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First time I went to see my team in India (see reports from that trip here and here) I did not know what to expect. We were 4 Product Owners going and we prepared, had expectations, worked together and somehow it all went well. Next time I was more prepared and had this long list of what I wanted to achieve. The schedule was unrealistic and I achieved just some of my goals.

This time I made a list. I divided it into must do and nice to do. And I emailed it ahead. Knowing by now that

  1. It wold change
  2. Items would pop up
  3. Items would disappear
  4. They also had things they wanted from me/discuss with me
  5. It would all come together at the end
In the beginning i was frustrated over that it seemed so hard to do a schedule

On Monday I arrive, on Tuesday we go over UI, on Wednesday we plan sprint x…

That never worked. That’s the Swedish way. And to be honest, we work in different way, I sometimes find it hard to understand the funny people on that little British island. And my neighbors the Danes, don’t get me started. So off course we are wired different in Sweden and India.

So now i make a list and email it. Pursue a couple of items each day, and feel confident that by the end off the week all must dos and most nice to dos are done. They seem to be done even without that detailed schedule I seem to want. Swedish and Indian way of working actually goes well together, we just need to be aware of how the other do stuff.

So accept that we do things different, learn how others do, and adapt. Its all about give and take and understanding. Without that you will fail.

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If you are a successful product manager you already know that information is the key to everything. To have it, to use it and to spread it. But on the other hand you read my blog, so how successful can you be:-)

 

What I want to explore is how to handle the information in a world of agile where each sprint should reach a deliverable version and where we can change our minds between each sprint. Should we then make sure the team has all information they need for one sprint, or is there a better approach?

 

You should have not only a sprint goal. You probably have a backlog with epics. But do you have a long term goal? Hopefully yes, and you should use that. A team with information about the long term goal can make informed decisions and do design in sprint 1 that not only makes sense in sprint 1 but also in sprint 1, 2, 3, 4 and 10. A good team can use your long term goal to influence their short term planning. Turning out usable increments that also are future proof so you won’t have to spend a lot of time doing redesign later.

 

Make sure you are building your parts incrementally but also that each part you build is built in a way that is along the long term vision, with the necessary blocks considered from the start.

 

Doing agile is no excuse from doing a good design at the start. Even when we do agile we need to do a good design and make assumptions at the start. Yes we might later change, but the cost of these changes are likely to be lower than the constant redesign we will get into without a good design from the start.

 

One way of making sure you consider most mid and long term goals in initial design is to start by looking into reporting.

 

  • What info is needed for reports?
  • What are the purpose of the reports?
  • Who will need reports?
  • Is the a difference in requirements on reports first year and year 5?

 

Another thing to consider is if a subset of reporting is usable or not? Do we need all info or can we make a first report version that delivers part of what we need? Whatever the answer one thing is certain. The team need to know your vision and need to get this info so they can design it with intelligence.

 

So once again. Know your goal and make sure you communicate it to the team. Dont be an information hoarder.

 

 

 

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As you know I have a bunch of clever developers and QA in Mumbai. For the fourth time in a year I just was to visit them. It is sometimes so good to just be able to talk directly, chat, whiteboard with the ones you work daily.

Monkey eating chocolate bar

Happy Product Owner

This time I was there to plan next release and the sprints leading up to it.  I had prepared the stories, thought of “everything” and just needed estimations and planning. Or so I thought.

When I sat down with the team, starting by presenting my short and long term vision (to get everyone aboard so to say) and then discussing individual forms, features and stories the number of stories grew. The complexity grew and new ideas entered the discussions. When sitting down with our designer some new ideas, better ones, emerged.

Can you set a price on that?

Once again I will stress that whatever you do. Skype, phone and live meetings is never enough. There is no substitute to actually sit down and discuss, see facial expressions and get responses. My 4 days with the team now means we have a common understanding for the next version. Any small issues can then be solved remotely as we have solved all big ones when at the same place. As we all share the vision we can together and independently work to reach our goal. As a product owner its worth gold to have a team that does not only follow a spec. They also understand where we are going and why we do certain things. (thats actually a key requirement in good SCRUM, but one that is probably not always implemented).

We also have identified a number of dependencies that I had not thought about. Made some clarifications in the stories and changed any inconsistencies found. All through face to face discussion.

So from face 2 face you will get

  • Better understanding all around
  • More interactivity with team
  • A more knowledgeable team
  • A more committed team (if you understand and share vision you will commit)

Happy Scrumming out there

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Some of us have teams that are not in our own office. Being in Sweden and working in a European organization that has always been the case for me. But working with SCRUM and teams in India is a lot different than doing Waterfall and team in Norway.

As a Product Owner in SCRUM you are supposed to spend time with the team. Something that has to be done in a number of clever ways when the team is in another time zone, another climate and another continent. You will end up doing a lot of Skype or similar. And the danger is that the communication is a lot of Q&A and not so much creative discussions. These creative discussions are so much harder to do when not face to face.

So when you sit there, write your stories, do the estimation and planning on phone, then spend a lot of time in Q&A with developers and QA over Skype you will end up with holes in your calendar. You might say, well I can do one more team; I don’t spend that much time on this team.

But beware. Filling X hours a week is only one measure. The art of being available is also very important. If you make sure to fill up your week hour quota you will end up in more and more situations where a developer of QA specialist come to you and you will have to answer, sorry can we talk about that tomorrow, for now I have the daily with the other team, then some other meeting and then I have promised time to that developer and after that that QA and then I need to talk to the SCRUM master.

I am not saying you can’t do it. I am saying that it might be harder than you think and that you should be aware of the danger and sometimes just have to do some hard prioritization (but those of you also being Product Managers should at least be used to that).

So what is the advice?

Start by doing one team. If you later find that you might be able to take one more do so, but also make sure you have a daily time for each team. Make sure you have holes in the calendar to be able to solve issues quickly. Don’t book yourself full any day; you have 2 teams that need you. If you end up with a hole and nobody wants you I am sure you have stories to write and/or test or some research to do.

You can do multiple teams; just make sure that you can do that and still be available to the teams. If you think it’s a drawback not being able to just walk over to the developer and look at her screen and discuss a detail, they feel the same. And if a resource is being denied them repeatedly they will start doing without it (you), and then you are not in control anymore and will get surprises on the sprint review.

So holes in the calendar, remember

 

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After doing both sprints where I have been present on the whole sprint planning and sprints where we split the planning into a Q&A part with the product owner present over live meeting and a “create the task”-part without the product owner I would say that the velocity goes up when the product owner is present.

If you are not present you have to make sure that the stories are really good and contains all sorts of info. And that you during the Q&A part really get the team to understand every detail. If you dont do that you will not get all the tasks and they will be poorly estimated. What then happens is that the rest of the sprint will be a long Q&A session and the tasks will expand. Which off course means a higher risk of a failed sprint. And if we should be honest with ourselves we cant write 100% fool proof stories.

If we attend all the sprint planning 2 things will happen.

  1. Team will ask questions during task creation.
  2. You will listen and pick up if they are on the right track or not.

Both these things lead to

  • A team that really understand what you want
  • All ambigiouties being solved
  • You get confident that the sprint is starting ok

Ok ok we will get questions during the sprints. Thats just nature of life. But with a good start you will be more likely to succeed.

So PLEASE try to attend the whole sprint planning. Both you and the team will benefit.

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I have now spent one week with my team in Mumbai. During that week we have had the pre-demo for the sprint review, started planning next sprint and also solved a lot of issues. AT the same time I am taking on another team so I get to meet them, was present (in person) on the sprint review, retrospective and planning. Let me address these 3 items now.

India wins World cup of cricket 2011

India wins World cup of cricket 2011

Sprint Review

Well, as you all know. It is the teams show when they show the product owner the outcome and also shows how they meet the acceptance criteria’s. That’s the theory. If you ever get surprised during a sprint review as a product owner you are too far away, both physically and mentally. I had the opportunity to be present in person and could follow the faces on the team during the review. They could also see my reactions and not only get comments over a live meeting. Why I like being present in person:

  • Team sees that I take it seriously as I am there and devote 100% of me to the review
  • I can see the interaction in the team. It shows me more than just the demo
  • They can see my facial expressions so that it is not only impersonal comments

Sprint retrospective

This is the meeting where the team assesses what went good and what went bad. Also the opportunity to identify what need to change to next sprint. I was really impressed by the open atmosphere and discussion. When you are present on live meeting you never get the whole discussion. So why I think its god to be there in person

  • You get the whole discussion
  • The discussion is more likely to include you as product owner
  • Once again you see body language and facial expression on whole group. It says a lot about what the group thinks.

Sprint planning

So you have your stories and they are estimated and now you just need to present them to the team and they will pick them up in the sprint? Yes if you are on the wrong continent that is likely to be the case. If you are there in person you will get more discussion and more follow-up questions. You get feedback and will see if they get it or not

  • Discussion is better than one way communication
  • Follow-up questions appear more often
  • Did they get what I mean? You see it in their faces not on the phone line.
  • Ever tried to rise up and do some white boarding over the phone? Right, be there instead.

So that is my 2 cents after this week. I will now spend next week by doing some more sprint planning and retrospectives and get both team started on their sprints. After that I will go on vacation one week and then they need to be on their way. So nest post will be about week 2 and how to handle your absence.

 

Oh, and by the way. India won the world cup in Cricket. Way to go India. On Tuesday its back to work after 3 days of party;-)

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