Working at AMPLEXOR as an ECM Team Coach, most of my time is spent leading product teams in implementing common-of-the-shelf software (COTS) applications in enterprise environments. This includes introducing agile software development methodologies and connecting business users and developers in one t-shaped, multifunctional team.
When looking at well performing scrum teams, one thing is clear: the product owner (PO) is the key to a successful product while the team is the locked treasure chest.
The PO plays one of the three roles (scrum master, dev team and product owner) of the scrum framework for agile project management. He’s the only person responsible for managing the Product Backlog, put simply, the list of all things that needs to be done within the project. These can be either technical or user-centric, e.g. in the form of user stories (US). Clearly expressing product backlog items and translating stakeholder needs into usable instructions for creating and delivering solutions to those challenges. This is key to successfully starting any agile software development project.
In many cases, business stakeholders on the client side are not ready to level with the tempo of the agile team and will not deliver information and requirements in a way the development team easily understands on what needs to be done. To connect the two, the PO must ensure that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, clear to all and shows what the team will work on next to complete the goal or deadline!
So how can an agile product owner gain trust from his team and value for the client in any software development project? As per my experience, I have listed the top 4 areas in which a Product Owner must perform well to keep scrum teams effective:
You lead the product development... getting the most value for the client. Agile dictates a self-organizing team and the product owner is second servant-leader in the team, next to the Agile lead or Scrum master. Always deliver added business value even if the development team wants to clean up technical debt. Get grip on your resources and lead them to a better product, but also be aware that code/infra is a living organism.
Know your product/mission in and out. Breathe it, live it. Envision it.
Focus more on the team instead of business stakeholders. Stakeholders are important but ensure you don’t lose the grip on the dev team!
Take ownership of the project and demos, don’t rely on the dev team to show what was accomplished as a team. Get involved in all the processes from deployment to production and also in maintenance operations, gathering necessary feedback to continuously improve.
The team can only start working if they clearly know what to do. Backlog management must be done properly. The PO must challenge the development team to improve the backlog, connect with the target audience (users) and log progress in an issue tracker.
Inspect and adapt! This is something we hear often in Agile. The PO is responsible for the value that will be delivered by the whole team, but value also means quality. There is no value if the users don’t want to accept it and the product is not up to standards.
The PO should check or inspect all aspects of Definition of Done. Are they realistic? Make sure that the project’s priorities are well understood by the software development teams. In many cases the software development team only delivers what they think is important. Sure, communication is there, but people tend to work on what they like best and not on what should be done. The PO must keep a close eye on what will be delivered.
The Agile product owner is the second servant leader in the scrum team, with focus on the word “leader”. Whether you’re in an agile methodology or not, you know the role of the Product Owner is instrumental for the success of any software development project. In more unexperienced teams, where project management is evolving towards more agile practices and an agile mindset, the PO can make an even bigger difference in carrying the mission to deliver a high-quality solution.
Dennis Van Aelst is an ECM consultant and Team Coach at AMPLEXOR, based in The Netherlands. As OpenText Captiva product specialist, he focuses on structuring, automating and managing business processes. Uses Agile and DevOps continuous delivery best practices, Dennis creates team working environments where business continuity, transparency and human capital come first.