Great Product Owners

Great Product Owners are not only having business knowledge, authority and time, but also a few additional skills which people often don’t expect.

“Great Product Owner is a facilitator, coach, negotiator.”

You will usually hear about coaching and facilitation in the connection with the ScrumMaster role. So why do we talk about Product Owners and facilitation and coaching? Can’t they just use the service of the ScrumMaster? They can. However, in many environments Product Owners are not the ‘heroes’ who decide on everything. Quite the opposite. They are great listeners, who have respect for different customer voices, and their highest value to the system is they can find alignment through coaching and facilitation. Customers (users, stakeholders, shareholders, sponsors, …) never agree with each other, they all have their own preferences and needs. Great Product Owners can help customers to reconnect with their needs instead of pushing what they want. In order to be able to do so, they need to step back, acknowledge that their requests are representing just one way of achieving their goals, and search for other options that would satisfy the needs of more groups than before. In other words, they need to be good at integrative negotiation and finding win-win solutions.

Finally, the last skill great Product Owner needs is visual facilitation. It seems like an unimportant skill, but the good picture speaks for more than a thousand words and can create real magic in searching for alignment. Visualization creates transparency, and transparency is ground for accountability. You would be surprised how good visualization of a conversation and different perspectives can help people to change their mind and proactively help you in searching for alignment.

Maybe those skills are not on the top of the Product Owners list at the beginning, however, the same skills differentiate great Product Owner from the newbies.

Top virtual conferences to join in 2020

The world recently changed into a very unpredictable stage. No one expected it, no one was ready for it, and not many people like it either. However, every crisis is good for something, and this one brought new ways of doing things. While most of the traditional conferences from my recommendation from January are canceled or postponed, the new virtual events emerged from the crises and bring unique value in this difficult time. The first time ever there can be one event for everyone in any place in the world – no travel, no jetlag. If some talks are late at night or too early in the morning for you, don’t worry. There is going to be recording. And just be honest, how many of you attended all sessions at the face to face event? I didn’t. So there is no difference really 🙂

#1: Agile100

Agile100 is a series of virtual conferences that bring the world’s top 100 agile thinkers and speakers to everyone across the globe. Embracing the latest technology, the conference is not only streaming talks from great speakers but creates connections, allows participants to meet and learn from each other, offer parallel ad-hoc open-space sessions, learn from experienced Certified Agile Coaches, and much more. People with access to knowledge and information can tackle any challenge and make our world more productive, more humane, and more sustainable.

LEARN – CONNECT – GET INSPIRED

The first few dates in the 2020 series are May 29, June 26, and July 31 – 12pm – 10pm (CET – Central European Time) / 6am – 4pm (ET – Eastern Time).

#2: Emerging from the crisis

Business Agility Institute is known for the top-quality conferences across the globe. Their last face to face event in the NYC had to turn half into virtual to accommodate people with travel restriction and they did amazing job allowing online participants to join and collaborate in facilitated deep dives the same way as the face to face attendees could. The current crisis will leave an indelible mark on the world of business. What will be the impact on Leadership, HR, Strategy, Finance & Risk Management? And what role does business agility play in emerging from this crisis? This conference is not about what we need to do now to survive the crisis or adapt to remote work; we’re aiming higher. We want to learn what we need to do today in order to thrive tomorrow. Join Emerging from crisis virtual conference to be inspired through 20-minute talks and discover practical next steps through facilitated dialog with your peers, get inspiration from invited leaders and strategists who walked through crises and have come out the other side with lessons learned and best practices.

LEARN FROM THE PAST TO THRIVE IN THE FUTURE

June 17th – 19th, 2020 – two options to choose:

  • Option 1: 11am – 1:30pm (US Eastern Time) / 5pm – 7:30pm (CET – Central European Time)
  • Option 1: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm (US Eastern Time) / 8am – 10:30am (Sydney time)

#3: LeSS Day Europe

LeSS Day Europe virtual conference takes upon a mission of bringing to you fresh, impressive and up-to-date case studies of Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) adoptions by means of story-telling and rich knowledge exchange. Get inspired by the most recent and most insightful case studies involving hundreds of people transformation in different industries. As usually, this conference is worth joining.

LEARN FROM PROVEN CASE-STUDIES AND FIRST-HAND STORIES OF DEEP AGILE TRANSFORMATIONS

June 15 – 17, 2020 – 3pm – 7pm (CET – Central European Time) / 10am – 14pm (US Eastern Time)

 

 

Who is Driving a Change in the Organization

Managers are very often asking me who is driving the agile transformation and expecting some special position like VP of Agile or Chief Agilist. To their surprise, there is no such position needed. I already wrote here about Agile Organizations and hierarchy. Real Agile Organizations are flat and lean, so they don’t create any new position for a problem, issue or initiative. In Agile Organizations, we already have ScrumMasters to introduce change.

“If you want to drive Agile transformation, you need to become ScrumMaster.”

It’s simple and straightforward. We don’t need another role, we don’t need another layer. Referring to the #ScrumMasterWay model, ScrumMasters are not only responsible for growing great self-organizing teams (My Team level), helping the ecosystems around their team to be self-organized (Relationship level), but also helping the entire organization to be self-organized (Entire System) and embrace agility at all layers. Scrum Masters competencies cover not only agile, business, and technical practices, but are also responsible for driving a change because, at the end of the day, agile brings significant change, new culture, a new way of working.

ScrumMaster is a leadership role, so it’s a good fit for managers who want to make a difference in the organization, who care about helping others to become leaders, who are passionate about changing culture, who are Catalysts. ScrumMaster is a Servant leader. They are not having any positional power, they can’t tell people what to do. But they have an influence. They can coach and facilitate to unleash the potential, helping people to find their own way of working. That’s what self-organization is about in the first place, that’s what agile transformation is about.

Hierarchy

I recently posted a quote from a conference saying that “Removing hierarchy and cross-team dependencies made space for strong collaborative teams.” Interestingly, I got many comments and questions about it. So let’s talk about hierarchy and why we don’t need it in Agile space.

But before we dive deeper… What is the hierarchy? – using dictionary definition: “Noun – a system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority.”

Traditional Organizations Need Hierarchy

Organizations where employees are ‘ranked according to relative status or authority’ is what we inherited from the traditional organizational paradigm which is built on top of the belief that hierarchy is the key – every organization needs to have an org chart, we have to have a clear line of reporting and decision making. And I’m not saying it’s wrong, you can keep all the traditional practices like a career path, positions, performance reviews, KPIs, etc. however such organizational design is not what I’m interested in and has nothing to do with ‘being agile’. Traditional organizations might be still well functioning, applying some frameworks and ‘do agile’, but the mindset at the organizational level is just not there yet.

Agile Organizations Are Flat

What I’m interested in is applying an agile mindset at the organizational level. Help not only individuals to ‘be agile’, but the organization as well. Agile is fundamentally changing the way organizations operate. Agile organizations are built on a new paradigm. They have a team as the key building block and are forming collaborative, creative, and adaptive networks from them. In a team, we don’t have status, and we have no ranking either. All team members are peers, with no positional hierarchy and power. Indeed, you can gain respect from the other team members in a team, but you can also lose it if you don’t bring value to the people around you anymore. It’s flexible and dynamic. All you need is radical transparency, peer feedback, and honest culture with implicit trust. You might say it’s a lot, and I’m far from saying it’s easy. However, once you experience it, you never want back to the traditional world.

Who decides on the process? Teams. In a flat organization, they are not only self-organized, but self-managed (so they are responsible for the processes), self-designing (so they are designing teams), and self-governing (so they are setting overall direction). To get more insights on those terms, see how LeSS defines them. All over, you don’t need much more than what I already mentioned – transparency, feedback, and trust. If that’s too abstract, you can get inspired by Sociocracy 3.0. It will give you more ideas on how to get there.

Who set’s the goals and objectives? No one. They are co-created by the teams, reviewed through radical transparency, and inspected and adapted via frequent feedback to flexibly address the business challenges. At the end of the day, fixed goals are useless in the VUCA world. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In other words, we speak about the world which is not predictable anymore. The cascading goals neither unify nor motivate. The more decentralized and autonomous the organizations are, the higher need is there for a strong evolutionary purpose. Co-created and owned by all. Transparent. You can get inspired by Frederic Laloux’s work.

What about budgets? Who says we need to have a budget in the first place. Again, you don’t need much more than what I already mentioned – transparency, feedback, and trust. Make all the finances transparent, and use instant peer feedback to review it. If that is too radical, you can get inspired by Beyond Budgeting.

All over, I guess you got the pattern. In an agile flat organization, we don’t need most of the traditional practices. All we need is radical transparency, peer feedback, and honest culture with implicit trust. No one is saying that you have to turn your organization into a flat structure and an agile mindset. But if you want to do that, be ready to redesign the way you work entirely.

Being Agile, Embracing a Change, and Going Online

Note: I’m updating the tips based on my learning and questions people ask.

I had never been any fan of the virtual world. I mean emails are fine, they are relatively private and wait in your mailbox until you have time to answer. Better than calls. But otherwise? No way. I was using all social networks just one way, mostly posting and not reading much. I didn’t like teleconferences, I would rather travel for a day there and back to talk instead. However, life had changed and now, I have no other choice.

Last week I was at the Business Agility Conference in NYC. Kudos to all who show up at this time. The conference went half virtual and I learned that at the end of the day, I like changes. “Responsiveness to change over following a plan”, right? I don’t think I’d ever experienced anything like that. The program changed in a way that all backups already became the reality and the program team was still able to find another one. They were awesome. We lost half of our facilitators on-site, transforming them into a virtual stream with over 100 participants who were not allowed to travel anywhere anymore, and I feel I need to appreciate the flexibility in this crazy time. Thanks, everyone. There was not a day last month when something had not changed. There was not an hour day before the conference something had not changed, and when the second day they announced closing borders for all Europeans and declare the state of emergency… there was not a minute when something would not change. To be honest, I was happy the conference is over just on time for me to get home before they lock me somewhere on the way.

That’s the background for going virtual with all my work. When I can be embracing all the changes, I can stretch it even more and try virtual classes. As the entire world stopped, it’s time to try it. There is nothing else you can do anyway… So I thought I will share a few learning points about it.

#1: You need to see everyone

Good video conferencing is important. I’m using Zoom and I try to see the gallery view most of the time. It’s not like face to face, but it’s not bad either.

 

#2: Breakout rooms

Participants need time for themselves. To chat without all class listening, share their experiences, be by themselves. You can always go for a visit and join a breakout room, but the time they are on their own is critically important for people. I was even giving them 3m individual room for individual preparation.

#3: Flexible tools

I’m using GoogleDocs – Sheets and Docs for collaboration. It might not be fancy but it’s simple and flexible. You can do most of the things there. I realized the biggest pain in using tools is the barrier with login and accounts, so I’m currently just sharing a link that gives anyone with the link right to edit.

Sometimes I felt a need to use the board. I love Trello, but you need to have an account. I’m using scrumblr.ca free tool which only uses the link. Again, I optimize for flexibility and choose simply to access and use tools.

I learned that Google has an awesome board called Jamboard. It’s flexible and has apps for both iPhone and iPad, and the ability to export as PDF so you can share the result of the collaboration with everyone. 

#4: Training from the back of the room

I learned that Training from the back of the room gives you all you need. I organize most of my Agile training this way. Participants are working in Sprints, they have the task/question/exercise in their workbook, which helps them stay focused and give them plenty of time working with their peers in breakout rooms.

 

 

#5: Flipcharts

Instead of drawing on a flipchart, I’m using the Paper application on my iPad, so don’t worry, you won’t miss my drawings 🙂 With Zoom it’s very simple. You can share iPhone/iPad via cable and get the entire screen online in a shared window. At the end of the class, you can create a nice pdf with all the pictures.

#6: Breaks

You need more frequent longer breaks. We end up having 15min break every hour in the afternoon plus one in the morning. It’s a good idea to design with participants that they are not checking on emails, chats or news during the class. They can do it over the breaks or lunch. I would say it’s more important than in face to face setup.

#7: Have fun

All over I realized I’m enjoying it. Do something crazy, it will create a positive distraction. Don’t be afraid to experiment, have fun.

Summary

I created this video showing more about tips on Virtual training. I hope you will find it useful.

Top 10 Agile conferences to attend in 2020

I travel & speak at many conferences each year. Here is my list of TOP 10 conferences you shall attend in 2020:

      • #1: Business Agility 2020 Conference (New York, USA) March 11-12 2020. Agile is not about frameworks, practices, and tools, but the mindset. This conference brings stories from executives, practitioners, and thought leaders. It has a very innovative format – three short industry experts’ talks are followed by a facilitated conversation around tables. This conference is very unique, don’t miss it.
      • #2: Agile Prague Conference (Prague, Czech Republic) – September 14-15, 2020. This year it’s the 10th anniversary of this popular conference. An awesome program, a collaborative atmosphere of open space format, good value for money. Postponed to 2021.
      • #3: Agile 2020 (Orlando, FL, USA) July 20-24, 2020. Top Agile conference for the size and speaker selection. It’s always worth the visit as you can meef there every agilist 🙂 Canceled.
      • #4: ACE! (Krakow, Poland) – May 20-22, 2020. Innovative form & great atmosphere. Focusing not only on building software better but also building better products including UX design. Rescheduled to September 16-18, 2020.
      • #5: Agile Austria (Graz, Austria) April 29-30, 2020 – a great place to meet Agile enthusiasts. Have fun with games and workshops. Postponed to 2021.
      • #6: Global Scrum Gathering NYC (New York, NY, USA) May 11-13, 2020 Scrum Gatherings are great places to talk to Scrum practitioners, join coaches clinic, get hands-on experience on your agile journey. The Gathering is not just about Scrum, it’s about sustainable agility. Canceled.
      • #7: Agile Iowa (Cedar Rapids, IA, USA) April 30, 2020 – Great local conference organized by the community, join the first year of this conference and be there from the beginning.
      • #8: Agile Testing Days (Potsdam, Germany) November 8-13, 2020. Interesting keynote speakers, deep insights in testing. And it’s always fun to be there.
      • #9: Agile Tour Vilnius (Vilnius, Lithuania) October, 2020 – enjoy the day full of fun. Great community, enthusiastic audience.
      • #10 Beyond Agile Israel 2020 – January 26, 2020, Tel Aviv, Israel. – Enjoy warm weather in the middle of winter. Great program in just one day.

The selection is based on my personal preference and experiences from those events.

Recommended virtual conferences this year:

    • Agile100May 29, June 26, and July 31, …2020, 12pm – 10pm (CET – Central European Time) / 6am – 4pm (ET – Eastern Time) … more days are coming
    • LeSS Day Europe 2020 June 15 – 17, 2020 3pm – 7pm (CET – Central European Time) / 10am – 14pm (US Eastern Time)
    • Emerging from crisisJune 17 – 19, 2020
      • Option 1: 11am – 1:30pm (US Eastern Time) / 5pm – 7:30pm (CET – Central European Time)
      • Option 1: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm (US Eastern Time) / 8am – 10:30am (Sydney time)

Other conferences to consider this year:

(Please share your suggestions with us and we add them to the following list.)

Agile HR: Shape the Culture

I already wrote here that during the agile journey, the Agile HR changes the entire focus from being compliant driven to focus on overall employee experience. Agile HR is about leadership, system coaching, and large groups facilitation. And there is another layer. Agile HR should shape the culture. Yes, that’s right. There is an interesting framework of Competing Values which is in a very simple way describing culture as a tension between control and creative quadrants and competing and collaborative quadrants. The traditional organizations were grounded in the control and competition hemisphere, having the fixed processes, hierarchy and competition at the both individual and organizational level, while the agile organizations are more leaning towards the collaboration and creativity hemisphere changing the focus from individuals to the teams and networks, having higher level of autonomy and empowerment, forming partnerships instead of fighting with competitors.

As organizations continue on their agile journey, the culture is shifting and sooner or later the practices need to follow. For example, having a very hierarchical narrow position structure becomes an obstacle of a higher level of collaboration and self-organization. The silos are in the way of the cross-functional teams so the first step is to get rid of traditional positions i.e. Developer, Analyst, Tester and create a team member position as in the cross-functional team that’s all we need. The steep carrier path gets in the way of collaboration from the other side so organizations usually descale and become (more) flat as they rely more on intrinsic over extrinsic motivation. Speaking about motivation, how many of you are motivated by performance review and KPIs? None? That’s right. So what’s the other option? When we remove the individual goals and KPIs together with the performance review, how can we assure people get actionable feedback? So instead of artificial annual performance conversation, we invest into creating a learning environment where people learn from failures, get frequent peer feedback and mentoring from their colleagues so they can co-create their journey and grow as individuals and teams together. It’s not that much about any magical practices, but more about coaching and facilitation skills – that’s where ScrumMasters could be quite helpful. And I guess I can continue.

And keep in mind, it’s not about practices, processes, and tools, those can only support or make your journey harder. It’s about having a strong sense of purpose, common values, and joined identity. Once you have it, the practices will follow in a very natural way. So where to start? Think about your organization, where your culture is right now, and then think about where you need to be to keep up with nowadays business challenges and stay competitive. Only then, you are ready to assess individual practices. Are they supporting that shift? Are they indifferent? Or are they in the way of the desired culture shift?

Agile is Not Another Project Management Method

Agile is not about new practices, processes, or tools. It’s a different way of thinking and approaching things. In one word it’s adaptiveness. If we go next level, it’s a customer-centric value-driven iterative team approach to deal with complex problems. You need the courage to do things differently, be open and transparent to allow collaboration, focus on customer and commitment to deliver the value, and have respect so you can learn from diverse perspectives. But I guess you know all that.

Implementing Agile at the project level is a good baby step on your journey. It gives you a limited scope for the experiment, so you experiment with agility in a limited scope. However, sooner or later if you want to achieve some real business objectives you need to move the agility to the next level and then projects become redundant. Surprised? Let’s take one step back. In traditional management, we use a project as a container to control the work delivery. And we have a project manager taking care of the project. In Scrum, we have Product Backlog to define the work to be done and Product Owner taking care of making it done in the right order. Instead of a project we simply have backlog items. You might also call them Epics, but there is no need for any project. As the work from the backlog gets done Sprint by Sprint.

As a baby step experiment, it’s OK to apply agile on an individual project, but Agile is more than that. Looking at the organizational agility worldwide, the knowledge and experience with agility at single team level reached late majority as you hardly find organization with no experience at all, the knowledge and experience at the scaled level is early majority as the big corporation are widely starting their transformations, and we are reaching an organizational level of agility with early adopters talking about business agility, agile leadership, and agile organization. The more organizations understand agility, the fewer projects and project managers you would see around. You might dislike it, argue with me, and fight with agile arguing it’s a bad idea which will never work, or jump in this already moving train and catch up better sooner than later to stay competitive and keep some relevant job as the demand for project managers is already decreasing…

We Don’t Need Another Method

Let’s start with a bit of context. We apply Agile not because it’s a new cool method 🙂 but because it’s a good answer to the complexity of the nowadays world. We change because the traditional ways of working are failing, as they expect reasonable stability and lower complexity which allow to analyze the situation, plan what needs to be done and then do it. In the nowadays world the complexity, uncertainty, volatility, and ambiguity is so high that you can’t even do that and need to fundamentally change the way you work into the more iterative feedback-driven way, simply be more change responsive, adaptive, agile. 18 years from the Agile Manifesto is a long time. Spend a minute looking back to 2001. How the business looked like, what had you been doing? In 2001 the variety of frameworks, methods, and practices was not that diverse. Agile was at the beginning.

Today, we are in a very different space. Agile is not anymore a new way of working, it’s a major trend companies are taking. What is missing in most of the organizations is not lack of practices and frameworks but a very simple thing. Mindset. Just apply them. We don’t need another method. We have plenty already. Everything was said and yet, companies are still not agile just by changing their processes and tools. There are so many practices yet people are still looking for best practices and easy to follow checklists. I understand that it would have been so nice, just to say the magic formula and all the issues are gone. But unfortunately, there is no such thing as best practice in the complex world. All we have in a complex world are options. Some are easy to do, some harder. Some might be a good idea to do at the beginning of your journey, some are great when you are experienced already. Some are great at one context and create a disaster in another. Some are leading towards what you need to achieve, some are not. Frameworks are good as they give you enough freedom to experiment and find your own way but also some boundaries. Practices are great as they give you inspiration. And there is plenty to choose from. So just choose some to start and inspect and adapt from that. They are neither good nor bad, they are context, meaning culture and environment-specific. And if your company is not “agile enough” according to your expectations and needs, it’s not because you are missing some magical framework, method or tool. We don’t need another frameworks, method, or practice, there are plenty out there already. All we need is to start using them fully, as intended. Start being agile, stop doing agile. Experiment with different practices and stop looking for the Holy Grail method which would save us. Agile is about collaboration, early value delivery, and finding your own way through experiments and feedback, learn from failures. Simply being adaptive.

Great ScrumMaster is a Catalyst Leader

ScrumMaster is a Catalyst leader introduced by Bill Joiner in his book Leadership Agility. Catalyst is the third step on the leadership journey from Expert to Catalyst. In a very simple way, Expert is the person who knows better and therefore can advise and lead others by example, using his own experiences. Achiever is oriented to the results, they are very competitive, like the stretch goals, clear objectives, and believe a good challenge is the best motivator. They take people as resources towards achieving their goals. Finally the Catalysts understand agile deeper beyond practices, roles, and frameworks. Their key focus is to create a space, an environment where people can be successful. They care about the culture where many-to-many relationships emerge, focus on collaboration, transparency, and openness. They empower people around them, work with teams not just individuals. They are good at complex situations, seeking different perspectives and diversity, looking for innovative and creative solutions.

At the first place, ScrumMasters need to be Agile believers, the highest enthusiasts about agile from far around. Otherwise, there is no way they help others to embrace true agility. They need to be good at all five ScrumMaster State of Mind approaches explaining, storytelling, root cause analysis, coaching teams, not just individuals, large group facilitation, and that not all. Their knowledge goes wider than a few frameworks, practices and methods. They need to improve their leadership skills, understand organizational design, structure and culture models, overall business agility and be good at change management because agile is a huge change of the way we think and approach things.

As Expert leaders, they only drive a car on one gear – teaching. The Achievers are adding a pressure which is not really helpful if you think about ScrumMaster’s goal of achieving self-organization. So being Catalyst is the only way how to become great ScrumMaster.