Monthly Archives: July 2016

Effective Product Management For Disruptive Outcomes

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Sourceswim.de

The world of product design and management is fun, offering opportunities to cause  disruption through ideation and innovation. Product Managers (Product Owners in the agile world) play a critical role in producing great product(s).

The role of a Product Manager is often misunderstood and underutilized of all the roles and gets confused with other roles like that of a Business Analyst, Program Manager, Project Manager and more.Besum4ICYAA1yT0

The job as product manager is to evaluate multiple product ideas and decide which product ideas are worth pursuing, and which are not. If the Product Manager decides to pursue an opportunity, their assessment needs to determine what it will take to succeed.

Source: Sumologic.com

Maintaining a disruptive approach

The product management role needs to maintain a disruptive approach irrespective of whether they are working on a new product idea or enhancing an existing product. Here are some attributes that make good Product Managers great:

  • Think Big – Many Product Managers district their creativity by the constraints presented to them up front. Product Managers need to think big by not getting constrained by the resources available to them in the present market environment. By doing so, they describe large disruptive opportunities and develop concrete plans for how to take advantage of them.
  • Leverage Team To Drive Ideas And Make Decisions – While the “what” and the “why” of a product form the core of a Product Manager’s thought process and focus, it is critical for them to keep the “how” and the economics of implementing the idea in mind. what_is_a_product_manager-300x246This is where a Product Manager is expected to leverage the creativity, expertise and innovation of the team to make the right decision about the prioritization, go to market and other aspects of product delivery.
  • Maintain The 80-20 Thought Process – Key to the success of a product and the Product Manager is to how to get 80% of the value with 20% effort. They do so repeatedly, delivering more value and achieving compounding effects for the product.
  • Communicate Effectively – Effective Product Managers can make a case based on suitable market research along with appropriate feedback from existing and perspective customers. Their decisions are backed by solid analysis that are impossible to ignore or refute. They use data appropriately leading to effective decision making.
  • Visualize The Big Picture -Sharing the big picture of the end business objective, the vision and the overall product helps in getting the team get away from taking a narrow approach to problem solving. Being able to draw a product structure, identifying the various components, drawing the dependencies with close collaboration ensure common understanding of the vision and a collaborative approach to problem solving.
  • Prioritize/Sequence – Product Manager knows how to sequence projects. They balance quick wins vs. platform investments appropriately. They are able to make a choice between projects that grow the business versus the ones that protect and remove drag on the business (operations, reducing technical debt, fixing bugs, etc.).
  • Forecast and Measure – Product Manager is able to forecast the approximate benefit of a project and can do so efficiently by applying past experience and leveraging comparable benchmarks.  MWM-portrait-small-RGB-POSThey also measure benefit once projects are launched and factor those learnings into their future prioritization and forecasts.
  • Focus on Good Design – A Product Manager doesn’t have to be a designer, but are able to add significant value if they can appreciate great design and be able to distinguish it from good design. Impactful Product Managers should also be able to articulate the difference to their design counterparts, or at least design an approach to pursue to go from good to great.
  • Feedback FeedBack Feedback – A significant part of a Product Manager is spent on gathering feedback. A feedback goes a long way in bringing a product back on track from a failure. Most interestingly, great Product Managers do not time a feedback bit make it a ongoing activity. Feedback is not only important to improve new products but eliminate product features that are no more used to bring in economical efficiencies.
  • Let Value Drive Their Thoughts and Writing – Value is the only measure for measuring success and decision making for a Product Manager.  Weather a conversation is about adding new features to a product, removing technical debt or taking a product to market, value discussion is critical in driving every action.

Product Management can be a key differentiator between a successful and failed product and the above pointers can be considered in hiring a top notch Product Manager. Having said that, finding a Product Manager with above mentioned traits can be challenging but the list can be utilized in helping existing Product Managers  strives to develop and improve along these dimensions.

Please share your thoughts on you experience with Product Management and any specific and important attribute that should be added to the list.

More on Product Management coming soon…

 

 

 

 

3 Pillars of Scrum – Core but easily forgotten

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What are the 3 pillars of Scrum? This is a one question I love to ask leaders, Scrum Masters, Product Owners and members of development teams as I engage with them, trying to help with their agile adoption. The statement “our team is already agile” is commonly heard but what is being referred to is the fact that the teams are conducting Scrum events (sprint, sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint review and sprint retrospective), connecting these events to agility and keeping the ideas of transparency, inspection and adaptation on the side.

Limiting the idea of agile adoption to just events and practices is a clear indication of the missing understanding of the core mindset of agile and Scrum and instead, the use of Scrum as a process control method.

The simplistic design of Scrum framework and the embedded practices are the heart of creating a agile culture for software development. Every event in Scrum is conducted to constantly put the 3 pillars of Scrum in practice to not only ensure adherence to the framework and its practices but also to have agility embedded to the people and process aspects of product development.

Most common examples of situations when transparency, inspection and adaptation are overshadowed by other “not” important decisions are:

– What is the buffer we should account for during the sprint to account for unplanned work? This is a step in the wrong direction from a transparency perspective. Team should rather allow for unplanned work to impact work so that delays become visible and the team can assess the reason behind unplanned work and adapt by working with the Product Owner to make the right decision.

–  Our/Your burn down does not look good. This is commonly bought up as an issue by the Scrum Master or the management and can take the focus of the team from getting the sprint forecast accomplished to making the burn down look good. It is important to understand that the burn down was not created to paint a good picture of the team but to transparently surface delays so that the team can collaborate and plan for the work to be done to possibly meet the forecast.

– Get the stories to “done” by moving the undone tasks to a new story. The “Definition of Done” is sacred to the team and is created with an intent of ensuring that the story accomplished is in a state to be released into production. However; creation of new stories with an intention of claiming browny points for work done or delaying defects for later is a common cause of delays and reduced quality.

There are many such behaviors and conversations that you will observe in your teams and the easiest way to make the right decision is to go back to the 3 pillars and make a decision keeping them in perspective. This is what I do while coaching team and it is what teams should do to create a culture of agility.

Remember, Scrum does not solve problems, it exposes them

Agile transformation – Working with shared services along the way

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The concept of shared services is prevalent in most large organizations. A centralized user experience or architecture group or services group can be commonly spotted. A lot of times, component team setups are given a flavor of shared services.

No matter how much dysfunction it causes, shared services continue to live for many reasons including:

  • Organization’s inability or hesitation to make structural changes
  • Fear of being exposed in getting outside of their comfort zone
  • Fear of change in general
  • Focus on local optimization
  • Others…

The fact remains that shared services are generally not economically viable due to associated communication overheads and increased cycle time to get work done, however; the idea of shared services will not go away anytime soon. So what are some of the ways to work with shared services setup in an agile organization? Saying that organizations need to completely change from a shared services structure to feature teams capable of delivering end to end functionality will sound lame and unrealistic. Below are some techniques that can help organizations work with shared services, trying to transform to the agile way of working:

  • Vision – The environment in a shared services setup is generally chaotic as consumers always have a high priority need. At this time, it pretty much becomes a bidding game. The person or team that shouts the loudest or the person with the highest level of influence is able to get their work prioritized to the top. This is followed by the lengthy process of knowledge sharing where the member of the shared services team spends time in understanding what to build and why. This causes the shared services team member to take a very narrow approach to quickly build what is being asked without understanding the vision and move out to the next ask. This sounds pretty much like a robot in a manufacturing environment that just gets its work done without caring about the end result.

vision

For agile teams, having a common understanding of the vision of the overall product or just a single release is of paramount importance to ensure that every single activity is focussed on achieving the vision. When working on large product backlogs, it is recommended that teams (I mean the whole team and all the teams) get together to create a common understanding of the functionality targeted in the next release. All teams involved should participate and help in sequencing the work to be done to be able to assess when the consumer will need something. This generally calls for investment of time from all teams but the outcome overshadow the cost.

Where there exists a clear vision and a clear understanding of what is needed from the teams, team members remain excited about what is being developed and look forward to their contribution and stay engaged

  • Alignment“Change is the only constant”. A sequenced backlog should not be treated as a project plan. Once a vision has been established and the backlog has been sequenced, all involved teams should come together on a regular basis to inspect the progress and resequenced their backlog as needed. Four-Dimensional-Goal-Alignment

This will specially help the shared services    teams to reprioritize their work to make sure that the next highest priority deliverable goes out quickly.

  • Collaborate – Coming together frequently to align is part of collaboration. Additionally, having someone from the shared services team attend the consumer team’s daily Scrum and other Scrum events and vice versa will help both the shared services team and the consumer team to stay informed about the progress being made and plan their work appropriately.
  • Service Level Agreements (SLAs) – Achieving discipline through working agreements is important when it comes to collaboration between teams. To use a metaphor, car manufacturers rely on multiple suppliers to provide various parts of the car to be able to assemble the end product. Each of the suppliers have to agree to certain processes and protocols to make sure that the assembly line does not come to a halt due to shortage of parts. Each part has a assigned reorder inventory level at which point the order system automatically places order for the next shipment. 3771.PPP_PRD_165_3D_people-Binding_Agreement_1FA08461Not only is the vision of the system clear to each supplier, the suppliers ensure delivery of products on time and are also liable to penalty if the agreements are not adhered to.

The key focus agreements is to build the environment of collective ownership, collaboration and focus to ensure quality and timely deliverable while maintaining a flow.

  • Use a tool – Tools can come in handy when it comes to collaboration and keeping shared services teams informed about their commitments. While I am a huge proponent of physical boards for Scrum teams, I do have to acknowledge that physical boards become a limitation when trying to keep shared services teams informed about the needs or the change in needs of the consumer.

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Additionally, tools can be used by teams to generate metrics to assess their performance in being able to meet their SLAs, get notified about key milestones and provide data specifically targeted towards continuous improvement.

 

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While I truly believe that structural changes are a critical part of a successful agile transformation, it is not always possible  right from the word go. Organizations are generally resistant to radical changes fearing impact on running the business. While baby steps are taken to impact structural transformation, the above mentioned steps will help in the interim to help the organization get started on the journey of agile transformation.

If you have other ideas/techniques that you have used in your engagements, I would love to hear from you.