercise rests on the idea that people learn a lot better by doing something than by talking about it.  My Product Owner classes were getting great reviews, but I really felt like there was something missing compared to my ScrumMaster classes which have a full-day ScrumMaster simulation exercise.  It took a little while to figure it out, but this article describes in detail how I do the simulation for the Product Owner class.  I’m sure it will evolve and get refined from here since I have only used the simulation twice so far.

UPDATE: 2016-08-14 – major updates to the Product Owner Simulation after having used it at least 15 times since this was originally written!

NOTE: Permission to use this exercise / print associated materials is granted with a simple request: please link to this page on your blog, in a LinkedIn group or Google group, like it on Facebook etc. or write a comment in our comments section!

Pre-requisites: None!  No prior Scrum or Agile knowledge or experience required.

Audience: Product Owners, Business Analysts, Project Managers, Product Managers and other people responsible for business results and who interact with a Scrum team.

Timing: This simulation takes at least 7 classroom hours.  I usually run it from 8:30am to 5:00pm with a one hour lunch break and two 15 minute breaks during the day.

Materials Needed:

  • Coloured pencils and/or coloured markers
  • Black Sharpie fine-point markers
  • Scissors
  • Rulers
  • Scotch tape and/or glue stick
  • Blank white printer paper
  • Pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners
  • Blank white 4×6 and 3×5 note cards
  • Blank white box (e.g. a shirt box from U-Line) or foam core boards (see photo)
  • Planning Game cards (email me if you want a bunch for free!)

Product Owner Simulation - Product Box Example

Room Setup: Round tables with 5 to 7 chairs at each table.  Materials distributed to each table.

Product Owner Simulation Agenda

(with facilitator’s notes in red)

Introduction to the Product Owner Simulation

  1. Lecture: Simulation Overview, Backlog Preparation and Refinement
    The purpose of the overall simulation is to learn to create a good Product Backlog in preparation for a Scrum team’s first Sprint. Review the agenda with participants.
  2. Exercise: Great Products and their Vision
    5 minutes – at table groups, think about the consumer products you know and use often.  How are those products marketed and sold?  How are they presented?  How do you decide to use that product vs. a competitive product?
  3. Discussion: What Makes a Great Product Vision?
    Ask for the group to brainstorm the qualities of a great product vision.  Ensure that “simplicity”, “urgency”, and “emotion” are all mentioned.  (Great reference: “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip and Dan Heath.)
  4. Discussion: Choosing a Product for the Simulation
    Give participants four product options (suggested options: “Doggy dating web site”, “iPad app for plastic surgeons”, “POS for food trucks with social features”, or come up with your own app idea).  A table group must agree to one of the options.  They will stick with this product for the remainder of the simulation.  5 minutes to decide (usually takes much less).

Product Vision

Remind participants that in Scrum, we don’t necessarily do all the steps of the simulation in any particular order. Instead, we are practicing techniques that can come into use at various times. The Product Owner Simulation must be done in a particular order. The techniques are all part of the overall process of Product Backlog Refinement.

  1. Exercise: Product Vision Statement
  2. 5 minutes – attempt to craft a brief, compelling product vision statement that communicates “simplicity”, “urgency” and “emotion”. Debrief by hearing from each group, then asking if the three characteristics have been communicated.
  3. Handout: Product Vision in Context [PDF]
  4. Lecture: Explain the Product Vision handout and ask for questions, insights.
  5. Reference: Innovation Games – Product Box [site]
  6. Handout: Product Box [PDF]
  7. Lecture: Product Box
    Talk about the need for a compelling vision as a pre-requisite for high-performance teams, and a way to decide what is in vs. out of a Product Backlog.  Introduce “Product Box” as a way to do market research in an Agile compatible way (collaborative, light documentation, quick).  Talk about the pattern of a product box: front to attract, back to showcase, sides to deal with objections.  Use of online resources / web research is allowed but should not dominate the exercise.
  8. Exercise: Building Your Product
    30 minutes, with warnings at 15 minutes and 5 minutes remaining.  Ensure that by 10 minutes in, the group has actually started using the craft supplies and isn’t just talking.
  9. Exercise: Presenting Your Product
    5 minutes – give additional time to allow groups to prepare for a trade show (in their market) presentation where other groups (or yourself) will role-play sceptical trade show participants.
  10. Discussion: Debrief Product Box
    Focus on feasibility of using Product Box in real life, the power of metaphor, and the power of collaboration.
  11. Exercise: Product Vision Statement Reprise
    5 minutes – attempt to craft a brief, compelling product vision statement that communicates “simplicity”, “urgency” and “emotion”.
  12. Discussion: Debrief by hearing new Product Vision Statements.

Product Users

Remind participants that in Scrum, we don’t necessarily do all the steps of the simulation in any particular order. Instead, we are practicing techniques that can come into use at various times. The Product Owner Simulation must be done in a particular order. The techniques are all part of the overall process of Product Backlog Refinement.

  1. Handout: User Categories [PDF]
  2. Lecture: User Categories
    Describe “users we sell”, “users who pay” and “admin users” as the three major categories.  Users can be in hierarchies where a general user type may have two or more specific sub-types.
  3. Exercise: Identifying Users
    10 minutes.  One user of each main type, at least 5 users in total.  More is okay.
  4. Handout: Persona [PDF]
  5. Lecture: Personas, Usability and Empathy
    Introduce Persona concept (great reference: “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” by Alan Cooper).  Usability as part of Agile, not separate (i.e. “working software”).  Identifying personas as a way to build empathy from the development team to the end users/customers.
  6. Exercise: Generate a Persona
    10 minutes.  Choose a primary user.  Generate name, age, background story, and relationship to product.  Don’t worry about an image.  Try to be specific and write the background so it emphasizes the concept of empathy.

Business Value

Remind participants that in Scrum, we don’t necessarily do all the steps of the simulation in any particular order. Instead, we are practicing techniques that can come into use at various times. The Product Owner Simulation must be done in a particular order. The techniques are all part of the overall process of Product Backlog Refinement.

  1. Lecture: Good and Bad Metrics
    Describe ROI, TTM and CSat as all-around good metrics.  Explain red-yellow-green project dashboard and lines-of-code as bad metrics.  Ask for other examples of good or bad metrics.
  2. Handout: Value Metrics [PDF]
  3. Exercise: Value Metrics
    10 minutes.  At table teams try to come up with at least 10 quantitative and 10 qualitative metrics.  Use the handout as a worksheet.  Focus on metrics relevant to the simulation product, but also consider metrics that might be from other businesses or viewpoints (e.g. finance metrics, marketing analytics, etc.).
  4. Discussion: Value Metrics
    Throughout the classroom, share all the metrics and write them on a flip chart so they can all be seen at once.  Ask for insights or questions about metrics.
  5. Exercise: Key Metrics
    From the flipchart, each table team should choose 3 to 6 metrics that are most important to measure business success of their product.  It’s okay for that short list to include ROI, TTM and CSat.  Keep this list handy for the next part of the simulation.
  6. Discussion: Metrics and Product Vision
    Discuss if/how Product Vision helped to choose the key metrics.  If needed, allow a few moments for participants to reconsider the metrics they chose in light of their Product Vision.

Product Backlog Items

Remind participants that in Scrum, we don’t necessarily do all the steps of the simulation in any particular order. Instead, we are practicing techniques that can come into use at various times. The Product Owner Simulation must be done in a particular order. The techniques are all part of the overall process of Product Backlog Refinement.

  1. Handout: Creating Product Backlog Items Worksheet [PDF]
  2. Exercise: Create Product Backlog Items
    Use the product box, the user categories, and the business metrics.  For each row in the worksheet, identify a feature, decide which user interacts with the product to exercise that feature, and choose the business metric that is most improved by implementing the feature.  For each, decide if the feature is visible to the user through the user interface.  The resulting worksheet should be filled up such that at least ten of the features are visible in the user interface.
  3. Handout: User Stories [PDF]
  4. Lecture: Writing Effective User Stories
    Use the example “As a Job Seeker, I can upload my resume, so that I get a job.”  Explain the user story template based on the handout.  Emphasize the idea of end user functionality.  Explain user stories as an important tool, but optional part of Scrum.
  5. Exercise: Create User Stories
    Goal: 20 user stories for each group’s product, at least five user stories for the persona, and two user stories for each other type of user, all done in 20 minutes.  User Stories must be written on 3×5 note cards with a 2cm blank area on right side of each card.  The groups start by writing one or two User Stories together, then divide and conquer to create the rest.  At the end of the 20 minutes, there is a brief amount of time allocated to making sure there are no duplicated “features” described.
  6. Discussion: Review User Stories
    Workshop examples from each group.  Ensure that the “benefit” section of each story does not contain a feature.  Possibly discuss the three parts of a User Story as “who”, “what” and “why”.  The benefit is usually related to time, money or happiness and connects the User Story to the product vision.
  7. Exercise: Small, Uncertain, Large Effort Estimation
    Small means “easily and with certainty fits within a single Sprint”, large means “definitely requires more than a full Sprint of work”, and uncertain means either “uncertain size” or “uncertain if it will fit in a single Sprint”.  Teams create buckets and sort all the user stories into the three buckets.  Start by identifying one “small” one and one “large” one, then by dividing an conquering.  Final step is to verify that the small ones really are small.
  8. Handout: User Story Splitting [PDF]
  9. Lecture: Splitting User Stories
    Go through each of the “top” six splitting methods.  Provide simple examples where the group needs help.  E.g. error conditions as an example of splitting by business logic.
  10. Exercise: Split Some
    Goal: result in at least 30 user stories, use each of the top six splitting methods at least once, give 15 minutes.  Focus on splitting the items that were estimated in the “Large” or “Uncertain” buckets.
  11. Discussion: Review Splitting

Estimation and Financial Modelling

Remind participants that in Scrum, we don’t necessarily do all the steps of the simulation in any particular order. Instead, we are practicing techniques that can come into use at various times. The Product Owner Simulation must be done in a particular order. The techniques are all part of the overall process of Product Backlog Refinement.

  1. Lecture: Effort, Value and ROI
    Customers and business stakeholders estimate value, Scrum team members estimate effort, and ROI is the calculation of the ration of value over effort.  Discuss examples of ordering based on these ratios, e.g. 8/2 vs. 8/4 and 200/20 vs. 20/2.
  2. Handout: The Bucket System [link to page with PDF download]
  3. Lecture: The Bucket System
    Review process based on handout.
  4. Exercise: Estimating Business Value
    10 minutes.  Goal: all user stories get a business value estimate written in the top right-hand corner of the user story card.
  5. Discussion: Debrief the Bucket System
  6. Handout: The Planning Game [link to a page with PDF download]
  7. Lecture: The Planning Game
  8. Exercise: Estimating Effort
    20 minutes. Goal: estimate 3 user stories using the Planning Game.  Use the Bucket System to estimate the remainder with the ones already estimated as the reference points.
  9. Discussion: Debrief the Planning Game
  10. Handout: Methods of Ordering the Product Backlog [PDF]
  11. Lecture: Ordering a Product Backlog
    Review ROI as a method to order the PBIs.  Reminder that the Product Owner has final authority and can ignore the estimates in deciding on the order.
  12. Exercise: Calculating ROI and Ordering
    5 minutes.  Just simple divide-and-conquer calculations of business value divided by effort for all the user stories.
  13. Lecture: Simulation Wrap-Up – Where Does This Fit?
    Reminder of the idea of creating an initial Product Backlog that is “good enough” to start the first Sprint.

NOTE: Permission to use the Product Owner Simulation exercise and print associated materials is granted with a simple request: please link to this page on your blog, in a LinkedIn group or Google group, like it on Facebook etc. or write a comment in our comments section!

If you are interested in experiencing this Product Owner Simulation first-hand, please consider attending one of our Certified Scrum Product Owner learning events.


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