Product Owners: Ask for this First!

Congratulations! You finally got “the call”. The organization has decided you are the perfect person to be the Product Owner for a strategically important product. A product that is going to propel your career and help your organization move to the “next level”.

During your onboarding, the organization gives you:

  • Authority over budget

  • Authority over product development decisions

  • Key metrics for the product to produce

  • The Development Team

Wait! Stop right there...


How does the organization know what team to put together for this product? Do we know this is the right set of individuals that can form a team?


As the Product Owner, you know the product's success, and by association, your success hinges on the strength of the Development Team.

Here is how you can approach this conversation:


"Wow. Thank you for this opportunity. I am very excited to get started. About the Development Team, I know you had a group assembled, but I have a few people in mind that I think will give us the greatest chance of success. Let me reach out to them and see if we can get their focus on this product."


I highly encourage you to become your own team recruiter. Think of it this way:

If you could choose any person to be on this team, who would it be?

In 2005, Guidant Corporation (acquired by Boston Scientific) gave me the opportunity to build an analytics solution for the Sales and Finance teams. The budget allowed for 6 people. The traditional approach of data warehousing was not feasible within the budget. I needed a team that could do everything from requirements gathering, design, data sourcing, data storage, and data visualization.


To build this team properly, I needed a rockstar. Someone that has experience as a "jack of all trades" in data analytics. But this person had to have the "team first" mindset. A selfless technical leader that got as much enjoyment by watching others succeed as by succeeding as on his own.


Luckily I had someone in mind. (@LaurelJohnson). He was currently at a local retail giant doing some great work. I called him up and said:

"We have a chance here to build an analytics solution from the ground up. We can finally do this like we have always wanted!"
He quickly replied "I'm in"

Now that Laurel was on board, I asked him, "Who do you want to work with? Who are some people you respect technically, but also have the attitude and values that will work with us?" Together we recruited the next two technical team members. Then as a four-person team we interviewed and came to group consensus for our Business Analysts and UI Designer.


By allowing the team to form this way, each person felt ownership. They had a hand in building the team. They all referred to the team as "My Team". As we went through the bumps of forming as a team, we had an easier time moving from storming to performing. If one of us stumbled, we were all there to pick each other up.

Build a Team that is more than a group of individuals

Together as a small, motivated, cross-functional team we created a data analytics solution that allowed the Sales and Finance team insight they never had access to before.


This same approach served well at a Mid-Sized Financial Services organization:


The Sr. Director of Analytics (DA) shared with me, "Over the last 18 months we have spent $3MM dollars and have produced zero metrics for the Board of Directors strategic dashboard. I have 6 months to get this fixed, or I am fired". (It is interesting how a crisis can help us focus.)

  • Me: "Who is the key person you need to succeed?"

  • DA: "David K"

  • Me: "What do we need to get that person 100% focused on this work"

  • DA: "To fully fund them"

After doing some quick math, we came up with a rough estimate of the number of people we would need on the team and how much they would cost on an annual basis. We settled on $1MM.

  • Me: "Can you get $1MM in funding"

  • DA: "Yes"

  • Me: "Can you convince IT to give you full control of these individuals for the next 12 months"

  • DA: "This is for the Board of Directors. I will be able to get their support if needed".

Following a similar approach, we built the team one person at a time. As a new team member joined, they were asked "Who do you want to work with that will make us a better team?"

  • Outcome #1: Within 6 weeks of forming as a team, the most valuable metric for the Board of Directors was delivered AND ACCEPTED by the Board of Directors. In 6 months, the entire dashboard was in production. (side note: Only 6 of the original metrics made it to production. 4 new metrics were selected by the Board as they saw the initial pieces of data. This is exactly how customer centric, product focused delivery is supposed to work.)

  • Outcome #2: Budget was added and the analytics team scaled to 2 teams to provide additional solutions beyond the Board of Directors dashboard.

  • Outcome #3: The Sr. Director was promoted to Vice President

This is what a self-forming team looks like. A group of motivated individuals brought together for a common goal.

Product Owners:

  • The success of the product rests on your shoulders. Unfortunately you cannot do it alone. Your success rests on the team's ability to bring your product to life. Negotiate the ability to choose your team.

Agile Leaders:

  • Make sure your most valuable teams are working on the most valuable products.

  • Build an environment where the development team's stay together for as long as possible.

  • Keep giving them new challenges, but make sure to ask them on a regular basis, "What are you passionate about? How do you want to grow your skills?"

Be well, stay safe, and make good products!

Tom


Thomas (Tom) Auld is a Product Owner who is obsessed with building customer centric products as efficiently as possible. As both an Employee and Management Consultant, Tom has created products that have created over $400MM in value (and counting).


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