Posts Tagged ‘Agile’

Is there a way to get value into customers’ hands early and often?

Is there a way to deliver high-quality software on time, every time?

Is there a way to innovate at scale as the company grows?

Absolutely yes to all of these questions and Roman Pichler explains how this is possible in under 120 pages in this book.

Whilst there has been a huge uptake in businesses adopting Scrum – the most popular Agile framework over the past decade, some are still asking these questions after falling into various pitfalls, where Pichler addresses them all eloquently in his book, for example:

• Having too many handoffs of requirements/solutions/decisions which disempower the Scrum team
• The product owner only focusing on tactical work
• Not coaching product owners to set them and the Scrum team up for success
• Focusing on outputs over outcomes

If you are currently playing the product owner role, can relate to any of the pitfalls above and would like a mentor to help fill in your knowledge gap, DM me and we can solve it together whether it’s mock customer interviews, working with qual/quant data, time management, roadmapping, prioritisation, how to define a vision, missions, objectives and strategies for a product or any challenges you’re facing.

This book is an essential read for CPOs who are still struggling to experience the benefits of Agile, as well as anyone who’s playing the product owner role.

In a startup, it’s common for the c-suite to function as the product manager until product-market fit has been validated.

Once validated, it’s time to build the product for real which would require a product manager to work in a product team that also includes a product designer and several engineers to continue learning and solving customer problems/demands.

As the product grows, so does the business and resources, then before you know it, the product manager is running around trying to keep the product afloat by keeping customers happy, growing the product, validating ideas, managing expectations with stakeholders and ensuring that the product is on the right strategic track. The full breadth of the product manager role is vast!

At the same time of growing resources across the business, it’s essential to consider scaling the product management team, but before this happens you need to define your product lines/areas/verticals, so then you can hire product managers to manage, own and be accountable for a particular product line/area/vertical.

The best way to split up your product into lines is across the core value streams/customer experiences, for example:

  • Cashier – Payment/withdrawal flows
  • Compliance – Login flows/security, regulatory flows, marketing preferences/data protection flows
  • Growth – Acquisition/CRM flows, account, and any MarTech integrations needed to achieve the growth OKRs
  • Engagement – Focusing on driving engagements
  • Community – Initiatives to drive social engagements
  • Gaming Integrations, content management and gaming experience
  • Sportsbook – Integrations, trading and betting experience
  • Web – Providing customers with the optimal web experience
  • Apps – Providing customers with the optimal app experience through the App/Play Store

The Product Manager is fully accountable for the success of their product line, so as well as defining the product vision, KPIs, strategies and product roadmap for their product line, they would also be part of an Agile product team (including a product designer and engineers) who would together manage the product backlog, execute the VMOST, product backlog items (PBIs) and test hypothesis.

Now, letting product teams manage a specific product line (which comes with ownership (autonomy and empowerment)) can be a terrifying thought for some businesses since they often prefer a more controlled project management approach, which is why they just hire product managers (or product owners) and stick them in a scrum team to execute projects from a pre-defined roadmap. Marty Cagan articulates this widespread problem and its impacts well in his recent article on project teams vs. product teams.

Saying this, there are also some challenges when transforming to a product line structure:

BenefitsChallenges
Clear product ownership across the businessManaging cross product line/area dependencies although tools such as Aha! certainly helps
Accountability for KPIs and live product supportMore effort needed on alignment especially on high priority cross-cutting initiatives
AutonomySwitching to a more learning, trust and empowered culture which isn’t always quick and easy
Empowered product teams
Focus on outcomes over outputs
Domain expert knowledge
Efficiency
Ability to continually improve key product areas staying ahead of the competition
Leaders at every level
Product/tech team retention

Essentially, what product lines give you if done effectively, is empowered mission-focused Agile product teams who are motivated to execute the VMOST which they defined for their product area in collaboration with key stakeholders.

The outcome of this is having a best-of-breed product, delivering more customer value quicker.

Mmp

MVP (Minimum Viable Product) – the minimum amount of features needed to validate the business hypothesis with target customers.

MMP (Minimum Marketable Product) – the minimum amount of additional features on top of MVP which will allow marketing to start growing the product.


Validated learning is one of the five principles of the Lean Startup method and the MVP technique aims to test the business hypothesis. MVP was introduced in 2001 by Frank Robinson but popularised by Eric Ries through his book The Lean Startup.

Since startups tend to work under conditions of extreme uncertainty with limited resources, validating the hypothesis with target customers early in an efficient way using a prototype, wireframes, surveys or marketing material becomes even more important if it is to avoid the scenario of spending months or years building a product which customers don’t need or want (does not have product/market fit).

Achieving product/market fit would involve multiple iterations on the MVP based on target customer feedback, but once the product/market fit is validated it’s time to build the product for real and head towards an MMP by adding features to enable marketing to start growing and scaling the product, with the first set of additional features usually focusing on MarTech and improving the core customer experience.

Now, with an Agile mindset of iterating frequently based on value, it makes the MVP technique similar to Agile product development – building a product that customers need, want and loves by frequently talking to customers/target customers and we only need to look at three of the twelve Agile principles (also introduced in 2001) to see this:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

Welcome changing requirements. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

Because of this, I prefer to use a broader definition of MVP: the minimum amount of effort needed to learn. This is because you can apply the MVP technique (Agile mindset) to a multitude of scenarios outside of launching a new product at a startup where you get the same benefits of reducing wasted money/effort/time by learning sooner rather than later, whether it’s a:

  • New Product – validate before building the whole product
  • New Feature – experiment rapidly before building and rolling out the full feature
  • New Process – being inclusive/gaining feedback before a full roll-out
  • Retrospective – ensure teams are empowered to make changes before having retros
  • Complex Solutions – start discussions early with assumptions before waiting for concrete answers
  • New House – view before purchasing
  • New Job – research/interview before accepting a job
  • New relationship – dating before marriage
  • New Car – test drive before purchase

Start small and fail fast!

Adding a new feature to an existing product is the most common scenario where you can use an MVP approach, but also where it’s most common for businesses to spend months building a new feature that turns out to be low value to customers. Similar to a new product, it’s important to validate new features where the projected value is uncertain by building a lightweight prototype/wireframes to validate with target customers when conducting interviews.

Saying this, if you have qualitative/quantitive data which gives high confidence that solving the problem will be valuable and time to market is important, then it’s equally effective to just develop and go live with the basics you need for the new feature to function at the right quality, then iterate in an Agile way.

When there is uncertainty, break it down, start small, test and learn quickly and it’s surprising how much easier and efficient the problem is to solve.

With tools to easily conduct remote customer interviews (UserZoom, Lookback.io), A/B testing (Firebase, Maxymiser) and prototyping (Sketch, Figma), it makes it easier more than ever for empowered product teams to efficiently conduct experiments to validate that the solution will solve the problem.

Once you have validated that your product has market fit and you begin to scale, it won’t be long until the product roadmap starts to fill up with valuable product iterations. Soon after that, there will be an appetite from the c-suite to understand how the value on the roadmap can be delivered sooner.

Having to balance solving customer problems, MarTech, tech improvements, tech debt, regulatory, security, bugs, innovation and dev ops requirements with only one development team would make this extremely difficult, as there’s little room to work on some of these different types of work concurrently eg. customer problems concurrently with the more technical driven requirements to improve efficiency.

In order to deliver more value sooner and 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 manager role if delivery is to remain efficient and Lean.

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

Chief Product Officer (CPO)

  • Managing the Lead Product Managers (although there is often a Product Director to help with this)
  • Handling the high level product vision for the overall product

Head of/Lead/Senior Product Manager of the Product Line(s)

  • Market analysis
  • Product organisation improvements
  • Leading Lean initiatives to reduce waste across the business
  • Cross product line strategies
  • Customer analysis
  • Qual / Quant data analysis
  • Product line strategy
  • Product vision
  • Product roadmap
  • Capacity planning
  • Coaching / supporting product managers

Product Manager / Associate Product Manager working with the Development Team within a Product Line

  • Contributing to the product vision, roadmap and strategies
  • Qual / Quant data analysis incl. conducting customer interviews
  • Backlog prioritisation
  • Epic / feature scoping
  • PRDs
  • Requirement workshops
  • User story definition
  • Detailed acceptance criteria
  • Backlog grooming
  • Sprint planning
  • User acceptance testing
  • Retrospectives
  • Daily stand-up
  • Live product support

The Associate Product Manager could also be referred to as a Product Owner, Junior Product Manager, Product Executive or Business Analyst.

In order to have the necessary focus on the product vision, managing stakeholder expectations, quant/qual data analysis, prioritisation and product strategy, it’s important that when adding additional development teams to the product line that the product manager gets more support too, or otherwise the development team could easily fall into the build trap and start delivering features which customers don’t want or need.

Vision

It’s worth spending time creating a compelling vision statement because it’s something that will be repeated over and over again as it’s the key driver to drum up excitement, passion, investment, confidence and trust that the product direction is aligned to the business, solving a real problem and then, in turn, delivering significant value for the business and customers.

First things first, craft your vision statement which should only be one clear sentence, wherein a nutshell it should explain what you’re looking to deliver, to who and why:

Vision statement

Then create a product vision board specifying who the target market is for your product, problems the product solves, clarifying what the product is and how the product is going to benefit the business and customers:

Vision board

Lastly, having a vision diagram is a great way of providing stakeholders and the business with a visual image of the status of the product capabilities of where you’re at with the product today and where you’re heading. Having colour coding for ‘live’, ‘in progress’, ‘planned’ and ‘to do’ would cover it – there are plenty of mind map tools to help you visualise your product, one of which is Lucidchart which comes as a plugin for Confluence also. It’s important to keep the product diagram focused on high-level features rather than detailed technical solutions around systems as that would be more of a technical architectural diagram:

Vision diagram

Having a solid product vision isn’t just to help the business allocate resource, but it’s also essential for the development team to know exactly where they need to head and why.

Once you have a compelling product vision, it’s time to find out how to get there by creating your VMOST!

Once you’ve defined a compelling Product Vision and VMOST, you will need to map out the ‘what’ and ‘when’ and the Product Roadmap is a great way of visualising the journey.

The Product Roadmap is also a good way of managing expectations with stakeholders, a great visual to collaborate over and view dependencies, as well as giving assurance to the engineers that you do have a well thought out data-focused plan rather than changing your mind daily based on who shouts the loudest.

Key points of a Product Roadmap:

  • It should be at a high-level eg. Epic, feature or iteration level – Epic level is a preference as then it maps nicely to the teams’ product backlog items (PBI) under the epics.
  • It needs to include dates spanning the next twelve months whether monthly or quarterly.
  • The bars on the chart show when items start and when the development will be complete (live hidden).
  • One of the most important things is to educate development teams and stakeholders that the drop dates are an intent (not commitment) of focus/delivery and that things will change, so it’s advisable to avoid spending significant amounts of time making each item exact, as the desire from the business would be to have a rough idea of the twelve-month view rather than knowing whether something starting in six months will be delivered exactly a month later than that for example.
  • The roadmap needs to be easily accessible by anyone in the business where they can use their network login and can also access it from outside the office eg. on the train – if it’s hard to access, people just won’t view it and assume there’s no plan.
  • It needs to be updated frequently – if it’s regularly out of date, again people just won’t access it.

Product Roadmap examples

Roadmap sample 1

Roadmap sample 2

The most important purpose of the Product Roadmap is for you to provide a sign of intent for when product items will be delivered over the next twelve months (your journey to reach your goals/product vision), with the keyword being ‘intent’ here ie. Not an exact drop-dead delivery date. Product Managers with experience of the teams’ velocity could use gut feel also which is acceptable or rough t-shirt sizing from the lead developers, rather than dragging the dev teams away for hours/days to roughly size big pieces of work which will either 1. Change anyway and 2. Be extremely inaccurate as unknowns result in estimates going through the roof.

Agile

Whilst Agile frameworks such as Scrum and Kanban are a great way of taking steps towards becoming more Agile, it’s important to remember amongst their principles and guidelines, that the ultimate objective is to deliver customer value/the product vision efficiently and competitively.

To help avoid losing sight of this objective and falling into the trap of obsessing about the intricate details of the frameworks too much, gap analysis must be done frequently on the actual Agile manifesto and principles themselves to see how you can shape the Agile framework to achieve agility and the real benefits of being Agile.
The 4 Agile Values/Manifesto

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

The 12 Agile Principles

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

How Spotify have adopted Agile

Devops

Development effort isn’t cheap, but extremely valuable no matter what industry you work in, so once a product iteration is ready to ship, automating the final steps including the software build, deployment, environment and release process will help continuously deliver customer value in an efficient way without unnecessary delays or bottlenecks.

DevOps is the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organisation’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organizations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes. This speed enables organisations to better serve their customers and compete more effectively in the market.” – AWS

There’s often a significant amount of thought and effort which goes into getting an idea into development, so when the code (solution) is ready to kick off the build (ship) process, it’s important that this is as automated as possible to avoid unnecessary delays with customers getting hold of the feature within a timely fashion.

Due to the rise of the DevOps culture, it’s now possible to automate the whole build, deployment and release process. As well as customers getting features sooner as mentioned above, other benefits of adopting a DevOps culture includes:

  • Software Development division remaining competitive
  • Reduction in waste from having to wait for software to build, deploy, dealing with environment issues and working with the operation team to handle the release
  • Increasing the R in ROI (Return on Investment) as less waste results in delivering more value to customers
  • Improving team morale – dealing with environmental, build and release issues manually isn’t fun
  • Improving on sprint goal complete rates as it’s less likely stories will drag over to multiple sprints because of build / release issues
  • Decreasing lapsed time of development work
  • Improved security
  • Easier to track build to release timeframe
  • Automated
  • Scalable

Adopting a DevOps culture should ideally come from bottom up rather than top down – a Product Manager shouldn’t need to create stories, sell in the importance of it to dev teams or prioritise it, as optimising the software build and release process should be BAU (Business as Usual) and should always be constantly looked at and improved.

As development teams adopt a DevOps culture and they start migrating over to a fully automated process, the benefits will be obvious and lucrative.

Less

LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) is an agile framework for 3-8 Scrum teams, but when there’s more than 8 Scrum teams it’s time to think about adopting LeSS Huge. So let’s look at the differences.

LeSS
LeSS is a scaled up version of one-team Scrum, and it maintains many of the practices and ideas of one-team Scrum. In LeSS, you will find:

In LeSS all Teams are in a common sprint to deliver a common shippable product, every sprint.

LeSS Huge

Less-huge

What’s the same as the smaller LeSS Framework:

  • One (overall) Product Backlog
  • One Definition of Done
  • One Definition of Ready
  • One (overall) Senior/Lead Product Manager
  • One Sprint

So what’s Different?

  • Area Product Managers
  • Area Product Backlogs
  • Area Product Vision
  • Set of parallel meetings per Area

It’s important to remember that these frameworks are just guides and every business has their own org structure, so it’s completely acceptable to mould a framework to suit the organisational structure and industry sector.

If a product is to be sustainable, tech fit, compliant and competitive it needs to have a short and long term development capacity strategy which will help to ultimately deliver the product vision.

Not having enough capacity could mean spending months / years only focusing on upgrading software versions / maintaining legacy technology or meeting regulatory requirements – not making any significant progress on getting after the product vision or surpassing competitors, having too much resource could mean that another product in the business could deliver a higher return with that resource instead, but having the right amout of capacity is important.

The product having the right amount of capacity should mean it’s possible to get after low hanging fruit, maintaining current tech whilst also concurrently getting after the next generation technology (product vision), meeting security / compliance requirements and having resource to experiment.

Understanding what the right amount of capacity should be isn’t easy, but a capacity planner will be able to help. A capacity planner should ideally be driven by points and velocity, so that no matter where the feature is on the feature pipeline (received a high level t-shirt size or has been broken down into stories) it’s possible to easily update the capacity planner with a more accurate estimate as the feature goes into development.

The data you’d typically need to lay out in a spreadsheet in order to effectively capacity plan includes:

  • Date (by month)
  • Team velocity – ‘Points to Allocate to Features’ (which already takes into account average sickness, holidays, ceremonies, breaks, training etc)
  • Forecast of future velocity based on an increase / decrease in capacity eg. Are you planning on adding another team to the product in 4 months time?
  • List of features
  • Estimates (in story points) against each feature
  • Priority order of features
  • ‘Points Remaining’ which is calculated as you start filling up the spreadsheet

It’s totally possible to roughly estimate future features by dev sprints, team sprints or man days instead of points as long as you convert it back to points after knowing how many points a whole team burns each sprint (velocity).

Another reason why it’s essential to have a capacity planner is that based on when features start and finish on the plan will drive the product roadmap dates making the roadmap data driven.

Having a capacity planner available is also a handy report when demonstrating to stakeholders that when features are in the correct priority order and once capacity has run out for a given month, then there’s no more room to slip in anymore work and it’s a case of being patient or changing priority / increasing capacity.

Basics

As a product scales there would often be an increase in capacity / scrum teams working on that product, enabling multiple features to be worked on concurrently, which would be a sensible time to review whether it’s time to adopt the LeSS (Large Scaled Scrum) framework.

As there are some additional elements involved in LeSS vs. Scrum including:

  • All of the Scrum teams work as one team, from one product backlog and with one Product Manager to deliver common goals
  • Having a joint sprint planning with members of each scrum team to decide on what product backlog items (PBIs) to commit to delivering in the next sprint
  • Overall Backlog Grooming (OBG) where members of each scrum team decide on what PBIs to assign to what teams, so they know what features to groom and get in a ready state for an upcoming sprint
  • Overall Retrospective where members of each team discuss highlights from their individual team retrospectives with the aim to learn and improve on how the whole team operates

It’s important to ensure that the Scrum teams have mastered the key elements of Scrum before considering using the LeSS framework, so before moving over to LeSS, see how you’re doing against the below questions:

  1. Are the teams using velocity to measure whether process changes they make are improving their productivity or hurting it?
  2. Are fast estimation sessions happening frequently so that the product backlog has rough estimates?
  3. Is it easy to predict when software will be delivered for the current and future projects based on the backlog being sized?
  4. Are sprint burndown charts monitored every day?
  5. Is analytics part of the definition of done?
  6. Is there a strong DevOps culture in all of the teams?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these then perhaps it’s a bit too early to adopt LeSS.

Pipeline

With a long list of ideas / problems (features) to solve, there needs to be a solid view of exactly where features are in the idea to customer flow, so that anyone can view the status of a feature anytime without constantly asking.

Having a ‘feature pipeline’ report also proves helpful when providing stakeholder monthly / quarterly product updates.

A feature pipeline typically has multiple columns similar to a Kanban view, but it’s important to keep the content at a high- level (feature / epic) rather than stories.

Pipeline

Example Feature Pipeline Format

Some of the columns you’d have on a Feature Pipeline would be:

  1. ‘Idea’: which would be a long list of features sorted by value
  2. To Be T-Shirt Sized‘ (WIP 5): top 5 highest value features move over to a sizing column – in order for the idea to be prioritised on the product roadmap you need a rough size. It’s recommended to have a WIP (work in progress) limit
  3. Capacity Planning‘: once the feature has been roughly sized, it’s then possible to analyse when the feature can be worked on based on capacity and priority (value vs. effort (t-shirt size))
  4. Delivery Quarter‘: based on the capacity planner which should drive the start and end dates of features on the product roadmap, what quarter does the feature planned to be delivered in

There are plenty of tools available to visualise your feature pipeline eg. Aha! and JIRA and it’s a good idea to compliment that with a guide which includes SLAs for each stage of the pipeline and a t-shirt size mapping, so it’s clear what a ‘Small’ or ‘Large’ is for example.

Having a Feature Pipeline in your product toolkit for everyone to access when they want will help ensure that high priority ideas get to customers in a timely and transparent way.

Goals

No matter what product a development team works on, there will often be a big backlog full of high priority customer-centric / commercial work to deliver, technical improvements to make, bug fixing, getting after the next generation technology and security / regulatory / compliance work, so it’s important that there’s clarity over what the specific headline goals are for the development team to achieve over the next sprint / time period.

Some key points when setting goals:

  • They should be specific, but also be accompanied by a high level summary of the bigger picture
  • They should all be action-orientated
  • Make sure your goals are measurable so you know if they’re done or not at the end of the period
  • Indicate a period they’re valid for until they’re reviewed
  • Share the goals with stakeholders and senior management, as well as the review of whether the goals were ‘done’ or ‘moved over to the next period’
  • They should be realistic and the development team should agree to the goals

Setting frequent delivery goals is not only important so that the right focus is being spent on the right things which will increase the likelihood of making progress on solving the highest priority problems, but it also gives visibility of the overall progress made on product iterations and highlights problems in the process if goals are frequently not met, whether it’s due to build pipeline / environment issues or last minute dependencies for example, which should be discussed in the retrospective.

Setting delivery goals, reviewing, celebrating and learning from them should be the norm like it is when everyone’s objectives are set across the wider business.

Idea

Getting an idea (problem) to customers (solution) is a complex cycle no matter what organisation you work in, but constantly monitoring and optimising the whole cycle will make it as smooth and efficient as possible improving the ROI for product iterations.

Irrelevant of the size of the problem that you’re looking to solve, it’s still important to firstly understand the value of the problem – why does it need to be discussed any further let alone hit the development teams for rough sizing? Unless you have data or a solid rationale to specify the size of the problem or opportunity, it simply shouldn’t go any further than the analysis stage. Not only is the value crucial for prioritisation, but it’s also important for the development team to know the benefit of working on the PBI (Product Backlog Item).

Once you’re confident the problem is worth solving, then it’s time to set the priority by weighing up the opportunity with all other PBIs and having a gut feel on size is totally acceptable at this stage to avoid draining the development team time with every single idea and talking about work, rather than progressing with solving high priority problems.

Before the feature touches a team for grooming it’s important for Product, Delivery and Technical to collaborate on how much resource gets assigned to solving the problem or phase eg. One team, two teams or all teams – depending on the option could impact in flight features and efficiency, so it’s important to collaborate over different delivery scenarios before rushing into a decision just because a deadline looms, as getting more teams onto a problem to solve could make the delivery go slower and impact efficiency unnecessarily.

Getting a PBI / Feature from idea to a ‘ready‘ state for development stage takes a significant amount of grooming which involves the Product Manager, Development Team and Technical Architect all of which is vital to ensure that when development starts that the right problem is going to get solved in the right way, rather than anyone wondering during development what problem they’re solving, what the value is or having to do loads of rework further down the line. This is one of most important parts of the delivery phases with the key elements being:

  • Solid ‘As a’, ‘I want’, ‘So that’ description which should give a crystal clear indication of who wants what and why
  • ‘Value’ of the problem
  • Acceptance Criteria of the requirement
  • Background / context which could be a link to Confluence which shows ‘As Is’ and ‘To Be’ flows / UX and can be used as part of a kick of for the feature to the development team
  • Any dependencies
  • Notes from the team working with the Technical Architect on any up front technical designs

When the PBI is in a ‘Ready’ state and prioritised high enough, then it goes into development whether that’s in a Sprint if it’s Scrum or on a Kanban board. The ‘in development’ phase gives you the most opportunity to improve efficiency / throughput and the Scrum Master is key to help the team achieve this (continuous improvements) whether it’s helping unblock impediments, coordinate with other development product lines or suggesting ways of getting PBIs over the line. There’s no harm also in hiring a Scrum Master for a team using Kanban, as ultimately the Scrum Master role is to help / support the team progress and the things which a Scrum Master would help out a team for Scrum would also apply to Kanban eg. Chasing down impediments, coordinating dependencies, removing blockers and working with the Product Manager on improving the quality of the Product Backlog.

Delivery

Once the ‘Definition of Done‘ (DoD) has been met including demo approved, it’s time to ship the product iteration to customers. Believe it or not, after all the work that happens prior to this, the release process is the part that could get stuck for weeks depending on the architecture and how the release process is monitored for Scrum (as often it’s outside of the DoD), but again this is where the Scrum Master can really step in to add value coordinating with release managers, but also suggesting release, environment and pipeline improvements to the development team and PO by reviewing delivery KPIs. For Kanban, tracking the release process is much easier as every process up to live gets incorporated on the Kanban board as there’s no set time boundary aka sprint.

Lastly it’s time to go back to step 1 (the analysis phase) and iterating based on how customers use the latest product iteration.

Like I said at the start, the Idea to Customer cycle is complex and involves a lot of people, but monitoring, testing out other agile frameworks and optimising the phases within the whole cycle will yield in a higher & quality throughput of features getting delivered to customers, so it’s important that the people responsible for Product, Delivery and Technical collaborate closely having this high up on their agenda and regularly communicate to the business the fantastic efficiency improvements which have happened recently and what’s up next to optimise.

CSPO

Whether you’re a product led organisation or keen to take product ownership to the next level, a good way to ensure that Product Owners are well equiped to effectively handle their product in an agile environment is through various Product Owner Certifications.

The first level of certification is becoming a Certified Scrum Product Owner, where the course is typically over a two day period with modules including:

  • Introductions to Agile and Scrum
  • Agile Basics
  • Scrum Basics
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Team Chartering (Ready, ‘Done’ and Team agreements)
  • Product Visions
  • Product Roadmaps
  • User Stories
  • The Product Backlog and Product Backlog Refinement
  • Agile Estimating and Planning
  • Sprints
  • Participant-Driven Q&A

Acspo

Once you’ve become a Certified Scrum Product Owner and you want to take product ownership to the next level then attend the Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner® course which includes:

  • Product Backlog Prioritisation & Refinement
  • User Stories
  • Rapid Vision Generation
  • Roadmapping That Works
  • Value Proposition Design
  • Hypothesis Testing
  • Use Cases
  • Getting to Done
  • In-person Collaboration
  • On-line Collaboration with Weave
  • Understanding Yourself as a Product Owner
  • Lift-off for Agile Teams
  • Scaling Scrum and other Agile processes
  • Extreme Programming
  • Facilitative Listening I & II
  • Inclusive Solutions

Csppo

The final step is becoming a Certified Scrum Professional Product Owner. Certified Scrum Professionals challenge their teams to improve the way Scrum and other Agile techniques are applied. They have demonstrated experience, documented training, and proven knowledge in the art of Scrum.

Are you ready for the next level of experience and expertise in the art of Scrum? If so, it’s time to elevate your career further by earning the CSP®credential.

Ownership

The product development lifecycle is complex, but in order for it to run like a well oiled machine there needs to be solid product management at the heart.

The below video explains Agile Product Ownership incredibly well and covers:

You can find a typical Product Manager’s R&R / Job Description here also.

More info here on how to scale product when the time is right.

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.

To compliment the Product Roadmap, there should be a prioritised product ‘Feature Backlog’ which gives both stakeholders and the development teams a detailed overview of the Product Roadmap items still at that high level (Epics / Product Iterations).

If you use JIRA to manage your software delivery projects and you have your product roadmap items at an Epic level, then you’re able to simply setup a Kanban board with just one column called ‘Feature Backlog’ with a filter set to show only Epics and Epics which are ‘in progress’ or ‘to do’.

To visualise the feature backlog in a better way than the Kanban board, it’s possible to also show that same JIRA epic search filter across the likes of Confluence or Aha! where you can specify what JIRA fields to show.

Depending on your custom fields in JIRA, looking at the Feature Backlog should give stakeholders and development teams working on the product a high level (iteration / epic) idea of:

  • Priority order of all epics / iterations
  • Status – what’s in progress, planned or to do
  • Business value – whether it’s driving x incremental revenue, saving x money, avoiding x fees, meeting regulatory requirements, contract deadlines, tech debt, advancing technology etc
  • Description of the iteration / problem you’re solving
  • Delivery date which should match the dates on the product roadmap
  • Size of work

The Feature Backlog is a great way of showcasing at a high level the value of the product iterations which are currently being worked on and what’s planned in the next twelve months.

The Feature Backlog also helps the development teams understand the details of what problems are upcoming to solve, so they’re able to think about how to approach each epic / product iteration well in advance.

ScrumCards

A self-organised development team working together successfully to achieve common goals within the sprint boundary (typically every two weeks) is only possible if the teams ceremonies are done which includes:

  1. Daily stand-up – the scrum team need to meetup daily on time to discuss what they did yesterday, what they’re planning to do today, highlight any dependencies, issues or help they might need
  2. Updating the scrum board daily – whether the source of truth is the physical board or a digital version eg. JIRA, the scrum board needs to reflect the current state of play with regards to the sprint progress, so the team can understand how they’re progressing with their sprint commitments and sprint goals
  3. Regular backlog grooming sessions – in order for the development team to be able to work on the highest priority PBIs (Product Backlog Items) in the next sprint, they need to ensure they meet up regularly in order to get at least the next three sprints highest priority backlog items in a ‘ready‘ state
  4. Roughly sizing the backlog – in order to predict when customers will receive tweaks to the product, it’s important that the product backlog is roughly sized to aid delivery ETAs, but also prioritisation
  5. Retrospectives – meeting up once a sprint to discuss what could have gone better in the last sprint, what went well and what to continue doing. The format is flexible and the most important thing to do at the start of any retrospective is to focus on actions front the last retrospective – unless actions are done (the team learns), retrospectives are pointless, so it’s absolutely crucial that the things which the teams are keen to change / improve on is actioned or tried at least.
  6. Sprint review – showcasing what awesome iterations the team has been working on to get feedback and a round of applause from stakeholders

In order for the scrum team to be able to fulfil their commitments they should be getting significant help, guidance and support from the Scrum Master or Team Lead, Product Manager and the Development Manager and only once the above points (basics) are being done well, can a team start to seriously look to improve their velocity and scale successfully.

Kpi

In order to prioritise effectively you need both the projected value and effort, but these aren’t always easy to come by. Projecting value can be particularly challenging if the data isn’t easily accessible which can have a knock on effect when analysing your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

Ensuring that a product / feature have KPIs is beneficial for a few reasons including: Aiding prioritisation, celebrating success, feeding back on software development iterations and to feed into the general product vision and wider business goals.

Your KPIs don’t have to be a financial value (although a good attempt at projecting a monetary value should be made to aid ROI projections) or just one KPI, but they just need to be measurable, an indication of success and for them to be linked in someway to the overall business goals, so how can you identify what your KPIs are:

  • Incremental revenue – benchmarking on existing revenue volumes for the relevant feature in question. What do you anticipate increasing the revenue / ARPU by
  • How many customer queries are you hoping to reduce and how much does it cost per contact
  • Is it solving a common problem / request that high value players have been submitting
  • Will solving the problem increase website stability, reducing downtime for customers
  • Are you expecting to increase customer acquisition numbers / conversion rate
  • Will it increase retention rates – a measure of this is churn rate / drop off as well as LTV
  • Efficiency savings – by completing a piece of work could it increase team output / Velocity whether it be development or a marketing team
  • Feature traffic / usage – if conversions or direct revenue from the feature isn’t relevant then at a minimum having sessions, dwell time and value of customers using the feature can be used as a KPI

    Identifying your KPIs is one thing, but having the data available at your disposal on a self-service basis to cut, analyse and share is naturally fundamental, but once you have identified your KPIs and have access to the data, you can be confident that you’re well equipped to contribute to the Agile piece, but also your helping meet the wider business goals.