Five books every Product Owner should read

To continue my with my book recommendations (check the five books every ScrumMaster should read), I have several books here, I would recommend every Product Owner to read. It’s a mix which will help you to understand Agile Product Ownership, Discovery and delivery process in much broader perspective. Enjoy reading 🙂

  1. Impact Mapping: Making a big impact with software products and projects is a practical guide to impact mapping, a simple yet incredibly effective method for collaborative strategic planning that helps organizations make an impact with software. Impact mapping helps to create better plans and roadmaps that ensure alignment of business and delivery, and are easily adaptable to change. Impact mapping fits nicely into several current trends in software product management and release planning, including goal-oriented requirements engineering, frequent iterative delivery, agile and lean software methods, lean startup product development cycles, and design thinking.
  2. Agile Estimating and Planning is the definitive, practical guide to estimating and planning agile projects. In the book, Agile Alliance co-founder Mike Cohn discusses the philosophy of the agile estimate and planning, and shows you exactly how to get the job done with real-world examples and case studies. This book is a must-have agile estimation tool for your development toolbox.
  3. User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product shows you how changeable story maps enable your team to hold better conversations about the project throughout the development process. Your team will learn to come away with a shared understanding of what you’re attempting to build and why. This insightful book examines how this often misunderstood technique can help your team stay focused on users and their needs without getting lost in the enthusiasm for individual product features.
  4. Innovation Games®: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play is a must-read for anyone involved in market research and product or service development (which, when you think about it, means virtually everyone). Innovation is incredibly simple. All you have to do is accurately predict what your customers want, need, and will pay for. Oh, wait. Sorry. That’s actually very hard. At least with traditional tools. So how do you find this information? Well, you can just ask your customers what they want. The problem, of course, is that with most truly breakthrough innovations, current and potential customers don’t actually know what they want before they see it. If you just try to deliver what they already want, you’ll never truly innovate. Even worse, traditional market research practices prove that often, customers have trouble articulating what, exactly, they want in the first place.
  5. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses is about a new approach being adopted across the globe, changing the way companies are built and new products are launched. The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively. Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, it relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want. It enables a company to shift directions with agility, altering plans inch by inch, minute by minute. Rather than wasting time creating elaborate business plans, The Lean Startup offers entrepreneurs – in companies of all sizes – a way to test their vision continuously, to adapt and adjust before it’s too late.

5 reasons why to attend AgilePrague Conference 2018

#1: World-class Program
Several years in a row we managed to achieve high-quality program while keeping it affordable to the people in the Czech Republic. This year you can be looking forward to awesome speakers – for example: David Hussman, Roman Pichler, Evan Leybourn, Marsha Shenk, Yves Hanoulle and many more.

#2: Business Agility Focus
The theme for this year is Business Agility. Agile is more than an IT process. We are going to talk about Agile transformations, scaling, the new ways of running your products and businesses, Agile Leadership, collaborative culture and great teams.

#3: Coaches’ Clinic
You can discuss any area you are interested in and get free help from experienced coaches at our Coaches’ Clinic. It is a unique and free service designed to help you with specific challenges you’ve encountered on your way to a more Agile way of working.

#4: Open Space
AgilePrague Conference is not just about listening. We want you to participate and come up with your own session. Every mid-day there is an open space where you have an opportunity to share ideas, discuss topics with each other and join a deep dive conversation with our speakers. Open space is an opportunity to create your own program and bring your own topics to the conference.

#5: Visit Prague
Prague is an awesome city, so why not combine the sightseeing & conference? Have a beer, wonder though old town & narrow streets, enjoy one of the greatest historical cities 🙂

Looking forward to seeing you on Sep 10-11, 2018 at AgilePrague Conference! Register for Agile Prague 2018.

Is Agile for us?

It seems to be a very common question. In general, if you are willing to change yourself, yes. There is no bigger enemy than yourself. There is no environment, size or business restrictions. Any company can change if they find a strong enough reason for a change. However, there are few questions which can help you to identify if you are ready or not.

Agile is not for us if…

  • We are looking for “magic” that helps us deliver everything faster.
  • We want to allocate individuals on tasks based on their specialization.
  • We focus on a buyer-supplier relationship and customer acceptance.
  • We focus on specification, requirements, and change requests.
  • We optimize for local efficiency (individuals, component, technology).
  • We just want to be “modern” and copy some terminology (tribes, squads, etc.).

Agile is for us if…

  • We are ready to build real self-organizing stable teams.
  • We are ready to form real cross-functional teams.
  • We are ready to build a partnership with customers and looking for feedback.
  • We are ready to focus on fast value delivery in a working product.
  • We are ready to optimize for adaptiveness, flexibility and change responsiveness.
  • We are ready to change our way of working to achieve some strategic goals and sustain the current complex world.

The first list is grounded in a misunderstanding of what the Agile and Scrum is about and leads to “Dark Scrum”. The second implies a significant change of your approach, values, the way of work, simply the change of mindset. It’s up to you 🙂

Difference between manager and leader

Leader and manager, what is the difference? Is there any? People are often mixing these terms up so let’s make it more clear.

Leader- LeaderFirstly, managers shall be leaders. That’s where the confusion is most likely coming from. But leaders are not just managers, leader is not a position, anyone can be a leader. In an Agile organization where hierarchy is becoming less important, we take more focus on leadership than management. There is no authority given to a leader. They gain it by their actions and behaviors and by their service to the people around them. Leaders could be anywhere in your organization and their power grows by respect of others. Managers, on the other hand, are often associated with decision making, and certain power which must be given to them.

Leaders are key to any Agile organization. The more leadership is in the organization, the more likely the mindset will change and the Agile transformation will become successful.

“Leaders need to change first. The organization will follow. “

Don’t wait for anyone, you are the leader you can change today. Agile is not about practices, rules, or processes. Agile is about the different way of thinking, different way of approaching things, different mindset. And it’s all in your hands. You are the leader.

Contracts in Agile and Scrum

One of the very common questions I got at my trainings is how to do agile contracts. In a traditional world where there is neither trust nor collaboration, the contract is the key. It must be detailed enough so we can defend ourselves or blame the other party. Agile is trying to change this contract game, heal the relationship and build a partnership.

In the agile world with high trust and transparency, I believe the traditional contracts shall be abandoned. They are not needed anymore. In my business, we exchange a couple of emails, have a call or scribe a few notes in a Google Doc to make sure we understand each other and collaborate. We treat each other as partners and share with high transparency and honesty that needs to be shared. On contrary, the more organizations spent effort with me on writing a formal contract, the less likely we did any business together. Not because I would make it difficult and argue with lawyers, I usually signed, but I guess they didn’t have the primary focus on the business.

On the other hand, Agile is not preventing you from using any contract at all, so everything starting from

“Fixed time, cost, and scope & you pay fee if you don’t deliver it this way”

to

“We want to work together as partners, help each other, be honest and transparent.”

can work. Though some contract will distract you from delivering value and other will help you with that. It’s always your choice. You can keep the status quo and contracts or change the mindset of not only yourself but your customer (including lawyers).

For some bigger software deliveries, we did frame contract with NDA, a general link to the way of working and tools to be used (Continuous Integration, Backlog management, etc.). Such contract pretty much said we keep certain standards. And that we collaborate to identify and deliver scope. Any details, content, and problems were discussed at the time they emerged.

In summary, my recommendation is to spend your valuable time on building relationship and partnership. Increase transparency, understand each other, collaborate. If you still feel you need to read more, read Agile Contract Primer or join Agile Prague 2018 Conference.

What is Agile Leadership

What is agile leadership about? How would you define it, how would you explain it? Those are just a few questions people are asking these days.

Agile leaders are able to inspire others, creates and communicate an appealing vision or a higher purpose which motivates organization and would constantly be looking for better ways of working through feedback. It’s about being inclusive, support others on their leadership journey. Being open to new ideas, experiments and innovations. Support creativity. Be able to garden the right mindset and creates cultures based on collaboration. Agile leader is a coach and good listener.

Agile leadership is not about tools, practices or methodologies. It’s an ability to look at the organization from the system perspective, understand system dynamics, be able to get awareness about what’s happening, embrace it, understand it and become an integral part of the system and finally be able to act upon and influence it with coaching, and initiate a change.

Agile Leadership Model

New management paradigm is about collaboration and trust, decentralization, continuous adaptation and flexibility, cooperation and teamwork. From the static management in the industrial era, we shifted to strategic management in last twenty years of the last century and moved quickly into the dynamic management which tries to keep up the speed with modern constantly changing, complex world. That’s the world which critically needs agile leadership as anything else is not flexible enough to deal with nowadays challenges. Companies need more creativity, collaboration, and innovations – simply agility. That’s the way how to be successful. That’s the way how to achieve their goals. That’s the way how to survive and don’t become new dinosaurs who are so huge, slow and inflexible that they eventually disappear from the world.

It’s all about the relationship

Some time back I went through the ORSC – Organizational Relationship and System Coaching and wrote this article to share my learning with the Agile community. Now it’s time to share some experiences. I tried most of the concepts with maybe few exceptions (like Deep Democracy). I kind of digested the overall idea and simplify it back in my mind into “it’s all about the relationship”. I still remember my first ORSC class when one of the facilitators come and reminded us of not to coach the problem but the relationship. I looked at her with surprise. “If the relationship is strong, it will solve all the problems itself,” she said and I got my first aha moment. I guess it took me much longer to truly understand that.

As a time went I realized, that the whole idea of coaching the relationship and looking at organization and team from the system perspective is the key to 99% of my work with organizations, teams, managers and leaders and ScrumMasters. The ability to look at things from the top detached from details and stop evaluating what is happening, because “who knows what is right and what is wrong” and “everyone is right but only partially” was enlightening. It gave me a freedom in a sense and allows me to be much more effective in changing the organizations and working with leaders. As I wrote in the Great ScrumMaster: #ScrumMasterWay book, one of the key metaskills ScrumMasters need is curiosity, have a culture anthropologist mindset. This simple change in the approach will unblock the most of the ‘unsolvable’ situations. And it’s not only true for ScrumMasters but Agile Coaches, managers, and leaders of the organization.

Look at the organization from the system perspective. Don’t evaluate. Be curious. Focus on inproving the relationships.

Have a good team spirit and collaborative mindset. Good relationships solve the problems and enable the organizational success.

My intention was not to explain you any ORSC techniques as you need to experience them in several days program followed by your practical implementation but start a conversation with fellow Agile coaches about their experiences with ORSC and the need of ORSC in the Agile space.

So, if you write your experience with ORSC in a short text, I publish it or link it from here and if that goes well, maybe we can create a blogs series about ORSC@Agile.

The hot topic of the next few years will be leadership

Modern world brings not only the different way of developing software called Agile but also changes in the organizational structure and leadership. You see it more and more often. People at the classes are asking why their managers are not there to hear the message. But very often they are, and they are ready to change the entire organization and their leadership style.

ShuThe ‘Shu’ level of Agile transformation is focused on practices and individuals or teams. How can we start? As a result, we create small isolated islands of Agility where we get to experience and learn more about what does it mean to be Agile. Sometimes companies are looking for shortcuts. But you can’t skip this level. It’s your foundation. If you make it solid, you are more likely going to be successful with Agile at the organizational level. At this level, you might see some improvements, but can’t achieve greater efficiency across the whole organization.

HaThe ‘Ha’ level of Agile Transformation is when you start Scaling phase. This is where the Business Agility starts to take place. That’s where the different leadership starts to be critically needed as you have to grow the different structure and mindset. The key focus is shifting towards how to develop leaders and how senior employees are growing within a company. As the right culture is getting its place, people are coming with innovative creative ideas which can make a difference in the company results. This situation is currently the biggest challenge we are facing now as an industry and its topic of many discussions. Together with Scaling frameworks (like LeSS – Large Scale Scrum) which address the organizational design, we talk about different Agile management practices, Agile HR, Agile in marketing, Agile in finance. Companies that understand this can create an environment that is more efficient, productive, and more successful than anything we have ever achieved with classical management methods.

RiFinally, the ‘Ri’ level of Agile transformation starts when the Business Agility is the normal way you operate your business. We have individual Agile leaders in the organization, and people take over initiatives. This is a time for another organizational shift. At this stage, we have a true Agile executive team, focusing on long-term strategy and Agile Board of Directors focusing on the purpose and vision both working as teams collaborating together. Both truly living Agile values.

Emerging Trends in Agile

The world is changing in cycles, fashion goes in cycles, and the same is true for Agile. What was trendy yesterday, is not today and it can change surprisingly fast 🙂 So let’s have a look what are the new trends in Agile and what the Agile community is talking about:

Agile Leadership and Agile Organization

Agile OrganisationAgile is not just a set of practices how to write a good software, but it’s more and more used in every part of the organization. The traditional leadership (leader-follower model) is no longer acceptable in Agile environments. In the previous years, almost everybody focused on teams and how to adopt Agile, Scrum, and Kanban to the teams. But if we want to be successful at the organizational level, this is not enough. We need to push boundaries and help the whole organization to change. Hand in hand with that, we need to grow Agile leaders and support Agile leadership which is the critical key to the organizational success with Agile.

Agile out of IT

As it was already mentioned, for real success, it’s important to change the whole organization into Agile. The common practice is to change IT department and leave it as isolated island inside the traditional organization. But this is just the beginning. The company has to follow the same culture and the same style of the working, so you hear more and more about Agile in HR and talent management, Agile finances, Agile marketing etc.

Business Agility

Finally, there is a term of Business Agility which brings back the real value of Agile. Agile was never meant to be development process of your IT. It was supposed to be business value driven. It should bring the startup mindset back to the organizations, and look at the delivery from a business perspective.  Prioritize, deliver value in short cycles, get feedback, measure impact. This is the real Agile mindset.

If you are in Agile or do you plan to try and implement it focus on these topics because without it Agile become only an empty skeleton of practices and processes. Agile is organizational change, it changes the mindset, culture, leadership, and business focus. If you take it as such change, you are going to be successful with Agile.

Top 10 Agile conferences to attend in 2018

I travel & speak at many conferences each year. Here is my list of TOP 10 conferences for 2018:

  • #1: Big Apple Scrum Day (New York, NY, USA) – May 11, 2018. Enthusiastic community, great space.
  • #2: Agile Prague Conference (Prague, Czech Republic) – September 10-11, 2018. An awesome program, collaborative atmosphere of open space format, good value for money.
  • #3: Business Agility 2018 Conference (New York, USA) March 14-15 2018. This conference has the most innovative format of all Agile conferences – three short industry experts’ talks are followed by facilitated conversation around tables.
  • #4: ACE! (Krakow, Poland) – May 17-18, 2018. Innovative form & great atmosphere.
  • #5: Agile Austria Conference 2018 (Graz, Austria) – May 17-18, 2018. Great place to meet & join Scrum Alliance DACH chapter – one of the most active Scrum communities.
  • #6: AgileEE (Kiev, Ukraine) – April 27-28, 2018. Interesting speakers and nice audience.
  • #7: SGLON – Global Scrum Gathering London 2018 (London, UK) – October 8-10, 2018. Talk to Scrum practitioners, join coaches clinic, get hands-on experience.
  • #8: Agile Testing Days (Potsdam, Germany) – November 12-16, 2018. Interesting keynote speakers, deep insights in testing.
  • #9: Agile 2018 (San Diego, CA, USA) – August 6-10, 2018. Top Agile conference for the size and speaker selection. It’s a huge event which is unfortunately very expensive.
  • #10: Lean and Agile ME Summit (Dubai, UAE) – March 10, 2018. Get warm in the middle of winter and enjoy the great list of speakers.

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

Other conferences to consider this year:

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