In Scrum and other Agile methods, a common way to manage feature requests is with User Stories. I’ve been teaching people about User Stories and doing workshops with teams for a long time. Out of that work, I’ve created a very simple PDF User Stories and Story Splitting reference sheet that might be handy. Please feel free to download it and share it. This document is something that I explain in-depth in my Certified Scrum Product Owner training seminars.
Coaches for Agile teams and organizations is a growing profession. I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I’ve used/invented/learned-about many different techniques or interventions for coaching in the context of Agile teams. I have recently started a Wiki to capture some of this information. (Originally, I was hoping to write a book, but I don’t have the time to do it on my own or even to coordinate a multi-author effort.) This is an open invitation to participate in the wiki. I won’t make it fully open (like wikipedia), instead, it will be by invitation. Connect with me on LinkedIn and mention you would like to contribute, and I will set you up with an account… and then you can go nuts If there end up being several contributors, I’ll make a block on the front page for links to contributors and/or their organizations.
Great article about goals and how they might not actually be as important as we have all believed for so long. Does this also apply to Agile teams? The article is focused on individual goals and processes rather than team or organizational goals. I’d love to hear if anyone has experience with this!
The Product burndown chart tracks the amount of work remaining in the Product Backlog Sprint-by-Sprint. This burndown chart is updated every Sprint and is visible to the Scrum Team and its stakeholders. This activity is part of the Product Owners duty to facilitate transparency around value delivered over time. The Product Owner is responsible for making the overall progress of the work visible to the Scrum Team and other stakeholders. This activity is part of the Product Owners job to satisfy stakeholders as it allows them to easily see how the Scrum Team is trending on planned deliverables. This information allows the team and the Product Owner to discuss any necessary adjustments to the team’s plans for the upcoming Sprints in a timely fashion. What happens if the Product Owner fails to create and/or maintain the team’s Product burndown chart? Most likely we will be unable to see if the team is on track, late or early in its delivery of value. In a traditional waterfall approach we would find out this information near the end of the project which is much too late. Also, without regular updates on the trend of the team it is highly probable that stakeholders and/or team members may slip back into an individualistic approach to work instead a team based approach.
The Product Owner has complete authority over the ordering of the Product Backlog. However, it is strongly recommended that the Product Owner put all known defects at the top of the Product Backlog so that the Team fixes them in the very next Sprint. By defects is meant features of functions of the system that have been built by the Team in previous Sprints where those features or functions do not behave according to the expectations of the Product Owner and where such mis-behavior is exposed to users of the system. There may be other quality problems with a system which are not categorized as defects (e.g. duplicated code). This prioritization of defects generally results in extremely high levels of quality in a system and a long-term reduction in costs for the system (total cost of the system) by making future features easier to add, and reducing effort spent on maintenance and support. Failing to put defects on the top of the Product Backlog generally leads to decreasing overall quality and in particular can severely damage the morale of a Scrum Team thus preventing them from getting into a high-performance state.
The Product Owner is involved with the other Team Members throughout the Sprint, but after the Sprint Planning meeting is completed, the Product Owner cannot add to the scope of the work being done during the Sprint. New Product Backlog Items, no matter how high their priority, must be put onto the Product Backlog for the team to look at in the next Sprint. This restriction is meant to allow the team to truly be focused and committed to the work of the Sprint and to allow them to make commitments and learn to keep them, thereby building trust. The Product Owner can, of course, collaborate on the details of the PBIs the team has chosen for the Sprint. If the Product Owner does indeed force a team to take on extra work during the Sprint, it breaks the focus of the team and can lead to the team’s failure to complete the work they planned.
The Product Owner controls the order of the items in the Product Backlog, but not how many are done each Sprint. Instead, the team decides how many to do. This decision is made in Sprint Planning and, of course, should be made in collaboration with the Product Owner, but ultimately the Product Owner must let the team freely decide how many items are planned. This freedom allows the team to be truly motivated and committed to the work as well as being collectively accountable for getting that work done. If the Product Owner forces a team to take on more work than it feels is within its capacity, then that dis-empowers the team, moves accountability for getting work done to the Product Owner, and completely dis-ables the team from getting to a high-performance state.
Solving technical problems is the job of the product developers on the Scrum Team, not the Product Owner. The Product Owner is responsible for the product from a business and user perspective and has authority over the team only in this limited realm. By overstepping the bounds of authority in this way, the Product Owner becomes an obstacle for the team by reducing its ability to self-organize. A Product Owner who is part of a team that has reached a high-performance state may be able to safely make technical suggestions, but should always be careful not to push the team to accept those suggestions.
The Product Owner’s main responsibility is to maintain the Product Backlog through direct communication with the users and stakeholders. To do this well it will take most of his time and effort to be effective. Hands-on technical is done by the Team Members not the Product Owner since this is not the Product Owner’s strength or area of expertise. If the Product Owner refrains from doing the hands-on technical work, then he is able to provide the vision and share the “what” that the team needs to accomplish. If not, he will be bogged down by the tasks and lose the time and ability to provide product guidance and connect with the stakeholders.
The Product Owner needs to be highly available to the Scrum Team. If the Scrum Team has a question about a Product Backlog Item, then the Product Owner should be able to respond within minutes to that question. Responding this quickly ensures that the Team is building the Product in a way that best satisfies the Product Owner. In particular, it helps to avoid surprises about basic aspects of the Product during the Sprint Review Meeting that then lead to wasteful changes or re-work. If the Product Owner does not have this level of availability, it may not cause any immediate problems, particularly if there are other team members who know the business and the product well. However, since Scrum holds the Product Owner accountable for what is built, it is often better for the Team to check its assumptions with the Product Owner.
The Product Owner is responsible for the Return on Investment (ROI) of the Product. In order to manage that responsibility, the Product Owner needs to estimate how much financial benefit the Product Backlog Items for a specific Sprint will generate, and compare that to the effort of one Sprint’s worth of the Scrum Team’s labor. This calculation then allows the Product Owner to decide if a given Sprint is worth doing or if the Scrum Team should turn its attention to other work… possibly even a different product. If the Product Owner has these estimates, then it is possible for the Product Owner to maximize the ROI of the Scrum Team. When these estimates are missing, it is difficult to ensure that the Scrum Team is working on the best possible PBIs. In the worst case, the Product Owner will spend the Team’s time working on very low ROI items and cause substantial problems for the business.
The Product Owner has the sole authority on putting the work of the Scrum Team at the end of a Sprint into the hands of users. This means that at the end of a Sprint, after the Sprint Review has occurred, the Product Owner considers the state of the Product (features, quality, performance, etc.) and the state of the business/market, and decides if the product should be sent out. In an IT or web environment, this means deployment. For other types of software this might be live updates or sending out DVDs to customers. There should be no other individuals who have the authority to do extra releases without the Product Owners approval, nor should there be anyone who can stop a release from going out if the Product Owner makes that decision. If the Product Owner has this authority, it can create a high level of efficiency in addressing the needs of the business or the needs of the market. If the Product Owner does not have this authority, then it undermines their authority over the ordering of the Product Backlog (since that ordering becomes meaningless) and it undermines the broader organization’s ability to hold the Product Owner accountable for results.