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What does a good Product Owner need?

Why is it so challenging for a company to get the Scrum Product Owner role right?  It is a great job.  Lots of power to envision a market an deliver the product that makes a difference in that space.  Plenty of feedback and opportunity to learn by guiding a truly Agile team toward achieving the goals.

The responsibilities are few but require discipline and dedication to the vision of the product.  The key task is to prioritize (stack rank - not hi-low bucketing) the product backlog.  By doing this the product owner optimizes the return on investment for the project as a whole and within the enterprise ecosystem.
Steve Jobs on innovation. "It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much."
-- BusinessWeek Online, Oct. 12, 2004

I was reminded this week of why the committee of product owners will not work. I was working with a Steering Committee.  [Aside:  Is that term an oxymoron or what?  How many peoples hands do you want on your steering wheel?]  My challenge to them was that their primary role was to find the teams a Scrum Product Owner.  It was not to set the priorities of the various projects that the teams should work on - which is what they had met to accomplish.

A colleague mentioned the 1962 Chicago Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley's failed College of Coaches as an analogy. Having tried a baseball analogy and failed to make the point with this largely international group, I decided to search other domains for inspiration.

How about Apple - home of "insanely great" products - is there inspiration for the Scrum roll of the one Product Owner at Apple?  Why, yes - yes there is!

How many companies are envious of Apples ability to deliver great product to market, and even shape the new and emerging markets?  Answer: many - if not all.  Even Nokia is willing to burn their platform to create a reason to change to a new Windows 7 solution in hopes of holding onto market share.  While Nokia's CEO Stephen Elop has realized (perhaps too late) that the environment has changed.  Apple has created a whole ecosystem of simple products that are symbiotic (see eHub strategy - 2001).

While I enjoyed Elop's use of the burning platform metaphor - I don't think one should pour gasoline upon their own burning platform.  That sounds like a suicidal tendency.  Perhaps he intended to mix his metaphors.  I also enjoy a well mixed metaphor - shaken not stirred.

But back to the product owner roll.  Why has Steve Jobs been so successful and has Elop in a panic state?  I think it comes down to vision - purpose - acting to fulfill ones core values.  Steve Jobs has been doing this since he built and sold his first Apple computer kit.  He set out to change how people interact with computers.  The March 2, 2011 iPad 2 announcement indicates that he believes this is at least the 2nd time if not the Nth time Apple has delivered on the dream - "to make computers for the rest of us."  He refers to the iPad device as a post-PC device.  He knows the landscape has changed - he had a dream.

The human is the only creature on earth that is capable of imagining a future and then creating that future.  To do this we use one powerful ability - Imagination.  This is one of my personal values.  I believe this is an ability every great product owner must have.

See Also:  We Don't Hire Product Owners Here

Product Owner's Guide to Effective Sprint Goals - Roman Pichler

Am I a Product Manager or a Product Owner? Part 1 By Ellen Gottesdiener

Product Owner's need 4 things - Allan Kelly

"To be an effective Product Owner – and that includes product managers and business analysts who are nominating work for teams to do – you need at least four things. You may well need more than these four but these are common across all teams and domains."

Most Popular on Agile Complexification Inverter

David's notes on "Drive"

- "The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us" by Dan Pink.

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What I notice first and really like is the subtle implication in the shadow of the "i" in Drive is a person taking one step in a running motion.  This brings to mind the old saying - "there is no I in TEAM".  There is however a ME in TEAM, and there is an I in DRIVE.  And when one talks about motivating a team or an individual - it all starts with - what's in it for me.


Pink starts with an early experiment with monkeys on problem solving.  Seems the monkeys were much better problem solver's than the scientist thought they should be.  This 1949 experiment is explained as the early understanding of motivation.  At the time there were two main drivers of motivation:  biological & external influences.  Harry F. Harlow defines the third drive in a novel theory:  "The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward" (p 3).  This is Dan Pink's M…

Exercise:: Definition of Ready & Done

Assuming you are on a Scrum/Agile software development team, then one of the first 'working agreements' you have created with your team is a 'Definition of Done' - right?

Oh - you don't have a definition of what aspects a user story that is done will exhibit. Well then, you need to create a list of attributes of a done story. One way to do this would be to Google 'definition of done' ... here let me do that for you: Then you could just use someone else's definition - there DONE!

But that would be cheating -- right? It is not the artifact - the list of done criteria, that is important for your team - it is the act of doing it for themselves, it is that shared understanding of having a debate over some of the gray areas that create a true working agreement. If some of the team believes that a story being done means that there can be no bugs found in the code - but some believe that there can be some minor issues - well, …

What belongs on the Task Board?

I wonder about these questions a lot - what types of task belong on the task board?  Does every task have to belong to a Story?  Are some tasks just too small?  Are some tasks too obvious?  Obviously some task are too larger, but when should it be decomposed?  How will we know a task is too large?

I answer these questions with a question.  What about a task board motivates us to get work done?  The answer is: T.A.S.K.S. to DONE!

Inherent in the acronym TASKS is the point of all tasks, to get to done.  That is the measure of if the task is the right size.  Does it motivate us to get the work done?  (see notes on Dan Pink's book: Drive - The surprising Truth about what motivates us) If we are forgetting to do some class of task then putting it on the board will help us remember.  If we think some small task is being done by someone else, then putting it on the board will validate that someone else is actually doing it.  If a task is obvious, then putting it on the board will take vi…

Elements of an Effective Scrum Task Board

What are the individual elements that make a Scrum task board effective for the team and the leadership of the team?  There are a few basic elements that are quite obvious when you have seen a few good Scrum boards... but there are some other elements that appear to elude even the most servant of leaders of Scrum teams.

In general I'm referring to a physical Scrum board.  Although software applications will replicated may of the elements of a good Scrum board there will be affordances that are not easily replicated.  And software applications offer features not easily implemented in the physical domain also.

Scrum Info Radiator Checklist (PDF) Basic Elements
Board Framework - columns and rows laid out in bold colors (blue tape works well)
Attributes:  space for the total number of stickies that will need to belong in each cell of the matrix;  lines that are not easy eroded, but are also easy to replace;  see Orientation.

Columns (or Rows) - labeled
    To Do
    Work In P…

Team Performance Model - by Drexler and Sibbet

Many of you have all heard of the Tuckman model of team dynamics (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing).  It was created in 1966 and has become the most popular model for describing team behavior.  Is it time to level up in your mental model of team dynamics?  Are you ready for a richer more functional model?

Introducing the Team Performance Model by Drexler and Sibbet

Orientation - Why am I here?
"Orientation is about understanding the purpose of a team and assessing what it will mean to be a member.  you need to understand the reason the team exist, what will be expected of you and how you will benefit from membership.  In a new team, these are individual concerns, because the group is only potentially a team.  that is why these concerns are illustrated as occurring in your imagination at an intuitive level.  As a team leader it is important to provide time and space for people to answer these internal questions themselves."

Keys to when Orientation challenges are resolve…