Tag Archives: teamwork

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The Retrospective in a Nutshell

The sprint retrospective is an opportunity to pause for a short while and reflect on what happened in the sprint. This allows the attendees to improve their collaboration and their work practices to get even better at creating a great product.

The meeting takes place right at the end of the sprint after the sprint review meeting. Its outcome should be actionable improvement measures. These can range from making a firm commitment to start and end future meetings on time to bigger process changes. The retrospective is not a finger-pointing exercise. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”


Take Part

As the product owner, you are a member of the Scrum team, which also includes the development team and the ScrumMaster. While you are in charge of the product, you rely on the collaboration of the other Scrum team members to create a successful software product. If you don’t attend the retrospective as the product owner, you waste the opportunity to strengthen the relationship and to improve the collaboration with them.

TheScrumTeam

But there is more to: Taking part in the sprint retrospective allows you to understand why the team requires some time in the next sprint to carry out improvements such as refactoring the build script, or investigating a new test tool; and maybe more importantly, it helps you improve your own work.

Say that some of the user stories the team had worked on did not get finished in the sprint. At first sight this looks like the development team’s fault. But analysing the issue may well reveal that the size of the stories and the quality of the acceptance criteria contributed to the problem. As you are responsible for ensuring that the product backlog is ready, this finding affects your work: It shows you that you have to decompose the user stories further and it suggests that the development team’s involvement in getting the stories ready should be improved – otherwise you would have spotted the issue before the stories went into the sprint.

If you had not been in the retrospective would you then whole-heartedly support the resulting improvement measures and change the way you work?


Be an Active Participant

Don’t attend the retrospective as a guest who will speak when asked but otherwise remains silent. Be an active participant, use the sprint retrospective to get feedback on your work, and raise any issues that you want to see improved. Be constructive and collaborative but don’t shy away from tough problems.

POAsActiveRetroAttendee

Here are some questions that you may want to explore in the retrospective:

  • Do you spend enough time with the development team? Are you available to answer questions or provide feedback quickly enough? Do you provide the right level of feedback and guidance in the right way?
  • Is the communication between the team and you open, honest, and trustful?
  • Does the team know how the users employ the product?
  • Are the team members happy with their involvement in analysing user feedback and data, changing the product backlog, and getting stories ready for the sprint? Do you get enough support from the team to “groom” the backlog?
  • Are the team members aware of the big picture – the overall vision, the product strategy, and the product roadmap? Do you get enough of the team members’ time to help you with product planning and product roadmapping?

Improve the Wider Collaboration

As important as it is, continuously improving your collaboration with the development team and the ScrumMaster is usually not enough. You also need strong relationships with all the other people required to make the product a success. These include individuals from marketing, sales, customer service, finance, and legal, as the following picture shows.

POWiderCollaboration

A great way to review and improve the collaboration with your partners from marketing, sales and so forth is to invite them to the retrospective on a regular basis. Depending on how closely you collaborate, this may range from once per month to once per major release. A joint retrospective will help you develop closer and more trustful relationships, help smooth the launch of new product versions, and improve selling and servicing the product.

Here are some questions that you may want to explore in an extended retrospective:

  • Are the partners from marketing, sales etc. involved enough in the product planning and roadmapping activities?
  • Do they regularly participate in the sprint review meetings? Are the review meetings beneficial for them? Do they understand the project progress?
  • Do they receive the information necessary to carry out their work in a timely manner, for instance, to prepare the marketing campaign and to compile the sales collateral?
  • Do you get enough data and support from the partners, for instance, regular updates on the sales figures and the market feedback you require?

You can, of course, also discuss these questions one-on-one. But getting any issues on the table and discussing improvement opportunities creates a sense of we-are-all-in-this-together; it reaffirms the need for collaboration and teamwork to provide a great product; and it can break down departmental boundaries.


Learn More

You can learn more about the sprint retrospective meeting and the product owner by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner training course. Please contact me if you want me to teach the course onsite or if you would like me to run a product owner workshop at your office.

TheListeningResourceSusanEliot

Have a Clear Research Goal

Collecting the right data and analysing it effectively requires a clear research goal – understanding the reason why you carry out the work, and what you want to achieve. At the early stages of creating a product, your goal is likely to validate a critical assumption. This could be the product’s value proposition, the main revenue source, or an aspect of the user interaction design. Lean Startup captures the research goal as a hypothesis, and Scrum as a sprint goal.

Without a research goal you are in danger of collecting the wrong data, drawing the wrong conclusions, and moving your product in the wrong direction. In a sense, you are just trashing around hoping that the data will magically tell you what to do.


Separate Data Analysis from Data Collection

Once you have gathered the relevant data – for instance, by observing users, demoing a prototype, or tracking user behaviour using an analytics tool – step back, and carefully reflect on it before you make any decisions.

If you come from a Scrum background, then separating analysis from data collection may be new to you. In Scrum, data is traditionally collected and analysed in the sprint review meeting without always clearly separating the two activities. This carries the danger of rushing or skipping the analysis work, and making suboptimal or wrong decisions.

I hence recommend that you first collect the relevant data and then analyse it. Use the new insights to change the appropriate artefacts, for instance, your Vision BoardProduct Canvas, or product backlog, select a new research goal, and start the next cycle.


Keep an Open Mind

Keeping open mind may sound trivial, but clinging to an idea – not the lack of a fancy analysis technique or tool – is the biggest barrier to drawing the right conclusions in my experience. I know what I am talking about: When working on a new product, I feel strongly about my own ideas, and I sometimes have a hard time changing my mind. But being too attached to an idea, or being too eager to succeed carries the danger of rejecting any data that challenges it, which may well result in a poor product.

Before you carry out any analysis, take a deep breath and relax. Whenever you get tense or worked up about the data, tell yourself that it is not you, who is being challenged, but ideas, assumptions, and concepts. And ideas, assumptions, and concepts don’t have any pride; they don’t want to be right or wrong. They are just thoughts.


Mitigate Cognitive Biases

My fourth tip is to be aware of the cognitive biases we all have. A cognitive bias is a fault in our thinking causing us to draw the wrong conclusions. Confirmation biases, for instance, is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions, and self-serving bias is the tendency to claim more responsibility for our successes than our failures.

Maybe the worst thing you can do when employing a framework such as Lean Startup or Scrum is to run iteration after iteration only to look for data that confirms your ideas – and to reject the rest. This is likely to result in late failure, which is just as painful as in a traditional, sequential approach.

A great way to mitigate cognitive biases is to analyse the data collaboratively. This tends to balance out individual preferences, believes, and preconceptions. Consider therefore involving the development team in the data analysis, particularly when you validate critical assumptions.


Clean the Data

Don’t forget to clean the data. Remove data whose quality is too poor to interpret it correctly, and discard irrelevant data. This should be easy enough – unless it’s an idea from an important customer or a powerful stakeholder. But saying yes to every idea is not going to result in a great product but in a cluttered piece of software with a poor user experience. As Steve Jobs once said:

Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying no to all but the most crucial features.

Stay true to your vision, and leverage your primary persona to determine the right features.


Pivot or Persevere

When analysing the data, ask yourself if it invalidates your strategy, for instance, the customer segment chosen, the product’s value proposition, the anticipated user experience, or the revenue source. If it does, pivot and change your strategy. This typically requires big amendments of your planning artefacts including the Vision Board and the Product Canvas. If your strategy is valid, persevere and refine the appropriate documents.

Pivoting is never easy, as it require us to accept failure, and to let go of assumptions and ideas we may have grown fond of. But it is often a necessary step towards developing a great product. If you find failure scary, then don’t take it personal, and don’t identify yourself with your ideas: It is not you who has failed, but an idea or an assumption has turned out to be wrong. That happens even to the likes of like of Einstein who famously said:

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.

But if you keep pivoting repeatedly, stop and reflect. Check if you are really moving towards a successful product, or if you are chasing an ever-changing dream.


Learn more

While there is more to data analysis then I can cover in this brief blog post, I hope that the tips above help you analyse your data and create a great product.

To learn more attend my Agile Product Planning training course. Please contact me for delivering the training course onsite, and in form of interactive virtual training sessions.

Picasso_Pablo-Nusch_luard

As the product owner you should look outward to the market, and inward to the team and the stakeholders – similar to a cubistic Picasso portrait where the person’s eyes look in two different directions, as the following picture shows:

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The picture above is based on Pablo Picasso’s portrait of Nusch Éluard. Picasso created the painting in 1938 using charcoal and pencil on canvas.

The Outward View: Users, Customers, and Competitors

As the product owner, you should be first and foremost concerned with understanding the needs of the users and customers, and figuring out how well your product is meeting them. Helpful techniques to test your ideas and acquire the necessary knowledge include observing users, conducting user interviews, carrying out product demos and users tests, and employing MVPs. You should hence “get out of the building,” as Steve Blanks puts it, and engage with users and customers. Don’t blindly trust the opinions of senior management or the sales group. Use data to validate your assumptions.

Don’t forget to pay some attention to the competition, and the overall market developments. Even a company like Apple cannot afford to ignore their competitors, as the latest iOS release shows: Some of its new features, such as killing an app by swiping upwards, had been available on other devices.

The Inward View: Team and Stakeholders

While the users and customers should be your number one priority, creating a great product requires the product owner to closely collaborate with the development team. This collaboration is essential: It provides direction to team, and it leverages the team’s creativity and knowledge. Helpful techniques include jointly carrying out the research/validation work such as product demos and users tests, and updating the Product Canvas or backlog together.

As important as it is, collaborating with the team is not enough – particularly in larger organisations. Take into account the interests and needs of the internal stakeholders including senior management, marketing, sales, service, operations, and other business groups. Involve their representatives early and regularly, for instance, by inviting them to review meetings. This allows you to align the stakeholders, and to benefit from their ideas and knowledge.

Make sure, though, that you own the product and have the final say about what gets done. Avoid the trap of becoming a feature broker – someone who negotiates compromises between the stakeholders. Great products are not created by determining the smallest common denominator, and a product that tries to please everyone is likely to please no one. Follow your vision instead, and test your ideas with actual users.

Summary

You certainly don’t have to become a world-renown painter to be a good product owner. But to create a successful product, you should keep a firm eye on the market while collaborating with the development team and the internal stakeholders. Balance the two aspects, and avoid neglecting any for a longer period of time. In doubt, focus on understanding the user and customer needs and how to best address them. Leverage the ideas of the team and the stakeholders. But follow your vision, and validate your ideas early and frequently.

You can learn more about becoming an effective product owner by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner training course.

Product Canvas Creation Workshop Overview

The Product Canvas is a simple, yet powerful tool that helps you create a product with a great user experience and the right features. This post explains how you can create your initial canvas using a collaborative workshop.

Note that many of the recommendations below also apply to other agile and lean product definition tools including a traditional product backlog.

Overview

The Product Canvas creation workshop wants to kick-start your solution validation and product definition activities. It helps you change the focus from problem validation – exploring if there is a need that the new product addresses – to building a product with the right features and the right user experience. The following picture summarises the workshop, and the rest of this post explains the details.

Attendees

Everyone tasked with creating the product should attend the canvas creation workshop: the product owner, the team developing and testing the product, and the ScrumMaster or coach. This creates shared ownership, and it is likely to result in better decisions, as the entire team’s creativity and knowledge are leveraged.

I generally recommend that the stakeholders – the users, and customers as well as the internal stakeholders – do not attend the workshop, but share their ideas and feedback based on prototypes and product increments, for instance, in the sprint review meetings. This allows the product owner and the team to be creative before the stakeholders provide input.

Input

Before you start the workshop, you should be able to confidently answer the following questions:

  1. Who are the product’s users and who are the customers?
  2. What problem does the product solve? What benefits does it generate for its users? What is the product’s value proposition?
  3. What business benefits does the product creates? Why should the company invest in it?
  4. What kind of product is it? What are the three to five features that make it stand out?

I like to capture the insights above using the Vision Board. But you can also employ other tools including Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas and Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, as the following picture shows:

Being able to answer the questions above means that some problem validation has taken place prior to the workshop, for instance, by carrying out user observations and problem interviews. Note that the strength of the Product Canvas is solution validation – building the right product – and not discovering if the product should be built in the first place!

To ensure a smooth workshop, use a facilitator, for instance, the ScrumMaster. Organise an appropriate room with lots of wall space. Have the necessary materials available including paper sheets, paper cards, adhesive notes, masking tape, markers, and pencils. Starting out with paper and pencil is effective and fun in my experience, even if you intend to use a digital canvas.

Steps to Create the Canvas

To create your initial Product Canvas take the following three steps: Create personas; outline the user experience and the features; determine what to do in the first sprint, as the picture below shows:

The first step creates personas based on the insights gained in your problem validation work. The personas allow you to connect with the target users and customers. Their needs enable you to discover the right product features. I also recommend using a primary persona, as it creates focus and facilitates decision-making. You can read more about personas in the post  “A Template for Writing Great Personas”.

The second step describes the product comprehensively but at a rough, coarse-grained level. Helpful techniques to capture the user experience and the product functionality include scenarios, storyboards, epics, constraint stories, and design sketches / mock-ups. Make sure that the product features you identify address the need of a persona, or support the business model.

The third step determines what should be done in the first sprint. As you are about to start building the first product increment, you should address the greatest risk or the biggest uncertainty. This could be a lack of knowledge surrounding the user interaction, the user interface design, a product feature, or the architecture and technology. See my post “Effective Sprint Goals” for more information on choosing the right goal or hypothesis. Finally, determine what needs to be done to reach the goal, or to test the hypothesis, for instance, creating a scenario and a paper prototype to learn more about the user interaction.

The three steps above form a breadth-first approach: The product is sketched holistically, but the details are determined on a sprint-by-sprint basis. This keeps your canvas concise, and allows you to make changes quickly and effectively.

Outcome

At the end of the workshop you should have a Product Canvas that is good enough to start sprinting: to start building product increments/MVPs, gathering feedback, and integrating the insights gained, as the following picture shows:

Make sure you create a good-enough canvas, but not a perfect one. Your Product Canvas will change and evolve anyway based on the feedback you receive!

Duration

Four to eight hours should be enough time to create your initial canvas. If you require more time, then this may be a sign that you haven’t got enough information available and may have to carry out more problem validation and market research.

Summary

Employing a collaborative workshop, and following the process described above creates an initial Product Canvas that allows you to focus on solution validation – building the product with the right user experience and features. Make sure you understand the product’s value proposition before you enter the workshop, describe the product holistically at a coarse-grained level, and don’t worry too much about the product details: These will emerge incrementally based on the feedback you gather.

You can learn more about the Product Canvas creation workshop by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner training course. If you would like me to help you run a Product Canvas workshop, then please contact me.

Working with a sprint goal is a powerful agile practice. This post helps you understand what sprint goals are, why they matter, how to write and to track them.

The Sprint Goal Explained

A sprint goal summarises the desired outcome of an iteration. It provides a shared objective, and it states why it’s worthwhile undertaking the sprint. Sample sprint goals are “Learn about the right user interaction for the registration feature”, or “Provide the missing reporting functionality”.

As a rule of thumb, every sprint should have one shared goal. This ensures that everyone moves in the same direction. Once the goal has been selected, the team implements it. Stakeholder feedback is then used to understand if the goal has been met, as the following picture shows.

Sprint Goal Benefits

I have found that working with a sprint goal has five main benefits, particularly for new products and new features: It facilitates prioritisation and effective teamwork; it makes it easier to obtain and analyse feedback; and it helps with stakeholder communication.

Supports Prioritisation

A shared sprint goal facilitates prioritisation: It makes it easier to determine which stories should be worked on in the next cycle. Here is how I do it: I first select the goal. Then I explore which epics have to contribute to it, and I break out small detailed stories from the epics. Finally, I order the new ready stories based on their contribution to the goal.

Creates Focus and Facilitates Teamwork

Sprint goals create focus, facilitate teamwork, and provide the basis an effective sprint planning session. A shared objective guides the development work, encourages creativity, and enables commitment. Teams don’t commit to individual stories in Scrum; they commit to the sprint goal.

Helps Obtain Relevant Feedback

Employing a sprint goal makes it easier to collect the right feedback. If the goal is to evaluate the user experience, for instance, then it is desirable to collect feedback from actual target users. User representatives should therefore attend the sprint review meeting. But if the goal is to reduce technical risk by evaluating different object-relational mapping tools, then it is probably more appropriate to invite an experienced developer or architect from another team to discuss the solution.

Makes it Easier to Analyse the Feedback

Working with a sprint goal helps analyse the feedback obtained. If the team works on several unrelated stories in the same sprint then it can be tricky to relate the feedback to the right user story. This makes it harder to understand if the right product with the right features is being built.

Supports Stakeholder Communication

Finally, imagine meeting the big boss in the elevator and being asked what you are working on. Chances are that without a sprint goal, the boss will be bored to death, jump onto a specific story, or he will have left the elevator before you are finished listing all the things you do. Using a sprint goal helps you communicate the objective of the sprint to the stakeholders. This allows them to understand what the sprint is about and to decide if they should attend the next sprint review meeting.

Writing Great Sprint Goals

Like any operational goal, a sprint goal should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. As sprints are time-boxed iterations, every sprint goal is naturally time-bound: It has to be reached by the end of the sprint.

A relevant sprint goal helps you address the most important challenge, and it moves you closer towards your vision or release goal. For a new product or a bigger product update, the main challenge in the early sprints is to resolve uncertainty and to mitigate the key risks. To determine where the greatest risk currently is, I use the three innovation drivers – desirability, feasibility, or viability – as the following picture shows.

A sample goal of an early sprint is to learn more about the desired user experience (a desirability aspect), the software architecture (feasibility), or the pricing model (viability). To pick the right goal, choose the risk that is likely to hurt you most if it is not addressed immediately.

When selecting your sprint goal, remember that trying out new things requires failure. Failure creates the empirical data required to make informed assumptions about what should and can be done next. Failing early helps you succeed in the long term.

After you have run a few sprints, the emphasis usually starts to shift from resolving uncertainty to completing features so that they can be released – at least to selected users. This allows you to gather quantitative data and to understand how users employ your product in its target environment. The shift should be reflected in your sprint goal, which now focuses on “getting stuff done” rather than testing ideas, as the picture below illustrates. (I explain this development in more detail in my post “Get Your Focus Right“.)

Employing a specific and measurable sprint goal allows you to determine success. For instance, don’t just state “Create a prototype” as your sprint goal. Be explicit about the type and its purpose. Say instead: “Create a paper prototype of the user registration feature to test our user interaction ideas.”

The default mechanism in Scrum to determine success is to analyse the stakeholder feedback. Scrum suggests that the feedback should be obtained in the sprint review meeting by presenting the product increment. If this is not appropriate for you, then I suggest you make your approach explicit in your sprint goal. Write, for instance: “Test the user interaction design of the registration feature by conducting a user test in the sprint review meeting.”

Carrying out sprint planning activities ensures that the sprint goal is attainable. Traditionally, this involves selecting user stories that are required to reach the goal until the team’s capacity has been consumed. Sprint planning hence allows the product owner and the team to understand if the goal chosen can be reached. This helps you to invite the right stakeholders and be confident that they can provide meaningful feedback. Unrealistic sprint goals waste the stakeholders’ time and undermine their willingness to participate in the process.

Visualising and Tracking the Sprint Goal

To ensure that the sprint goal is fully leveraged, I visualise it. My Product Canvas tool contains a ready section with items for the next sprint, as the picture below shows. I place the sprint goal at the top of the ready section, and I determine the stories required to reach the goal. These are then listed underneath the goal.

As part of creating the task board or sprint backlog, I move the sprint goal from the product canvas onto the board. This helps ensure that the team keeps the goal in mind when implementing the individual stories.

Summary

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there,” says Yogi Berra. Employing a sprint goal increases that chances of getting where you want to go, of creating a successful product.

You can find out more about employing sprint goals effectively by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner training course.