August 19, 2014

Communications And The Product Owner

A very important part of the Product Owner’s job is communication. As Product Owner, you’ll communicate the vision of the product, what main features need to be included to get you there (the roadmap), and what to focus on for the next couple of weeks so as to release according to the release plan.

You communicate all of this to your customers, your investors, management, owners, and other stakeholders.

You communicate this to your Scrum Master, your testers, and your developers. Again and again and again, and over and over.…

If you are a good communicator already, congratulations!

If you are not, no problem, there are some things for you to learn, but once you have tried them out and done your practicing you will do fine. But only if you are you are willing to improve your communications skills.

The daily stand up meeting is a meeting primarily for the team, however the participation and support from the product owner is important to the team. As a Product Owner you should join these meetings as often as you can to show that you are committed and interested in – (because you are, aren’t you?) – the progress and getting closer to your goal; your great product. By attending, you will also get a chance to learn what tasks are the most demanding ones, how the team is doing, and of course to communicate whatever the team ask you for to make it easier for them to choose the right solution. Some questions can also lead to new requirements for you to handle.

When a team member describes their Last, Next and Blockers, you can choose to listen politely. Or you can choose to listen carefully and understand that they are probably proud of their work. Let your interest show! Listen to what is said, if you do not understand everything you should ask until you do. You will find that most people are happy to talk about their work and how smart they are having managed to solve tricky problems. The product owner can show interest by nodding and asking for more information about a certain issue. A few “sounds good”, “fine”, “I understand” can also encourage the members to feel that their work is important, on track and valuable.

There are loads of very different personalities and working styles but they have at least one thing in common, and that is that everyone wants to contribute with their skills and also be respected and listened to. Every team member has his/her skills no matter their personality, and you can increase the effectiveness of the team if you learn what and how to communicate to suit their specific needs.

If there are problems or issues that need to be discussed further it should not be done in the daily stand up, instead it should be postponed until after the meeting. You should remind yourself that the standup is a short meeting, and that problems are to be solved afterwards by relevant team members.

Even if you don’t have all details about every planned task you should at least know the sprint goal so that you better understand what’s going on right now. You should also be prepared to answer questions about features, tasks and other concerns.

To support our daily work and planning we use the Agile Board in ReQtest. We also follow the progress and amount of work left to do in the sprint, automatically calculated by the tool, which is very convenient.  As it is a web-service it is always available for everyone in the team. We use the agile board a platform for our communication. You can always find the latest updates.

It is a good idea for the Product Owner to have a quick look at the agile board, whiteboard or whatever tool you use to keep track of your iteration, before the daily stand up. That will give you a better understanding of what might come up and you can be prepared to help the team by specifying, explaining issues. If you have a web based tool you can have a glance in advance, if not, you should try to find another way to feel confident you are updated before meeting the team.

Communication skills are not only an important aspect of the daily stand up; their importance comes into play in all scrum events. The time between the scheduled meetings is also about communication, as of course, you’re meant to communicate all the time, not just during stand up meetings. It is said that one reason many projects fails is that the product owner is too passive. Instead you should collaborate, not only with the Scrum Master and the customer, but with the whole team. Be available, ask and answer questions, give feedback and encourage the team to tell you what they need from you. Discuss your expectations and the expectations of the team before starting working together. Decide together on some general rules for your teamwork, i.e., what and how to document, what you should do if you are late to a meeting, to whom you should address certain questions, what your Definition of Done looks like etc.

By sorting things out early you will spend less time solving misunderstandings later. It is worth it.

Some people think that the more you talk, the better ideas or solutions you deliver. This is not necessarily true. Some people do their thinking while talking, others want to think first, before sharing their ideas. What if the best ideas never come up in your sprint meetings due to some talkative persons always stealing the show? By now you know what to do about it.

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