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The Three Habits of Highly Effective Product People

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Kent McDonald, an agile practitioner acting mostly with the product field and co-author of the book "Stand Back and Deliver: Accelerating Business Agility", recently gave a webinar for the Scrum Alliance in which he talked about several techniques to improve and become successful when practicing Product Ownership at a Distance. Among other experiences, he shared a handful of insights from his current assignment as a remote product manager for the Agile Alliance, where he is working with several teams and following one of the most common rules for distributed teams, which is "when one person is remote, the whole team is remote".

One of the topics first touched on, product roles and responsibilities, is widely discussed nowadays within the industry. The author uses the Product Ownership Models from Todd Little as a reference to show that, despite the existence of different roles like product manager, product owner, and business analyst played in different scenarios, there's some common ground that should be followed across all of them. They are called the:

Three Habits of Highly Effective Product People


Focus everyone on outcomes instead of output

McDonald talked about the outputs as the artefacts delivered to produce a certain solution, and the outcome as the impact that the solution might have on customers, if it actually satisfies their needs. While measuring output, one can get interesting insights about the amount of work a team is able to deliver, but it does not show if they are building the right thing. To accomplish this the author suggests that you should include on your measurements of outcome related habits, the following:

  • Identify the needs to satisfy
  • Define success via outcome based objectives
  • Establish and maintain the roadmap to indicate which aspects of the need you will aim to satisfy now, next and in the future


Build and maintain a shared understanding

On the topic of shared understanding, the author discusses this from two perspectives. First, is whether the team understands the needs they are trying to satisfy, and second, if they agree with the stakeholders on the main characteristics of the solution. To achieve shared understanding, conversations with involved people and teams play a vital role in order to:


Make sure the decisions are made

After having leadership play their role on the strategic decisions, such as building a product or buying an existing solution to satisfy the need, the team has to deal with daily decisions that need to be aligned with the need they are trying to fulfil. In order to maximize their chances of success, the author considers the following good practices for the team:

  • Prioritize which aspects of the need to satisfy (from a global perspective)
  • Prioritize which aspects of the solution to deliver (from a local perspective)

Along with these habits, McDonald summed it up by saying:

Be The Best Product Person You Can Be

The complete version of the eBook "Product Ownership in the Wild" can be found on the corresponding website, and the author claims that (inspite of the technicalities of your current assignment) there are guidelines that will help you on your Product Ownership duties.

As mentiones, the topic of product roles and responsibilities, and how to excel as a Product Person, was part of a webinar of the "Collaboration at Scale" series from Scrum Alliance, in which the following aspects were examined:

  1. "Everyone knows what and why!" - techniques to be applied while discussing the problem domain, avoiding digging into possible solutions too early, in order to guarantee that people understand the underlying whys
  2. "Clarify responsibilites" - the main topic of this piece
  3. "Transparent Dependencies" - further alignment of the teams involved, especially when they are far away from each other
  4. "Refine, refine, refine" - take care of your backlog. Changes will happen along the way; thus, the solution may need also to adjust, you need to reflect on your backlog and what you're building, knowing why you're building it
  5. "Don't be sloppy" - over-communicate on your backlog issues, provide context, wireframes, sketches, don't assume that the other side of the line understand your message, ask them instead to explain it to you in order to confirm that the message has gone through
  6. "Clarify communications" - establish clear working agreements

The video of the complete webinar can be found on the Scrum Alliance website.

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