Two Questions Every Product Owner Must Ask on a Daily Basis
Welcome to the updated, Product Owner Wednesday (POW for short).
In this series we aim to share quick, yet meaningful nuggets focused on the Product Owner in an organization practicing agile.
In addition to providing ideas to the Product Owner, we encourage Leaders responsible for organizational transformation and Scrum Master to read this too in order to support their Product Owners.
So why focus on the Product Owner? Because Product Owner is the most demanding role on an agile team. In any given day you will need to channel the passion and vision of P.T. Barnum, Steve Jobs and Cheryl Sandberg. Show the patience and understanding of Gandhi and Mother Theresa. And have the focus of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Bill Belichick.
So where do you start?
Let’s start with the first two questions you should ask yourself every morning:
Is my product backlog clear? (aka "the stuff we need to do to build our product")
Do I really know the most valuable thing to do next?
If you can answer “yes” to these two questions, you are way ahead of the game. Congrats! But, if you are in the majority that would have a hard time saying “yes” to both of these questions, don’t do anything else until you can answer these questions with “yes”.
So there you go…have a great Wednesday…
Wait, you want more details? Am I not being clear? :)
Let’s break these down a bit:
Question #1: Is my product backlog clear?
What is clear? Clarity is defined as the quality of being clear, in particular, the quality of coherence and intelligibility. A more direct question would be “Could anybody on the team read the product backlog increments (increments) and fully comprehend them”? These increments are the “what” you are asking your Development Team to build.
If there is a lack of clarity, the Development Team will potentially waste time and energy on an increment your Customers don’t want and won’t pay for. One week of lost time on a 5-person Development Team will cost the Product Owner approximately $20,000 (40 hours x $100 blended rate X 5 team members). Wasting money because an increment is unclear is something that should keep you awake as a Product Owner.
How do I know if they are clear? – Easy! Try these two techniques:
Ask your Team! Trust me, they will tell you if they have questions. The Scrum Master can help with this too during spring planning.
If you want to go one step further, ask your Team to describe the increment to you and the rest of the team. Make sure they understand the definition of done because, as the PO, that is all you care about. Getting the increment to “done” based on the parameters you give to the team.
How can I make my increments (user stories) clearer?
There is no short-cut. This will take effort and time with Customers, Stakeholders, Analysts, Subject Matter experts, and any other person with knowledge that can make your product successful. Every conversation you have will help you become clearer and you will pass that clarity along to your team. Feel free to bring the Development Team along to these conversations too. They might pick up something that you might miss.
How can I confirm if my increments are clear?
Easy – measure. At the end of each sprint, did you achieve the sprint goal or not? Over the last 6 sprints, how many sprint goals did you achieve. If you are making over 80% of your sprint goals, take a bow! You are awesome. For the rest of us below 80%, during our Retrospective and our Sprint Planning we need to have a more detailed conversation about each increment. We should not move on the next increment during sprint planning until we can honestly say we are clear about the increment. If not, take your time and keep working through it.
This is the process – you are doing it great!
Question #2: Do I really know the most valuable thing to do next?
Doubling the value of your product or service is the primary goal of most Product Owners. If you are not extremely clear about what feature or offerings is going to excite your Customer, then “do not pass go, do not collect $200”.
How do I define “value”?
That is an impossible question to answer here. This is your #1 job as the Product Owner. You must know the value your product provides. Value can be something as straight forward as increased revenue, but is can also be metrics such as number of lunches served, customer satisfaction, first call resolution, reduction in manufacturing cost, etc.
Who helps me define value?
Your Customer! Not sure who your customer is? Follow the money! The people benefiting from your product are the ones you start with. Now if you are a “for profit” organization, you will then want to determine if the Customer sees enough value to give you their money.
Once you have a grasp on who is your customer and what are their needs, then repeat this process with your Organizational Leaders and Stakeholders. Then make sure you talk with your Development Team and Organizational Subject Matter Experts. You never know where the next amazing idea is going to come from. This is exactly why Sprint Reviews are open to the Organization. Open yourself up to all the ideas, then use your expertise as the Product Owner to sort through the noise and decide on the next increment.
How do I measure if value is being achieved?
Measure, measure, measure. Each increment should have a value associated with it. Once it is delivered and being utilized by Clients, you have to go back and measure.
For example, feature “#1” will increase first call resolution by 10%, thereby saving $20,000 a year in call center billing. Once the feature is in place for a month, we should be able to measure to see if we are 1/12 of the way to the 10% reduction and $20,000 savings. You may quickly find the feature is slightly off the mark and now it will only take a small adjustment. You may find that your feature is doubling the expected value. At that point you can take a victory lap! Then get back to work.
Do you have other questions that a Product Owner should be asking? Please add them in the comments section and we can have a conversation about it.
Have a valuable week!
Thomas (Tom) Auld is the Founder and Product Owner of Auld Consulting LLC and Auld Real Estate. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn or email him at TCAuld@AuldLLC.com