The Power of Product Ownership

As more organizations dip their toes into the ‘agile pool’, it’s important to continuously analyze and assess the customer’s needs to maintain a competitive or market advantage.

In organizations that still rely on more traditional approaches for project and program delivery, this should be happening already. Business analysts (or comparable) are typically assigned to assess and document many functional requirements from customers before working with technical subject matter experts to translate. While useful, this approach doesn’t enable agility and impedes an organization’s ability to identify and respond to changing customer and market needs.

In some cases, it’s also possible that organizations stand up ‘customer experience’ teams who, in part, dedicate their time to better understanding a customer’s journey to identify new, better, or more desirable products and services. This, too, can be effective, but depending on the timing, frequency, and level of expertise involved, it’s possible that data captured may not articulate the real-time and nuanced perspectives of the actual customer.

In these cases, to empower and enable a better understanding of what a customer truly wants and expects, there is one role in ruling them all—the Product Owner.

What exactly is a Product Owner?

As the name implies, the Product Owner represents the product vision and voice of the customer. In essence, they “own” the customer’s requirements.

While Product Owners can be anyone from anywhere, the most successful Product Owners have a clear understanding of what customers want and expect. Product Owner roles typically align with business-facing departments like Marketing, as they position to identify and articulate the customer’s point of view.

From a more tactical perspective, the Product Owner is responsible for translating the needs, wants, and desires of target customers into user stories that prioritize and shared with the development teams responsible for bringing target capabilities and products to life.

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These user stories are then refined and provided to Scrum teams who trace the functionality and translate into technical requirements to meet the criteria. A Product Owner’s value shines when we further define acceptance criteria, or a “definition of done”, to ultimately ensure that the software and delivery teams truly grasp and deliver the right value at the right time.

In traditional Scrum environments, the Product Owner is one of the primary trinity roles that help ensure that teams are clear on what the customer expects. By partnering with the Scrum Master, mature teams can help define requirements and translate them into consistent value delivered to the customer. By collaborating with Solution or Technical Leads, Product Owners help ensure that they are aligned on the big picture and tuned in to the right offerings for the customers and markets they represent.

The Value of Product Ownership

Organizations that support fully dedicated Product Owners stand to benefit the most, but even part-time Product Owners can help organizations maintain a critical link to customer needs and expectations. Product Owners have a direct line to the downstream users and consumers who benefit from the software or capabilities develop, and they can maintain a laser focus on sourcing and communicating this business value to the supporting teams. This provides an immediate boost to backend software and IT teams because they can trust the requirements; they give and focus on the technical solution. In turn, Product Owners can help clarify what to expect when functional capabilities or desired outcomes are not exact.

Additionally, while IT shops worldwide continue to evolve, it is scarce to have software developers that have a deep understanding of the house's business side. While IT shops excel at developing the code behind the scenes to make things happen, we must create and craft products and experiences innately and intrinsically in line with the customers’ wants and desires.

So, What Makes a Good Product Owner?

Like any role, Product Owners can draw significantly on their personal experience and expertise to live into the role. But in general, some essential characteristics will help ensure success, especially for folks that are new to the role:

Be Empathetic - Just Listen!

Successful Product Owners embrace the role by understanding the needs of the customers or market segments they represent. It’s not uncommon for Product Owners to actively participate in customer discovery activities, user experience workshops, and other customer-focused exercises to walk in the shoes of their customers. This helps build a stake in the game and ensure they truly understand their customer’s perspectives.

Own the Vision (and the Backlog)

For several reasons, software and delivery teams can become confused about what is desired or expected. This is the Product Owner’s time to shine; By concentrating on the business value opportunities and staying plugged into the organization’s strategic drivers, Product Owners formulate the vision for realizing the business value and translate that vision into achievable outcomes. Delivery teams benefit by having an exact, prioritized list of requirements that encompasses the value target.

Sponsor and Accept

While the Scrum Master protects and supports the team, the Product Owner protects and supports the business value. When delivery teams are ready to demo working software, code, or solutions, it is the Product Owner’s responsibility to accept their work if it meets the customer’s requirements. If target outcomes or deliverables don’t meet, the Product Owner helps steer the delivery teams and provide feedback to get them back on track for the next iteration.

Risk vs. Reward

Organizations that do not have dedicated Product Owners risk inconsistent value delivery. Inconsistency can not only impact an organization’s bottom line but the happiness of its customers as well.

While it’s possible for some backend support teams to function without having dedicated Product Ownership, Scrum teams and organizations may lose focus on the real value proposition when delivering software or deploying solutions. Additionally, while organizations can achieve some level of success without formally observing the role, Product Owners are critical to a business's success and organizational agility. Without dedicated Product Owners owning the product visions and representing the customer’s ever-changing needs, fully realizing the benefits of business agility stifle.

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Organizations that commit to dedicated Product Owners are drawing a line in the sand. For the most valuable software, services, and capabilities to be delivered, Product Owners must represent and understand the customer’s needs. By maintaining a pulse on what customers value the most, organizations help ensure that they are creating products and experiences that customers want, trickling down into more significant revenue, market penetration, and customer satisfaction.

Is your organization tapping into the Power of Product Ownership? Radiant Digital has personnel and expertise to help your organization deliver great products and customer experiences. For help scaling and maturing your product delivery pipeline, contact Radiant Digital at [info@radiant.digital].

by Frank Cannistra, Radiant Digital

All rights reserved. © 2020 Radiant Digital Solutions


Doing Agile: Scrum & Kanban

When we talk about workplace agility, we typically mean one of two things—being agile and doing agile.

Being agile is all about your mindset, focusing on collaboration, being open and receptive to change, and enabling a more nimble and responsive way of working. On the other hand, doing agile is all about making it stick via industry-hardened tools, techniques, and frameworks. Simultaneously, organizations can adopt dozens of approaches to deliver value in a more agile fashion; two of the more widely adopted methods for providing software or products include Scrum or Kanban. But what exactly are they, and what are the benefits?

Scrum and Kanban: What's the Difference?

Scrum is an iterative approach for software delivery that focuses on identifying, planning, and prioritizing work. Kanban, traditionally derived from lean manufacturing processes, is a method for delivering something of value "just-in-time" with a focus on reducing and eliminating wait time in your processes.

Both Scrum and Kanban are widely adopted approaches for delivering value. While each method has its benefits and disadvantages, both Scrum and Kanban are flexible and lightweight enough that teams can typically pick one or the other and realize a similar path to successful value delivery.

In agile coaching circles, Kanban is sometimes the better approach to get people introduced to being (and thinking more agile). Because it can retrofit nicely into your existing workflow, it doesn't carry all the 'fluff' associated with more formally defined practices. Kanban uses a series of workflow columns and fundamental metrics to ensure consistent workflow and monitors against specific thresholds.

For example, by splitting workflow states into separate "Doing" vs. "Done" sub-states, team members can confidently pick up assignments when ready instead of waiting for assigned work. Additionally, having a visualized workflow ensures appropriate quality measures are followed before deploying.

The Kanban Board

On the other hand, for organizations with more mature project or program management capabilities, or for organizations that are working to drive more consistency and predictability, Scrum can be an excellent jumping-on point for teams making the shift to agile.

Sprints (also commonly known as iterations or timeboxes) are a vital component of Scrum. Sprints are short intervals, usually lasting two weeks, where the team focuses on showing incremental value. At the end of each sprint, teams inspect what was completed and adapt for the next sprint accordingly.

Additionally, Scrum includes several ceremonies and artifacts, such as sprint planning and the product backlog, that shifts the emphasis to better understanding (and honoring) work deliverable commitments. Once a sprint is completed, teams can meet during a retrospective to discuss ways they can improve. Teams that incorporate these tools and techniques will benefit from more frequent feedback loops and identify opportunities to course correct faster while also enhancing overall transparency and collaboration.

Typical Scrum Setup

However, picking the right fit isn't as easy as it seems. Each team has nuanced and unique ways of working and pressures and expectations from outside forces, so several factors should be considered when implementing either Kanban or Scrum. Things like estimated time to complete, work planning, response time, and even having the ability to identify bottlenecks, should all be assessed to help drive the right decision.

For example, if the work scope is well known and clearly defined, Scrum helps teams effectively plan and commit to what will (or should) be delivered in a given timeframe. Because Scrum operates on an iterative basis, it is also a promising approach for providing team members with opportunities to frequently check-in on progress, make any tweaks or improvements, and accept any new or changing requirements without significantly impacting their work plan. One of the primary benefits of Scrum is that teams can work on much shorter increments and show value more quickly compared to more traditional waterfall approaches, which can take weeks or even months to provide opportunities for a check-in.

Therefore, we observe that one of the main benefits of following Scrum is predictability. By standing up Scrum teams and supporting constructs, teams and customers alike can benefit from having a repeatable cadence.

Kanban can be an excellent alternative for organizations that are new to agile transformation or in cases where work is not predictable or where ad hoc processes are the norm.

Kanban allows teams to focus on visualizing and optimizing their process or flow, emphasizing throughput. Kanban is most suitable for support teams or support processes where service level agreements (SLA) or completion times are vital drivers. Kanban greatly benefits from teams and processes with generalized expertise and an innate opportunity to work when the need arises.

However, for either Scrum or Kanban to be successful, there are some key factors to keep in mind:

Dedication

How dedicated are team members? Are they supporting a single body of work, or are they asked to support multiple work efforts? Starting with this question can sometimes help in picking the best path forward. Simply put, it's essential to have dedicated team members and business engagement for Scrum to shine. Scrum requires a high level of participation and commitment to ensure that the right value is delivered at the right time. When team members are split between different initiatives or in a situation where there is little collaboration from the house's business side (usually in the form of a dedicated Product or Business Owner), it's challenging for team members to honor commitments establish a good rhythm. In cases where team members are not entirely dedicated, Kanban could be the right solution because it visualizes constraints and empowers team members to pick up work items as they are ready.

Work Scheduling & Prioritization

Having the ability to schedule and prioritize work enhances organizational transparency. However, it can be difficult to schedule and prioritize work that comes in more frequently.

While Scrum excels in cases where upfront planning happens for big-bang deliverables, Kanban could be a better fit for support-type processes that heavily involve ad hoc requests like support tickets. Teams and stakeholders must align with how work is delivered and at what frequency to help mitigate potential risks associated with timeliness and ensure customer satisfaction.

Monitoring

Both Scrum and Kanban provide opportunities to optimize and improve. We can reference the Sprint Burndown or Sprint Velocity to monitor potential issues and course correct for the next iteration in Scrum. We can observe Cumulative Flow and Cycle Time metrics in Kanban to ensure consistent throughput with little to no wait periods. In either case, it's crucial to track progress and identify ways for continuous improvement to enable agility.

So, Which One Should I Pick?

In practical application, both Scrum and Kanban can help your team deliver value in a timely fashion. While each approach is unique, both Scrum and Kanban provide several benefits and advantages that can increase throughput, transparency, and consistent work delivery when implemented and practiced correctly. Not sure which one is the best fit? In the true spirit of agility, it's essential to experiment and find the best path forward based on your unique needs and environment.

Scrum and Kanban are important components of doing agile, but agile transformation efforts can be complex, especially at scale. Radiant Digital has personnel and expertise to make doing agile a daily thing. For help with your organization or client’s agile transformation, contact Radiant Digital [info@radiant.digital].

by Frank Cannistra, Radiant Digital

All rights reserved. © 2020 Radiant Digital Solutions