Scrum Product Owners Part 1

The Product Owner Steers The Ship

The Product Owner can be described as the “single wring-able neck” in Scrum. They are responsible for maximizing value and setting the direction for a new or existing product. They work with development teams, stakeholders, groom & prioritize their backlog, and share a guiding view into the future. The Product Owner is the most important role in the organization and only a special kind of person volunteers for it. The rest are usually ‘volun-told.’

Intention and style shape the effectiveness of a Product Owner. Like all of us, Product Owners come from different backgrounds or roles. Angela Druckman, of the Druckman Company has a wonderful series on Product Ownership and I have personally worked with her and attended her Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Product Owner courses during our Agile Transformation at the Nevada Department of Transportation.

As a coach, we don’t want to make assumptions about the anti-patterns our Product Owners may have inherited from their previous roles.

“An anti-pattern is something that looks like a good idea, but which backfires badly when applied.”

-Jim Coplien

Never assume that an ex-project manager uses “command and control” with their teams or that ex-business analyst will struggle with emotional intelligence. Leave all judgement to Judge Judy. Your job as a coach isn’t to fix anti-patterns. It’s to tap into people’s potential. Anti-patterns will extinguish as each person’s potential is unlocked and the agile mindset becomes a part of who they are. 

Captain & First Mate: Product Owner & Scrum Master

The first thing I want to stress is the relationship between a Product Owner and Scrum Master. These two roles, when combined with the Delivery Team, are a lot like a Project Manager and Delivery Team. Let’s take a 30,000ft view of the 10 Knowledge Areas of Project Management and see where the Product Owner and Scrum Master have responsibility in regards to traditional project management and its’ relation to iterative product development.

  • Integration Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and Gantt Charts.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master via collaboration and iterative development.
  • Scope Management 
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager and Change Control Board via the Scope Baseline and Change Management Process.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is the Product Owner’s via collaboration with stakeholders, prioritizing business objectives, and the product backlog.
  • Cost Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the Cost Baseline, budget, and Change Management Process
    • Scrum: This responsibility is the Product Owner’s via iterative delivery, business objectives, and budget.
  • Time Management (formerly Schedule Management)
    • Traditional: This responsibility fall onto the Project Manager via the Schedule Baseline, critical path, and Gantt Chart.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team and Product Owner via iterative releases.
  • Quality Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager and delivery team via Quality Assurance (QA), Quality Control (QC), and User Acceptance Testing (UAT).
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Scrum Master, and Product Owner via Quality Assurance (QA), Quality Control (QC), Sprint Reviews with stakeholders & Product Owner, Scrum Master resolving impediments during the daily stand-up, and Agile Retrospectives.
  • Procurement Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager and stakeholders via the organization’s Project Management Office procurement Policies, Processes, and Procedures
    • Scrum: This responsibility is not defined in Scrum, however, the organization’s Policies, Processes, and Procedures should be followed. A Scrum Master or  Product Owner should work closely with the Project Management Office.
  • Stakeholder Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the stakeholder management plan.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among by the Product Owner and Scrum Master. The Product Owner elicits requirements from stakeholders and the Scrum Master insulates the Delivery Team so they can focus on the product.
  • Communication Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the communication plan.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master. The Delivery Team meets daily and communicates progress and impediments. The Product Owner manages stakeholder expectations. The Scrum Master can assist with managing stakeholder expectations, facilitates the Daily Stand-up, Sprint Planning, The Sprint Review, The Sprint Retrospective, and coaches the principles of Agile to everyone in the organization.
  • Resource Management (formerly Human Resource Management)
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the Resource Management Plan.
    • Scrum: This responsibility falls onto the Delivery Team and Scrum Master via iterative planning sessions, capacity planning for each iteration, and relative estimation and using past performance to forecast velocity.
  • Risk Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the Risk Register, Risk Management Plan, and Contingency Reserves.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Scrum Master, and Product Owner. The Delivery Team and Scrum Master use retrospectives to address risk and improve how they work. The Product Owner sets the guiding view into the future, sets the priorities for each iteration via the backlog, and makes informed decisions based on the technical expertise of the team and the strategy of the organization.

While the above is a high-level, “vanilla,” list of the shared responsibilities and activities, it illustrates my point. The Product Owner and Scrum Master are a lot like a Project Manager split into two roles. This allows them to share responsibilities and specialize in select areas — making them more effective and increasing the chances of success. As a coach, we need to make sure these two stand as a united front. The Product Owner steers the ship and the Scrum Master is the first-mate.

Leave your thoughts on Product Ownership, Scrum, or Project Management in a comment below or if you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Six Elements Of An Effective Strategy

Back to Basics: The Six Elements Of An Effective Strategy

Developing a strategy ready for execution is one of the most difficult tasks facing organizations. Global commerce is no longer reserved for the “titans of industry.” Small to medium sized enterprises are now operating in the global economy and other than resource constraints, the playing field is generally even for anyone with quality services and products. Understanding the basics of an effective strategy is more important than ever.

“Going back to basics strengthens your foundation”

Money, people, and time are finite resources and should be used wisely. When developing a new strategy or enhancing an existing one, leaders must understand there are three value areas that a strategy should address before proceeding.

  1. Improving Operational Performance
  2. Improving Customer Service
  3. Exploiting New Opportunities

Understanding the three value areas enables leaders to establish priorities based on business goals. Additionally, as a new initiative is developed and acted on, the tactical needs must be met while the organization continues moving forward. Long story short, understand your business needs & do not disrupt operations. 

The Six Elements Of An Effective Strategy

Element 1 – Continuation Of Policy

Formulating an effective strategy means understanding the landscape you operate in and and those affected by your decisions. Policies are both external and internal.

  • External policies are the laws and industry standards your organizations must follow. External policies mandate what an organization must adhere to and can include international, federal, and state laws.
  • Internal policies are an organization’s vision and mission. They must be aligned with an organization’s core competencies and value chain. Internal policy should be easily understood by everyone in the organization. A good litmus test is, “can our policy be described in three sentences or less and does it address the way we operate, how we treat our customers, and capture new markets?”

Element 2 – Overcoming Adversarial Competition

Understand those who operate in your market and either directly or indirectly oppose your progress. Leaders need to understand their competition, their internal policies, and value stream. Leaders should be honest when assessing the weaknesses of their own organizations and compare themselves as objectively as possible. Weaving fantasies about the competition or the competencies of your own organization leads to bad decision making. Entrepreneurs of small to medium sized organizations are especially prone to fantasy based thinking. While optimism is a good quality for successful entrepreneurship, it is not the basis for effective strategy formulation.

“If from your strategy you can’t identify anything that you would say no to, it’s probably not a good strategy.”
– Karl Scotland

Element 3 – Account For The Talent Gap

Organizational leaders and tactical managers must understand the skills required so the policy can move forward and succeed. An actionable strategy accounts for the talent gap. Unfortunately, HR departments lack the ability to close the skills gap — either through recruitment & retention efforts or training & development. Leaders must develop a roadmap for developing & recruiting the required skills for strategy execution.

Element 4 – Impetus & Focus

Firm understanding of the corporate culture and the attitudes required of those operating internally of the organization helps leaders gauge how well employees and the tactical management will readily adopt the strategy. Experienced leaders understand culture and attitudes are not specifically ‘defined’ — they evolve over time and accumulate based on whom the organization hires. The following considerations should be made when creating your strategy and roadmap.

  • Who are our external customers?
  • How well do our employees treat our external customers?
  • How well do we treat our employees?
  • When we’ve implemented change in the past, does the leadership team “walk the walk” or just walk around with a “big stick?”
  • Is company culture a strong consideration when hiring new employees?
  • Do we invest enough in training and fostering the growth of our talent?
  • How well do we on-board our new hires?
  • How well do we evaluate performance and customer satisfaction?
  • Do we provide opportunities for growth?
  • Do our employees feel empowered to make decisions and take ownership of the issues or are there silos in our organization?

Element 5 – Communicate The Guiding View Into The Future

Everyone wants to understand where their organization is moving and what the organization wants to accomplish. This has a strong influence on the decisions, priorities, and the way work is accomplished from day-to-day. Return to the internal policy established in the first element and re-write it in a way that everyone in the organization can easily understand. Fold in your vision statement in a way that makes sense and adopt it as the organization’s mantra. Consistently communicate the mantra across all mediums. It’ll eventually stick and influence your culture.

“The mantra should describe the way we operate, how we treat our customers, and communicate the guiding view into the future”

Element 6 – Measure

The above elements are all aimed at creating a strategy that can respond quickly to change. Many refer to this as business agility — starting with intention and pivoting over the long-term as internal or external factors require. Leaders should track what was intended, what emerged, and what was realized and adjust their strategy accordingly. The company culture and your talent gap will most likely cause you to lag behind emergent strategies, however, measuring the progress over time is useful because it can help you refine your strategies in the future. The below figure illustrates my point. Each black dot represents an environmental change and the green lines are the emergent strategies (E1, E2, E3). The red line lags behind, this is what is realized.

PlannedVsEmergentStrategy

The outcomes that should be measured are:

  1. Operational Performance
    • Time to Produce
    • Cost Savings
    • Quality
  2. Customer Service
    • Time to Delivery
    • Value Delivered to Customers
    • Customer Satisfaction
  3. New Opportunities
    • Time to Market
    • Return on Investment
    • Addressing Unserved Needs

Leave your thoughts on strategy in a comment below or if you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

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Sources

Agile Leaders Understand Customer Service And Culture

Transforming A Culture Is No Easy Task

Developing a strategic plan to promote internal and external customer service is no easy task. The role of organizational culture, the forces effecting the culture, understanding who the internal and external customers are, and identifying the key objectives required for effective customer service will help an organization meet specific goals: Develop an internal customer service culture, effectively train all employees who interact with the external customers, provide information to customers that is useful and relevant using the communication methods they desire, and developing or enhancing a means to follow-up with customers.

What Is Culture And The Forces Of Influence?

A corporate culture “refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions” (Investopedia, 2017). Culture is usually implied and not specifically ‘defined’ – as it organically evolves over time and accumulates traits based on whom the organization hires, it’s dress code, office setup, benefits, turnover, and client satisfaction based on operations or the artifacts the organization produces.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” In general, his view indicates that repeated behaviors or habits are the core of a culture. What people feel, think or believe are the perceptions and ultimately the forces shaping our behaviors.

It is important to direct our efforts and identify the forces that shape our behaviors within our organizations and their relation to customer service. Describing the current and desired forces will assist with accurately capturing the thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions of the organizational structure and the incentives that deliver positive customer interactions by cultivating the desired culture of customer service.

Define The Customers: External vs. Internal

The distinction between internal and external customers isn’t always clear, however, we will can use an academic perspective for the purpose of this discussion.

External Customers look to “exploit artefacts[sic] produced by the organization with specific requirements and specifications” (Hobbs, 2016). External customers are essential to the success of the organization as it operates to produce the artifacts specified by external customers.

Internal customers are all members of the organization who rely on assistance from each other to fulfill their duties in the production of artifacts specified by the external customers.

Forces Of Influence And Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction doesn’t start with the customer. It starts ‘in-house,’ with the employees, incentives, and programs within the organization. Employee recognition programs, cultural expectations set during on-boarding, opportunities for training (both formal and informal), competencies measured during appraisals, and policies are all forces that influence the organization’s culture and affect customer satisfaction.

Agility Starts Start At The Top

An organization’s leadership team must set the tone and embody the practices themselves. It’s not about setting expectations – it’s about ‘practicing what they preach’ and treating employees the way they want the customer to be treated. Additionally, leaders “must make the measurement of service quality and feedback from the customer a basic part of everyone’s work experience” (Morrow, 2000). The Agile organization embodies these beliefs because the leadership is passionate about practicing what they preach. Leaders set the tone. 

Agile Organizations Hire For The Culture

Organizations like Zappos, a leading online retailer for the shoe industry, is well known for starting with a “cultural fit interview, which carries half the weight of whether the candidate is hired” (Patel, 2015) by offering $2,000 to quit after the first week of training if the candidate decides the job isn’t for them. Zappos instills their ‘ten core values’ on each of their employees and dedicates a portion of their budget to employee team building and promotion of its values and culture. The idea is, when the organization gets the culture right, great customer service and brand recognition will evolve organically on its own. Agile organizations are infectious with their values.

Additionally, it may be necessary to remove any employees who do not show the behaviors required to foster positive customer interactions. Often, organizations allow employees who work with external customers to remain on the job when they are not suited for the position. “If employees don’t want to serve the customer in the best possible way, document their behaviors and use the information to help them change or to move them from areas away from interactions with external customers” (Morrow, 2000). It only takes one bad apple to ruin the bushel.

Agile Organizations Invest In Training

Formal training in customer service is a good starting point, however, organizational leadership should reframe its’ thinking and recognize that training extends beyond a mandatory class taken once a year. Training employees, again, is a top-bottom approach. Organizational leadership, managers, and supervisors should always be training their employees, offering guidance and coaching each other and their subordinates on a continual and iterative basis relative to informal or formal training initiatives respectively.

Agile Organizations Effectively On-board New Hires

Effectively setting expectations and training employees starts with the organization’s on-boarding process. On-boarding new hires is the organization’s first opportunity to set expectations, provide examples of excellent customer service observed by past and current employees, and explain how the culture affects customer service in the respective industry.

Agile Organizations Evaluate Performance And Customer Satisfaction

Work Performance Standards and employee performance reviews are another opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization’s customer service initiatives. When employees are appraised on customer satisfaction as part of their work performance standards, they will be motivated to meet and exceed customer service standards as they are clearly measurable and defined. Performance reviews provide feedback to the employee regarding their competency in customer service within their organization and helps align the employee with the expectations, standards, and behaviors that are expected within the culture. “Using customer satisfaction as a measure of on-the-job success is one of the surest ways to guarantee great service” (Johnson C., 2015). What gets measured gets done.

Agile Organizations Provide Opportunities For Growth

Providing exceptional customer service to every customer every time is an unreasonable expectation – no one person is fully equipped to know the best possible solution that fits a customer’s needs in the best possible way. It’s important for leaders to recognize that mistakes do happen. However, addressing these mistakes and making them opportunities to learn not only helps the employee grow and gain improved competencies in customer service, but improves the organization’s overall readiness to meet similar challenges and issues experienced when addressing customer concerns or demands. Transparency is the key to success when mistakes are made, though they should be handled tactfully so as not to embarrass the employee or customer(s), as they help all members of the organization learn from the mistakes made so as not to repeat them.

Agile Organizations Encourage Ownership Of The Issue(s)

Employees that feel empowered to make decisions will take ownership of the issues challenging internal and external customers. Conversely, employees who worry about job security protect themselves first. When employees feel insecure about their jobs, they will hesitate to take ownership of issues. When shaping an organizational culture, it is important for employees to feel trusted and empowered to make decisions regarding the issues faced by customers without fear of repercussion.

Agile Organizations Develop Policies That Encourage Empowerment

Establish policies that are customer-centric and show concern for customer needs. Eliminate “routine and rigid policies and guidelines and strive to be an organization that is easy to do business with” (Morrow, 2000). Customer service is not the sole responsibility of the Customer Service Department; it is an organizational effort and policies that facilitate this empower all employees to deliver exceptional customer service.

Agile Organizations Reward High Performers

Reward employees for the behaviors you wish to cultivate. Cash incentives and bonuses are great, however, there are other ways to let an employee know they have done a good job. Extra time off, an article in the organization’s newsletter, a trophy awarded at a recognition dinner, tickets to special events, or even hand written notes are ways to reward behaviors you wish to see more of.

Identify the Objectives of Customer Service

The organization should identify the primary objectives in customer service. Below are some quantitative and qualitative examples that can trickle into an employee’s work performance standards and performance reviews.

  1. “Determine whether the organization is providing a satisfactory service to its customers” (West, 2017).
  2. Confirm that the requirements of the customer have not changed
  3. “Individual Customer Service Performance” (Vulpen, 2017).
  4. “Employee Satisfaction” (Liebenberg, 2004).
  5. Provide your organization with an objective evaluation of customer satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction.
  6. Level of knowledge of the problem(s).
  7. Identify areas for improvement.

Organizational Culture is difficult to define, however, recognizing the forces that influence your culture will aid in its’ refinement. The best culture makes all employees feel safe and welcome and it should grow organically to fit the needs of external and internal customers alike. It should be adjusted if it causes the organization to end up with homogenized employees who think and act the same. “Trust in your employees goes a long way towards a positive organizational culture, because trust leads to independent employees who help the organization grow” (Patel, 2015).

Share your company culture by leaving a comment or connecting with me. Follow me on social media and let’s have a conversation.

Photo Credit

Sources

Hobbs, B. &. (2016). Projects with internal vs. external customers: An empirical investigation of variation in practice. International Journal of Project Management Volume 34, Issue 4, 675 – 687.

Investopedia. (2017, April 11). Corporate Culture. Retrieved from Investopedia: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/corporate-culture.asp

Johnson C., R. (2015, July 8). 5 Ways Corporate Culture Affects Your Customer’s Experience. Retrieved from smallbizdaily: http://www.smallbizdaily.com/5-ways-corporate-culture-affects-customers-experience/

Liebenberg, J. &. (2004). Factors Influencing a Customer-Service Culture in a Higher Education Environment. Journal of Human Resrouce Management Issue 2 (2) , 1-10.

Morrow, P. (2000, August 2). Eight Keys to Creating a Customer Service Culture. Retrieved from Inc.: https://www.inc.com/articles/2000/08/20028.html

Patel, S. (2015, August 6). 10 Examples of Companies with Fantastic Cultures. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/249174

Vulpen, E. V. (2017, January 4). How 11 Factors Influence Customer Service Performance. Retrieved from Analytics in HR: https://www.analyticsinhr.com/blog/factors-influencing-customer-service-performance/

West, K. (2017, April 13). Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Your Business. Retrieved from National Business Research Institute: https://www.nbrii.com/blog/customer-satisfaction-surveys-and-your-business/