Monthly Archives: July 2013

Measuring an Agile Product Owner

I went to a meeting last week and we were discussing how to measure a Product Owner.  The concept is completely understandable, but there was something about the meeting that didn’t sit well with me so I am devoting this blog to trying articulate my concerns and things that I think need to be considered.

The premise is sound  – how do you know if the Product Owner is leading you down the right path?  What if you build the wrong thing?  And how can you assess their mis-direction before precious time and resources are spent?

That is a 100% valid question and one that we should certainly spend time and thought to resolve.  The idea that there are ratio-driven metrics to measure the PO’s performance, though, seems counter-productive.

fignerpointing

Image Source: http://thoughtsonleadership.biz/three-fingers-pointing-back/

First, I think Product Owners have a very difficult job and I think very few people are naturally great Product Owners, if you go by the broad definition.  Product Owners are supposed to understand the market place, stay on top of the competition, interview current and prospective clients, and break down all of that data into meaningful features that will be delivered in order to drive the most business value.  They are also supposed to be experts at writing user stories, adding acceptance criteria, understanding at least some level of the technical details associated with the application, and they need to be decisive, informed and immediately available for the Scrum Team.  That is a tall order.  In fact, I recommend splitting the Product Owner’s responsibilities between the Product Owner and a Product Manager, as I referenced in a previous blog.

Leadership Traits – Nature or Nurture?

I have been thinking a lot about leadership lately and I have been fortunate enough to work for some amazing leaders – two that come to mind specifically who have shaped my career, urged me to take wise chances and made me a better person, in addition to a better employee.  I also had an recent college graduate ask me what it took to be effective in a leadership role.  I really had to think about it and my conclusions are contained in this blog.  There are loads of books written on this very subject, so I will add my observations to the wealth of research and opinions out there.

1. Process Information Efficiently – all of the leaders that I have witnessed in action are extremely smart. And it isn’t specifically

Image Source: http://www.agemattersclinic.com/UW-Dementia-Website.php

Image Source: http://www.agemattersclinic.com/UW-Dementia-Website.php

book-smart or street-smart, but they all have the ability to process and assimilate information very quickly.  They can take two seemingly unrelated data points and see the connective tissue that everyone else misses.  They can thoughtfully consider a catastrophic situation and figure out a way to manage through it.  They can ponder a decision and see multiple ways that it might impact future events.  It is really remarkable to watch, because an effective leader is always thinking, they don’t take anything at face-value, they ask insightful questions and often, they truly are the smartest person in the room.

2. Excellent Ability to Recall – if you pay attention to the effective leaders that you have come across in your career, most have an excellent memory.  Most leaders can recall numbers – $2.5M in revenue for that product, a 41.5% margin, a $25.89 stock price – and they can pull these numbers into a conversation at a crucial time.  This is not to suggest that they know everything and never refer back to notes or get data from their teams, but most leaders can recall the relevant financial information for their business and can use that data when they are processing information very quickly (see above).  They can also recall conversations, decisions, attendees and dates.  This ability to recollect pertinent information sets true leaders apart and enables them to make decisions and move forward more quickly than the masses who must look up the facts before they can proceed.

What drives innovation?

Innovation

Image Source: http://www.jeffdelp.com/2011/07/05/21st-century-educating-part-3-innovation/

We are in the process of converting my 79 year old mother to a smart phone and as I watch her learn and ultimately embrace this new technology, it got me thinking about innovation.  What drives our great innovators to constantly create and challenge the status quo?

Restlessness

As a species, we are restless.  And innovators are more restless than the general population.  This restlessness manifests itself as a need to tinker, to improve, to always look for something better, faster, smaller, bigger, more reliable, longer lasting – whatever limitation exists, the restless innovator wants to conquer. For an example of this restlessness, we can look to aviation.  On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers flew the first powered flight.  Their dissatisfaction with the attempts at that time led them to envision flight differently and they were ultimately successful.  But the human condition of restlessness persists and we now have a plane  whose cargo bay is longer than that historic first flight in Kittyhawk, NC. (The first flight was 120 feet, the cargo bay is 143 feet). This quote from Thomas Edison sums it up: “Restlessness is discontent — and discontent is the first necessity of progress.”