Agile Coaching Conversations: Product Owner

Agile Coaching Conversations: Product Owner
Joe Burroughs

Joe Burroughs

Many people are frustrated by uncertainty and complexity in their jobs. I use Agile principles to provide clear and simple strategies so that you can win at work!

Agile Coaches and Product Owners

The relationship between Agile Coaches and Product Owners is one of the keys to successfully achieving agile maturity in any organization. The goal is to get the Product Owner [PO] to see the team as an engine that produces value to the customer and their role as refining the fuel and resources needed by the team to operate efficiently.

As an Agile Coach one of the best ways to approach these conversations initially is to position yourself as a guide with the knowledge and experience to help the PO solve their own problems. In my initial conversations with a PO I ask if them to tell me where they would like some help. I provide them 8 areas and let them choose a starting point for our conversations. Here are the 8 areas I typically start with:

8 Areas for Engagement with a PO:

  1. Communicating progress to external stakeholders
  2. Creating a 3-4 Sprint Rolling Roadmap
  3. Prioritizing existing and incoming work
  4. Tying work back to organizational goals
  5. Providing clarity for the team in terms of the work to be done
  6. Breaking down work efforts into right sized chunks
  7. Building a Minimum Viable Product [MVP]
  8. Managing urgent versus important requests

If you can build a library of slides or “one-sheeters” on each of these topics you are going to be way ahead of the game when it comes to your ability to help multiple teams and POs at the same time. This is the most challenging part of Agile Coaching: managing relationships with 8+ teams that are all in different stages of maturity. So look at every encounter as an opportunity to build your library of topics and solutions.

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Building a Library of Engagement Topics

Most of the problems and growing pains you encounter as an Agile Coach will repeat themselves over and over as you engage with other teams growing into differing levels of agile maturity. How to refine backlog items into smaller chunks of work is a conversation you will have with almost every PO you work with. The key to being efficient and valuable as an Agile Coach is to recognize and act upon those opportunities to “scale yourself” by documenting your conversations and discussions in a sortable and sharable library of topics. Here is a sample conversation with a PO that can easily be turned into a single slide or reference for future discussions and engagements.

Sample PO Conversation to Build Learning Around

Agile Coach: Last week you mentioned some of the stories your team were working on looked like they might not get completed before the end of this Sprint. Is that still the case? How are you planning to handle that?

Product Owner: Yes, it looks like two of the stories will not be completed. We did get some work accomplished in each story, so we’re going to clone them and add the cloned stories to our next Sprint.

Agile Coach: What kept the stories from being completed?

Product Owner: Development completed their work but they were not able to test it this Sprint. They ran out of time, so they will test it in our next Sprint.

Agile Coach: Hmm.. why was there not ample time for testing? Was the initial Story too large or perhaps too many stories were committed to?

Product Owner: Testing always takes longer than we expect. There are so many variables Operating Systems, Screen Sizes, Etc. We seem to be better at doing or work than we are at checking our work.

Agile Coach: Ok, well that is something to consider going forward if you are seeing a pattern. Maybe consider reducing the scope of each story so that the development and testing can be completed within a day or two and also when the team is sizing stories and committing to a Sprint you may remind them of this trend and see if they have any thoughts or ideas on how to address this issue.

Product Owner: That’s a good idea! Kind of bring it back to the team and ask for their input on how we can keep ourselves more honest about these Sprint commitments.

What should we do about the current Story Points and those for next Sprint? Right now we basically doubled the Story Points by cloning the stories for testing in our next sprint. Should we cut all the stories in half or just let it ride?

Agile Coach: The most important outcome is a more firm Sprint commitment going forward. The story points, while they will affect velocity and sprint metrics, are really more of an indicator of capacity. If we can establish a routine and stable velocity in the future we will be in good shape.

Product Owner: Ok, so it is more important to be accurate going forward than to worry too much about the points for 2 stories. That makes sense. We will probably cut the points some for the two stories in our current Sprint and then resize the Test only stories for next Sprint based on what the team says. Hopefully that’s the last time we’ll have test only stories. 

These are Coachable Moments

Save these conversations and build quick tactical training slides around them. This will allow you to have a conversation and leave a PO with something they can share with the team. If you find that you are repeating yourself make sure to take notes so you can use those conversations to build your library!


Joe Burroughs

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