Scale

Once a product is mature and the product roadmap is filled up with valuable product iterations, it’s likely that the product owner and senior management will be keen to find out how some of the financial value driving product iterations can be delivered sooner.

Whilst having to balance technology improvements, technical debt, regulatory, security, bugs, dev ops and business requirements with only having one development team on the product stream would make this difficult, as there’s little room to work on multiple different types of work concurrently eg. business requirements concurrently with the more technical driven requirements.

To work on different sets of requirements concurrently, the product would need to scale which would involve adding additional product development teams to the product line. With more development teams working on the product would also require additional firepower from the technical architect and product owner role if delivery is to remain efficient and ROI positive.

An example of how you can scale the product owner role across multiple development teams who are working on the same product line:

Chief Product Owner (CPO)

  • Responsible for ensuring that the Product Owners are handling their product lines effectively
  • Handling the high level product strategy across all product lines

Product Owner (PO) / Senior Product Owner (SPO) of the Product Line

  • Market analysis
  • Competitor analysis
  • Customer analysis
  • Trends
  • Product line strategy
  • Product Vision
  • Product Roadmap
  • Backlog prioritisation
  • Epic / feature scoping
  • Backlog grooming
  • Sprint planning

Product Owner of the Development Teams (Associate Product Owner (APO))

  • Customer analysis
  • Epic breakdown
  • Requirement workshops
  • User story definition
  • Detailed acceptance criteria
  • Backlog grooming
  • Sprint planning
  • Acceptance of user stories
  • Retrospectives
  • Daily stand-up

The Associate Product Owner of the development teams could also be referred to as Feature Product Owner, Junior Product Owner, Product Executive or Business Analyst.

In order for the Product Owner to be able to focus on the product vision, prioritisation of the product backlog and product strategy to ensure the product remains competitive, it’s important that when adding additional development teams to the product that they get additional product owner support to help them out with the more tactical day to day activities, as you can see from the split in tasks above – Product Line Owner handling more strategic tasks especially prioritisation in all instances and the Associate Product Owner handles more tactical tasks.

Spreading a product owner too thin with little support could result in a lack of focus on both product strategy and getting product backlog items delivered in an efficient way.

Greener

There will always be an endless list of all kinds of problems for a business to solve and it’s how people come together to solve the problems which accelerates the execution of viable solutions and positive changes.

Some problems will be easier to solve than others, there will be a multitude of lengthy conversations about how to solve certain problems and there will be various opinions on the value of the problem to solve, but it’s important to respect the person responsible (and accountable) for solving the particular problem and rather than moan about things not being solved / done how you’d expect, then use influence, positivity and collaboration instead to see how things could look from a different perspective, because ultimately everyone’s heading for the same goal and would be passionate to solve problems in the most effective way.

It’s also not easy to ignore a process which you seem to have various problems with especially when it’s not a priority to solve for the person who’s responsibility it is making you feel frustrated, but you could try rewiring your brain to obsess about problems which are within your remit to solve or contribute to solving instead and when asked by senior management “what improvements do you think we can make outside of your remit?” then you’re totally within your right to give an honest answer along with what you’ve tried to do to help.

Before you jump ship because you think the grass is greener, have you thought about:

  1. Collaborating on the solution with the person directly whose responsibility it is to solve the problem in a positive way – you never know, the person who’s responsibility it is to handle the process with the particular problem at hand could do with your observations or opinion on how to overcome the problems they’re facing
  2. Obsessing about solving problems which you’re responsible for and reviewing whether you’re fulfilling all of your R&R, as not solving your own problems could have a direct impact on other areas trying to solve their own problems
  3. Discussing openly with your line manager about how they think you could help contribute to solving the problem
  4. Is it a valuable problem to solve relative to other problems across the business
  5. Listing out all of the positive and good things about the company
  6. How lucky you actually are
  7. Making more conversations
  8. How much autonomy you already have to make big changes

When you get approached with an attractive offer by a recruiter or are fed up of certain problems not being solved, have a real think about how you’ve made an effort to help solve the problem by collaborating, because you may find the same problems if not more might exist on the other side of the fence, resulting in being in the same position in six months time with your new company.

Ops

All products will have an element of BAU (business as usual) and strategic work, where both are equally important to get after if the product is to remain competitive now and in years to come.

BAU work can also be referred to as ops (operational) work and I’ve always preferred the word ‘Ops’ over ‘BAU’ because no problem to solve should be looked at as solving it in the usual way which BAU can often be treated like. Also there’s often a stigma attached to BAU irrelevant of the business value it drives which is bonkers, so let’s look at the definitions of both:

  • BAU – work which doesn’t involve significant architecture redesign or thought, but BAU work is typically the blood line of the business
  • Strategic – work which involves a significant amount of up front technical design and often uses the latest / next generation technology. Strategic work often comes into play if there’s an architectural org restructure, the existing technical platform is no longer fit for purpose or it’s a new product

When it comes to delivering either BAU or Strategic work, there’s a couple of ways:

  1. Simply follow the same agile process which any other problem does, which includes adding a high level PBI (Product Backlog Item) detailing the problem to solve with value and then the Scrum Master / Team Lead looks well ahead in the product backlog to start contemplating approaching the ‘how’ with very close collaboration with the Technical Architect (TA) with the aim to get the item in a ‘Ready‘ state for development. This would in turn lead to the development teams planning in Technical Support backlog items to help the TA with technical designs, spikes or investigations well in advance of the problem appearing towards the top of the backlog which applies to both Scrum and Kanban.
  2. Split development resource into BAU only and Strategic only

The risk with No 1 is that the Scrum Master doesn’t collaborate with the Technical Architect soon enough resulting in the PBI hitting the top of the backlog before technical designs have started, causing significant delays to getting after the strategic work.

But there’s a much bigger risk to No 2 where there would naturally be a big reluctance for a team to work purely on BAU and therefore miss out on any green field project and there’s risk of breaking the ‘One Team’ mentality across the product development teams working on the whole product together and in turn impacting team morale.

Heart beat

In order to get an idea (problem) to a customer (solution) there can be as many as 5-8 different levels / key roles to play from Developer to Product Owner and to get the idea delivered in an efficient and effective way, it’s important that everyone plays their part and gets stuck in.

One way of ensuring that you’re delivering real value by playing a part in the idea to customer flow is by providing regular heartbeat updates to your peers and stakeholders.

Dependent on the role you play, will depend on the type of heartbeat update you’d send out:

  • Developers – all that’s required from a developer (or QA) is to update the agile software tool eg. JIRA on a daily basis which will automate any type of report eg. Sprint burndowns, sprint delivery report for the Scrum Master and Product Owner
  • Scrum Master / Team Lead – fortnightly release update on in flight product iterations (epics), risks to delivery and mitigations to be sent to peers, Development Manager and Product Owner
  • Development Manager – monthly update on delivery efficiency improvements, development recruitment and strategy to deliver upcoming product iterations to be sent to peers, Product Owner, Technical Architect and head of development
  • Technical Architect – monthly update on technical architecture solutions for upcoming product iterations and quarterly presentation on architecture vision to Stakeholders, Development Teams, Product Owner and head of department
  • Product Owner – fortnightly sprint review and sprint goals report, bi-monthly update on what product iterations are up next with a product roadmap update and finally a quarterly presentation on what value has been delivered, what’s up next and an update on the product vision. The majority of updates to Stakeholders, Development Teams, Technical Architect, Directors, CTO and head of development

Once you’ve mastered the format of your updates, actually changing the content shouldn’t take long at all, so it’s easy to send out your heartbeat updates on time, but by not sending out any updates could easily give the indication that you’re a passenger on the idea to customer flow.

Communication

With more communication methods available at your disposal, it makes good communication easier now more than ever.

With face to face, email, chat message services, presentation formats, video conference calls and agile software among some of the key forms of communicating, there’s no excuse for either not communicating effectively or causing delays to delivering value to customers due to a lack of communication.

Let’s look at these communication methods in more detail and an effective way of using each:

  1. Face to face – preferred and ideal method at any given opportunity as you can often get the details you need in a single conversation avoiding email tennis and it’s a great way to collaborate easily. Also it builds positive intimate relationships which is incredibly important, so try as much as possible to escape from your desk / technology and pop over to speak to them face to face
  2. Email – great way of providing status updates to various people / distribution lists in one hit. Try to avoid email tennis though and relentless conversations especially if the person sits close by as it’ll help avoid spam to others! It’s essential to have a good email handle process to avoid missing important emails also
  3. Chat Messenger Services (Slack) – fantastic way of collaborating in an efficient way quickly. Have a quick question, want to share a document or link to a group of people or team, working remotely and want to join the conversation or simply chat quickly whilst you’re at your desk, then Slack is a great solution. When a new project kicks off, having a Slack group setup makes collaborating even easier. Also it’s developer friendly
  4. Presentations – lots of people don’t read all of their emails or have an organised email process to avoid missing emails, so gathering up a group of people to give a face to face presentation of information is a great way to get your message across in a neat and visual way. Also it gives an opportunity for some good questions to be asked and you can be more confident that the audience listens vs. sending the information out through a different communication method and it getting ignored
  5. Video conference calls (Skype for Business) – this makes collaborating with external companies, another division abroad or someone working from home easy, simple and effective
  6. Agile software (JIRA) – add everyone who’s interested in the relevant work item as a watcher allowing for development updates to be automated. Adding comments and tagging individuals in is an effective way of getting an answer or communicating also

It’s not just about communication, it’s about effective communication and there’s plenty of opportunity to use the right method at the right time to achieve this.

With facilitating processes and tasks at the heart of the Scrum Master role, it requires someone with a proactive, helpful, motivated, can do, kind, organised and supportive mindset in order for requirements to be solved in an efficient way in the right priority order.

With the Product Owner, Developers, QAs, Technical Architect and Stakeholders all focused on getting their job done where there are clear boundaries, it needs someone to fill any missing gaps or connect them together in order to get the job done, which is where the Scrum Master comes in.

Let’s look at a day in the life of a Scrum Master:

Scrum master

Done

Once the product backlog is in a good quality condition and the product backlog items (PBIs) start moving into development, there’s a significant amount of tasks to tick off before the feature can be marked as ‘done’.

Typically a development team would use a ‘definition of done’ (DoD) as a reference to ensure that none of the processes get missed off before it’s ‘done’, as each of those processes are essential and could have considerable consequences for the business and customers if it’s not done.

Some examples of what could be in a definition of done:

  • Code is reviewed by someone who didn’t do the PBI
  • Code is deployed to test environment
  • Feature is tested against acceptance criteria
  • Feature passes regression testing
  • Feature passes smoke test
  • Feature is documented
  • Feature approved by UX designer / stakeholder
  • Feature approved by Product Owner

Missing any of the DoD processes before a feature gets delivered to a customer could result in critical bugs across the feature, causing bugs across other features in the code, bring down the product or delivering the wrong requirement, so it’s essential to take the definition of done seriously even if it means taking the PBI over to the next sprint resulting in potentially not meeting a sprint goal.