With many companies around the world asking staff to work from home during the current COVID-19 virus outbreak, we’re all having to adapt to a new way of working.

So how do we, as Product Owners / Managers, help keep our team productive during this time?

Communication is everything

When everyone is working from home the communication benefit of being co-located with your team has been lost. No longer can the team shout across the top of their monitor to get clarification on a story. And no longer can you overhear a conversation between developers, and jump in to add context.

We have…

Both are junior members of staff without much prior experience. Mario is taking on his first role as a Product Owner and Julia is a Developer.

How are they both supported and trained when they join their agile squad?

Julia joins a team of experienced developers, and she can spend some time shadowing other team members and learning the new technology. Her work will constantly be checked by other team members during code reviews and product demos — which will give very useful feedback to help her improve.

Mario, in contrast, has been allocated as the Product Owner for an…

As a Product Owner its tempting to try and capture as much detail as possible on a user story. I might start with a simple requirement, but then end up adding loads of additional information!

Of course, we all know that a user story, at its essence is just meant to be a statement in the following format:

As a [persona] I want [a feature] so that [business value]

  • The persona is the person (or sometime system) that wants to do something
  • The feature is the thing they want to do
  • The business value is the reason why they want…

In an ideal world, there should be one Product Owner for one agile development team or squad. Or at a stretch, maybe one Product Owner for two teams, if they’re working on the same backlog.

At the moment, I’m not in that ideal world. My current project has five squads working on different epics, and only two Product Owners. We both have two full-time teams each, and we try our best to help support the fifth team between us that has no official P.O.

It’s a difficult situation, because we have to constantly context-switch between the work done between each…

The Scrum Master for my team left for a new role at the end of August, and since then we’ve been without a dedicated Scrum Master.

My role is that of the Product Owner, but in the past I’ve covered some of the duties of the Scrum Master (keeping the show on the road) during holidays and illness, and so I volunteered to step in to the role until a replacement can be hired.

Ten weeks on, and there’s no sign of a new Scrum Master being hired, so it looks like I’ll be carrying on with my dual-role a…

I like that we have a Definition of Ready for our stories. As a Product Owner it gives me confidence that I’ve done my job properly in analysing and communicating the requirements, and also that the team is ready to hit the ground running when the sprint starts.

Lately, however, it’s been more of a struggle to get stories to a ‘ready’ state ahead of sprint planning. Other things — often external factors — block stories from being ready. …

The whole subject of measuring performance of agile teams is a divisive one.

In an ideal world we should be looking to measure the value delivered by a team, rather than collecting performance statistics. After all, our primary goal in agile is to deliver some value to the product or customer. But measuring value isn’t easy, and it’s not quantifiable. It often can’t be expressed in numbers. And so often organisations measure other things.

All too often the most visible thing to count — story points — is the one thing that should never be counted!

A cautionary tale…

In my recent experience…

How often does your sprint goal or stories change in the middle of the sprint? A late-breaking requirement or bug comes in, or a manager pops up with an urgent task, and before you know it your sprint is totally overloaded. Does that sound familiar?

Teams often think they’re being agile by responding to changing requirements during the sprint — or else they feel pressurised by managers to take on extra work that they didn’t plan for. And then at the end of the sprint, the inevitable questions get asked about why the team hasn’t delivered?

“The team committed to…

Have you even been to sprint planning and realised that the so-called stories are a bunch of crap? One-line JIRA tickets that the team haven’t seen before?

Then you need to enforce a Definition of Ready.

We can be good about tracking the progress of stories once they’ve been added to a sprint. We track them across the board until they are done, and make sure that they are “done-done” with a Definition of Done — a kind of check-list of all the tasks that need to be complete before we’re truly finished.

But how often do we, as Product…

In the olden days of waterfall development, you had teams of Business Analysts that all sat together. When a junior BA joined an organisation, they had a number of colleagues sat around them that they could call upon for advice and help, and lots of time for requirements documents to be reviewed and revised before being thrown over the wall.

But with agile development teams, we embed Product Owners on their own within the dev team. They are surrounded by engineers and Scrum Masters, but don’t have colleagues doing the same role sat around them. …

Richard Bloomfield

Agile Product Owner for Equifax in Dublin Ireland

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