Scrum Master Service to Product Owners – A Discussion Focusing on Value

Product Owners have a hectic existence. They’re called upon to make important decisions constantly. The world is swarming with ideas and opportunities competing for attention. One of the favorite parts of my job as a Scrum Master is working with Product Owners. When I can help my Product Owner to find a focus that leads to our team delivering better things, I know that I am delivering good value as a Scrum Master.

School of koi fish - Product Owners have a hectic existence
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels

“The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from work of the Development Team.” This is a quote from The Scrum Guide. Maximizing value is a big responsibility, and it is all on the Product Owner to lead this.

Notice that I said “to lead this”, and not “to do this”.

The Product Owner needs to be able to express the results of their very important decision making around the product, but then they need to leave it up to the development team to work out the details of implementation.

The whole Scrum team needs to understand the big picture product vision, so they can work on things meaningfully. I’ve worked with Scrum Teams where the Product Owner took too much responsibility for details of implementation, and fed the development team what were essentially tasks disguised as user stories. Imagine the value that was lost to the organization due underutilizing the intelligence and creativity of every member of the development team!

As a Scrum Master, I have an outsider perspective. When I notice a Product Owner is distracted from focusing on value, I talk with them to try to steer them back on track.

One Product Owner I worked with had a Business Analyst background and was so interested in well crafted stories that they lost sight of the larger context of what we needed to deliver. Over a period of time, through discussions, I opened the way for them to see that the value is not in the stories, but in the work that makes it into production, and is actually put to use. It’s not easy to get out of a comfort zone, and this former BA struggled with letting go of details.

I encouraged them to write “shell” stories, and to involve the team more in discussions around the shells. The results of the team discussions could be formalized later by entering them into the story tracking tool. The important activity is the discussion and mutual understanding. The team should understand why we are doing something. The Product Owner should be able to explain that to a development team. The fastest and best way to do that is from talking to them about it, not by writing a detailed spec.

“Scrum Master service to the Product Owner … Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible … Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;

The Scrum Guide

As a Scrum Master, I talk to my Product Owners about all aspects of getting the best value from our team.

We talk about value streams. How do stories come in to the team? How are they transformed into user value?

We talk about end users. Who are the people who will consume this product? How do they use our product now? Can we anticipate other uses? Can we imagine them in the act of using our product? Have we observed them using it? Can we categorize our users into broad archetypes or personas?

We talk about metrics. I always question the metrics that are already in place. Does looking at these numbers affect the value delivered to the end user? How? If we are looking at quality metrics, then how important is that aspect of quality to our users? Is there a more direct way to ferret out the thing that will bring more business in? Does this metric that we are tracking actually mask something that is more valuable to the user and therefore potentially much more valuable to the organization?

There is always a lot to talk about. And there are always a lot of decisions to be made when you are a Product Owner. It’s my job as a Scrum Master to assist you with better ways to manage the product backlog, so that the value is very clear to everyone who is working on the product, and it is delivered to the user in its highest fidelity form.

Single koi fish - Product Owners are more effective when they can focus on value
Photo by Madison Inouye from Pexels

Call me when you need a Scrum Master / agile coach who’s attentive to a Product Owner’s need to focus on value. (407) 223-9964

Automagically Created Photo Albums

Here’s some very clever research from Disney into making photo albums automatically from all the thousands of photos we shoot.

I can imagine this technology being used along with geolocation APIs to create beautiful keepsakes of vacation trips!

logo-disney-research

Curation, Algorithmic & Human

Here’s a great quote from Mike McCue of Flipboard in an interview by Robert Scoble at the launch of their version 3:

algorithmic & human curation woven together is extremely powerful

Marcy and Mike McCue, Flipboard’s co-founders, set out to create a personal magazine. The Zite acquisition earlier this year brought them closer to that vision. Now they have a better topic-based model for surfacing the content that people indicate they want to read. The cool thing here is the emphasis on making human-generated data an important part of the mix.

There are lots of flavors of weaving together algorithmic and human curation.

Compare Flipboard to Mashable, which orders itself completely by an algorithm. Well, it kind of does. Its “Velocity graphs” show which content is trending in number of shares. That data is pulled back into Mashable, merged with their predictive engine, and the articles that are likely to go viral are fed to the top of the stream. So you could say that there’s a human metric built into the algorithm: people naturally share what they like, and everyone gets to see more of that sort of thing. Flipboard has a similar feedback process, but they designed it so the pivot of control is closer to the individual readers.

With Twitter, you can already curate your own content, just by following interesting people. It takes more effort, but you can use lists and search to surface the content you want. Twitter is cautiously moving in a more algorithmic direction with their main feed, and they got some flack about it, too. Twitter should start thinking more like Flipboard and give people better tools, to let them curate their own main feeds.

Playlists are a more sophisticated kind of human-curated content, since content is in a specific order, in a context. Humans love playlist features like the ones from Songza (acquired by Google) and Beats Music (acquired by Apple) because we like to tell stories. We also do it better than machines.

What Could Google Do With Twitter?

If Google bought Twitter, they could start adding some of the Wave features into it. I’d like to see this.

Wave beta was a mess of features, not really a product. It was more of a grand scale focus group than a launch. The Google creators sat behind the glass and watched us as we publicly brainstormed how their new technology could work in our real world. They watched us flail and sink. Most people couldn’t get their heads around it.

Twitter has grown into a nice, searchable neo-public microblogging platform. It was careful, restraining the features, but also trying new things.

Twitter’s threading and messaging are sub-optimal. I wonder what wave-like collaborative threading would be like in Twitter.

I wonder what it would be like to be able to see people composing their tweets in realtime.