Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Yeshim Deniz, JP Morgenthal, Liz McMillan, AppNeta Blog, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Linux Containers, Open Source Cloud

Microservices Expo: Article

Agile 101: Product Owner - Improved Insight into Customer Needs

Scrum Agile Leadership and communication skills for Product Owner

In a Scrum-Agile project management environment, the product owner acts as a catalyst of change in the organization, enabling value creation through projects and products. Product owners create the required link between how the business would look like in the future and the current state. The product owner is a key facilitator within the organization in bridging the client and the business community with the Agile development team.

Most of what a product owner performs can be defined in the broader sense as: 1) Creating and increasing value for the business, and 2) Eliminating and reducing costs for the business.

The product owner is required to identify business needs and determine solutions to business challenges. We can characterize the role description of the product owner as related to the above tasks into several key responsibilities. The product owner needs to:

  1. Mine for and create epics that guide the business towards value creation and cost savings;
  2. Plan and maintain epics, themes and user stories;
  3. Elicit epics, themes and user stories;
  4. Reach consensus and understanding of epics themes and user stories between the business and the Agile development team;
  5. Focus on user stories according to specific guidelines such as INVEST (Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, Testable);
  6. Communicate and collaborate continuously.

As the product owner is the focal point for strategic and tactical product management, he or she collaborates with many stakeholders and must communicate with all of them. Specifically the product owner interacts with the business community and the Agile development teams on a regular basis. He or she should also communicate with management in making sure that business objectives are indeed captured in themes and epics.

On any single Agile development effort the product owner:

  1. Elicits user stories, making them INVESTabile;
  2. Analyzes them with the team;
  3. Provides feedback to the business community;
  4. Communicates continuously while prioritizing user stories;
  5. Monitors user stories to their respective epics and themes;
  6. Supports the Agile development teams throughout the Sprint - providing clarifications where needed;
  7. Approves and accepts the developed features at the end of the Sprint;
  8. Maintains a rudimentary or full-fledged traceability of user stories to business, to epics and themes, and to any other relevant criteria that he has defined.

Communication is a key differentiator in the product owner's effectiveness and most often an aspect in which product owners are lacking the necessary know how. This, in turn, impacts negatively the product owner's performance. Emphasis is given to the elicitation of user stories since product owners are usually gathering the stories instead of eliciting them.

The main difference between gathering and eliciting is: Elicitation is an analytical, free-flowing communication and collaboration effort which fits well with Agile development as described in the Agile Manifesto. Gathering is a passive activity with little invested analysis. When a product owner is a gatherer he is actually no more than an administrator.

To summarize the points above: it is vital that the product owner understands the context in which he is working, the tools that she can use while performing the work, and the essence of what it means to be a product owner in an effective Agile product development environment.

Improved Insight into Customer Needs

The product owner constantly communicates and collaborates both with the business community and with Agile development teams. Communicating is the basis for collaborating. Communicating has several goals:

  1. Letting others know of something;
  2. Asking for feedback from others;
  3. Convincing others;
  4. Proactively building relationships.

In the process of communication, personal, cultural, intercultural, and language barriers exist. The product owner should be cognizant of these barriers and understand that the same message can be perceived differently than anticipated as well as differently by various groups and teams of stakeholders. An effective product owner understands that messages are received, deciphered and perceived differently by others since they have individual and distinct perception filters. Examples of filter categories can be:

  1. Values-personal - values impact the way a message is perceived;
  2. Interests -  a specific team member interest in a certain user story can impact the way he estimates that story;
  3. Expectations -  different expectations result in different levels of collaboration;
  4. Past experience - past experience can alter how people accept a certain message and respond to it. This for example can result in different understanding of the same user story to be developed.

When communicating we are subjective, moving away from messages that conflict with our ideas and beliefs. We tend to hear just what we want to hear, and we usually pay more attention to things that interest us. Our past experience impact and biases us, emotions and psychological states impact how we perceive a message and how we communicate. Taking into account these obstacles to mutually effective communication, it is vital that the product owner spend time both when eliciting the user stories and also in conveying them to the team. During the Sprint planning meeting or for that matter any other Agile process which includes detailing the user stories to the development team, care should be given to feedback loops and the clear understanding of what is required to be developed.

When discussing the user story with the Agile development team, for example, it is not sufficient to read out loud the user story cards. The product owner should actively ask for feedback to assure understanding concerning the specific story.It is useful to add graphics, diagrams, illustrations and mind maps to emphasize the understanding.

I probably cannot emphasize enough how important this is in an Agile environments. Since Agile is scarce in formal documentation the clear and concise understanding of what is required to be developed during the collaborative process between product owner and the Agile development team, is key to the Agile development process. Without the clear understanding of what needs to be developed, the team might be investing efforts in the wrong direction. Thus, it can be a very efficient Sprint - speedy and producing the stated results; however it will also be an ineffective Sprint - the results received are not the ones that were required.

This constant feedback and communication loop between the product owner and the business community, and between the product owner and the development team, is key to successful product development in Agile environment. It is also a key element in any product development environment; however, as mentioned before, the typical lack of formal documents in Agile necessitates the constant communication and collaboration, clarifying expectations and interests during Agile development.

I suggest that all product owners participate in communication skills training, learn strategies in developing their skills and enhance their facilitation techniques. A practical approach to handle the communication barriers is to make sure that:

  1. One knows the communication objective ahead of time;
  2. Remains cognizant during a communication interaction and analyze the specific situation from both the communicator and the receiver perspectives.
  3. Remains aware of the restrictions imposed by the environment.
  4. Establishes and promotes a multi-way feedback loop;
  5. Is able to communicate in more than one method: i.e. pictures, drawing, diagrams and prototypes. These are great tools to enhance communication.

The product owner's core competencies are facilitation, communication and leadership skills. Effective product owners are able to:

  1. Listen
  2. Emphasize
  3. Facilitate meetings
  4. Handle tough communication and conflict management situations
  5. Be effective presenters
  6. Lead product related business decisions and openly discuss them with the Agile development team
  7. Negotiate, mediate and influence between the Agile development teams and the business community.

Agile Product Owner Michael Amazon

This article is excerpted from the author’s new e-book Agile Product Owner Secrets. A print version of the book is found here

More Stories By Michael Nir

Michael Nir - President of Sapir Consulting - (M.Sc. Engineering) has been providing operational, organizational and management consulting and training for over 15 years. He is passionate about Gestalt theory and practice, which complements his engineering background and contributes to his understanding of individual and team dynamics in business. Michael authored 8 Bestsellers in the fields of Influencing, Agile, Teams, Leadership and others. Michael's experience includes significant expertise in the telecoms, hi-tech, software development, R&D environments and petrochemical & infrastructure industries. He develops creative and innovative solutions in project and product management, process improvement, leadership, and team building programs. Michael's professional background is analytical and technical; however, he has a keen interest in human interactions and behaviors. He holds two engineering degrees from the prestigious Technion Institute of Technology: a Bachelor of civil engineering and Masters of Industrial engineering. He has balanced his technical side with the extensive study and practice of Gestalt Therapy and "Instrumental Enrichment," a philosophy of mediated learning. In his consulting and training engagements, Michael combines both the analytical and technical world with his focus on people, delivering unique and meaningful solutions, and addressing whole systems.

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
All organizations that did not originate this moment have a pre-existing culture as well as legacy technology and processes that can be more or less amenable to DevOps implementation. That organizational culture is influenced by the personalities and management styles of Executive Management, the wider culture in which the organization is situated, and the personalities of key team members at all levels of the organization. This culture and entrenched interests usually throw a wrench in the work...
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm.
Microservices (μServices) are a fascinating evolution of the Distributed Object Computing (DOC) paradigm. Initial design of DOC attempted to solve the problem of simplifying developing complex distributed applications by applying object-oriented design principles to disparate components operating across networked infrastructure. In this model, DOC “hid” the complexity of making this work from the developer regardless of the deployment architecture through the use of complex frameworks, such as C...
TechTarget storage websites are the best online information resource for news, tips and expert advice for the storage, backup and disaster recovery markets. By creating abundant, high-quality editorial content across more than 140 highly targeted technology-specific websites, TechTarget attracts and nurtures communities of technology buyers researching their companies' information technology needs. By understanding these buyers' content consumption behaviors, TechTarget creates the purchase inte...
The IT industry is undergoing a significant evolution to keep up with cloud application demand. We see this happening as a mindset shift, from traditional IT teams to more well-rounded, cloud-focused job roles. The IT industry has become so cloud-minded that Gartner predicts that by 2020, this cloud shift will impact more than $1 trillion of global IT spending. This shift, however, has left some IT professionals feeling a little anxious about what lies ahead. The good news is that cloud computin...
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm. In his Day 3 Keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Brown, a Solutions Marketing Manager at Nutanix, will explore t...
We've all had that feeling before: The feeling that you're missing something that everyone else is in on. For today's IT leaders, that feeling might come up when you hear talk about cloud brokers. Meanwhile, you head back into your office and deal with your ever-growing shadow IT problem. But the cloud-broker whispers and your shadow IT issues are linked. If you're wondering "what the heck is a cloud broker?" we've got you covered.
What if you could build a web application that could support true web-scale traffic without having to ever provision or manage a single server? Sounds magical, and it is! In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Munns, Senior Developer Advocate for Serverless Applications at Amazon Web Services, will show how to build a serverless website that scales automatically using services like AWS Lambda, Amazon API Gateway, and Amazon S3. We will review several frameworks that can help you build serverle...
Everyone wants to use containers, but monitoring containers is hard. New ephemeral architecture introduces new challenges in how monitoring tools need to monitor and visualize containers, so your team can make sense of everything. In his session at @DevOpsSummit, David Gildeh, co-founder and CEO of Outlyer, will go through the challenges and show there is light at the end of the tunnel if you use the right tools and understand what you need to be monitoring to successfully use containers in your...
In today's enterprise, digital transformation represents organizational change even more so than technology change, as customer preferences and behavior drive end-to-end transformation across lines of business as well as IT. To capitalize on the ubiquitous disruption driving this transformation, companies must be able to innovate at an increasingly rapid pace. Traditional approaches for driving innovation are now woefully inadequate for keeping up with the breadth of disruption and change facing...
In his General Session at 16th Cloud Expo, David Shacochis, host of The Hybrid IT Files podcast and Vice President at CenturyLink, investigated three key trends of the “gigabit economy" though the story of a Fortune 500 communications company in transformation. Narrating how multi-modal hybrid IT, service automation, and agile delivery all intersect, he will cover the role of storytelling and empathy in achieving strategic alignment between the enterprise and its information technology.
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that HTBase will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. HTBase (Gartner 2016 Cool Vendor) delivers a Composable IT infrastructure solution architected for agility and increased efficiency. It turns compute, storage, and fabric into fluid pools of resources that are easily composed and re-composed to meet each application’s needs. With HTBase, companies can quickly prov...
The rise of containers and microservices has skyrocketed the rate at which new applications are moved into production environments today. While developers have been deploying containers to speed up the development processes for some time, there still remain challenges with running microservices efficiently. Most existing IT monitoring tools don’t actually maintain visibility into the containers that make up microservices. As those container applications move into production, some IT operations t...
For organizations that have amassed large sums of software complexity, taking a microservices approach is the first step toward DevOps and continuous improvement / development. Integrating system-level analysis with microservices makes it easier to change and add functionality to applications at any time without the increase of risk. Before you start big transformation projects or a cloud migration, make sure these changes won’t take down your entire organization.
In recent years, containers have taken the world by storm. Companies of all sizes and industries have realized the massive benefits of containers, such as unprecedented mobility, higher hardware utilization, and increased flexibility and agility; however, many containers today are non-persistent. Containers without persistence miss out on many benefits, and in many cases simply pass the responsibility of persistence onto other infrastructure, adding additional complexity.
Culture is the most important ingredient of DevOps. The challenge for most organizations is defining and communicating a vision of beneficial DevOps culture for their organizations, and then facilitating the changes needed to achieve that. Often this comes down to an ability to provide true leadership. As a CIO, are your direct reports IT managers or are they IT leaders? The hard truth is that many IT managers have risen through the ranks based on their technical skills, not their leadership abi...
The essence of cloud computing is that all consumable IT resources are delivered as services. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Yung Chou, Technology Evangelist at Microsoft, demonstrated the concepts and implementations of two important cloud computing deliveries: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). He discussed from business and technical viewpoints what exactly they are, why we care, how they are different and in what ways, and the strategies for IT to transi...
Thanks to Docker and the DevOps revolution, microservices have emerged as the new way to build and deploy applications — and there are plenty of great reasons to embrace the microservices trend. If you are going to adopt microservices, you also have to understand that microservice architectures have many moving parts. When it comes to incident management, this presents an important difference between microservices and monolithic architectures. More moving parts mean more complexity to monitor an...
As Enterprise business moves from Monoliths to Microservices, adoption and successful implementations of Microservices become more evident. The goal of Microservices is to improve software delivery speed and increase system safety as scale increases. Documenting hurdles and problems for the use of Microservices will help consultants, architects and specialists to avoid repeating the same mistakes and learn how and when to use (or not use) Microservices at the enterprise level. The circumstance w...