Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Rex Morrow, Datical, John Wetherill, Michael Kanasoot

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
What are the benefits of using an enterprise-grade orchestration platform? In their session at 15th Cloud Expo, Nate Gordon, Director of Technology at Appcore, and Kedar Poduri, Senior Director of Product Management at Citrix Systems, took a closer look at the architectural design factors needed to support diverse workloads and how to run these workloads efficiently as a service provider. They also discussed how to deploy private cloud environments in 15 minutes or less.
I read an insightful article this morning from Bernard Golden on DZone discussing the DevOps conundrum facing many enterprises today – is it better to build your own DevOps tools or go commercial? For Golden, the question arose from his observations at a number of DevOps Days events he has attended, where typically the audience is composed of startup professionals: “I have to say, though, that a typical feature of most presentations is a recitation of the various open source products and compo...
In the first four parts of this series I presented an introduction to microservices along with a handful of emerging microservices patterns, and a discussion of some of the downsides and challenges to using microservices. The most recent installment of this series looked at ten ways that PaaS facilitates microservices development and adoption. In this post I’ll cover some words of wisdom, advice intended for individuals, teams, and organizations considering a move to microservices. I've gleaned...
Containers Expo Blog covers the world of containers, as this lightweight alternative to virtual machines enables developers to work with identical dev environments and stacks. Containers Expo Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Bookmark Containers Expo Blog ▸ Here Follow new article posts on Twitter at @ContainersExpo
Many people recognize DevOps as an enormous benefit – faster application deployment, automated toolchains, support of more granular updates, better cooperation across groups. However, less appreciated is the journey enterprise IT groups need to make to achieve this outcome. The plain fact is that established IT processes reflect a very different set of goals: stability, infrequent change, hands-on administration, and alignment with ITIL. So how does an enterprise IT organization implement change...
Right off the bat, Newman advises that we should "think of microservices as a specific approach for SOA in the same way that XP or Scrum are specific approaches for Agile Software development". These analogies are very interesting because my expectation was that microservices is a pattern. So I might infer that microservices is a set of process techniques as opposed to an architectural approach. Yet in the book, Newman clearly includes some elements of concept model and architecture as well as p...
There’s a lot of discussion around managing outages in production via the likes of DevOps principles and the corresponding software development lifecycles that does enable higher quality output from development, however, one cannot lay all blame for “bugs” and failures at the feet of those responsible for coding and development. As developers incorporate features and benefits of these paradigm shift, there is a learning curve and a point of not-knowing-what-is-not-known. Sometimes, the only way ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MetraTech, now part of Ericsson, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society- a world leader in communications infrastructure, software and services. Some 40% of the world’s mobile traffic runs through networks Ericsson has supplied, serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers.
This is the final installment of the six-part series Microservices and PaaS. It seems like forever since I attended Adrian Cockroft's meetup focusing on microservices. It's actually only been a couple of months, but much has happened since then: countless articles, meetups, and conference sessions focusing on microservices have been delivered, many meetings and design efforts at companies moving towards a microservices-based approach have been endured, and five installments of this blog series ...
Over the years, a variety of methodologies have emerged in order to overcome the challenges related to project constraints. The successful use of each methodology seems highly context-dependent. However, communication seems to be the common denominator of the many challenges that project management methodologies intend to resolve. In this respect, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can be viewed as powerful tools for managing projects. Few research papers have focused on the way...
As the world moves from DevOps to NoOps, application deployment to the cloud ought to become a lot simpler. However, applications have been architected with a much tighter coupling than it needs to be which makes deployment in different environments and migration between them harder. The microservices architecture, which is the basis of many new age distributed systems such as OpenStack, Netflix and so on is at the heart of CloudFoundry – a complete developer-oriented Platform as a Service (PaaS...
How can you compare one technology or tool to its competitors? Usually, there is no objective comparison available. So how do you know which is better? Eclipse or IntelliJ IDEA? Java EE or Spring? C# or Java? All you can usually find is a holy war and biased comparisons on vendor sites. But luckily, sometimes, you can find a fair comparison. How does this come to be? By having it co-authored by the stakeholders. The binary repository comparison matrix is one of those rare resources. It is edite...
SYS-CON Events announced today that O'Reilly Media has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption...
In her General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Anne Plese, Senior Consultant, Cloud Product Marketing, at Verizon Enterprise, focused on finding the right mix of renting vs. buying Oracle capacity to scale to meet business demands, and offer validated Oracle database TCO models for Oracle development and testing environments. Anne Plese is a marketing and technology enthusiast/realist with over 19+ years in high tech. At Verizon Enterprise, she focuses on driving growth for the Verizon Cloud platfo...
I’ve been thinking a bit about microservices (μServices) recently. My immediate reaction is to think: “Isn’t this just yet another new term for the same stuff, Web Services->SOA->APIs->Microservices?” Followed shortly by the thought, “well yes it is, but there are some important differences/distinguishing factors.” Microservices is an evolutionary paradigm born out of the need for simplicity (i.e., get away from the ESB) and alignment with agile (think DevOps) and scalable (think Containerizati...
The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential. The DevOps Summit at Cloud Expo – to be held June 3-5, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City – will expand the DevOps community, enable a wide...
Cloud Expo, Inc. has announced today that Andi Mann returns to DevOps Summit 2015 as Conference Chair. The 4th International DevOps Summit will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City. "DevOps is set to be one of the most profound disruptions to hit IT in decades," said Andi Mann. "It is a natural extension of cloud computing, and I have seen both firsthand and in independent research the fantastic results DevOps delivers. So I am excited to help the great team at ...
Software is eating the world. Companies that were not previously in the technology space now find themselves competing with Google and Amazon on speed of innovation. As the innovation cycle accelerates, companies must embrace rapid and constant change to both applications and their infrastructure, and find a way to deliver speed and agility of development without sacrificing reliability or efficiency of operations. In her Day 2 Keynote DevOps Summit, Victoria Livschitz, CEO of Qubell, discussed...
The 5th International DevOps Summit, co-located with 17th International Cloud Expo – being held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the...
How does one bridge the gap between traditional enterprise storage infrastructures and the private, hybrid, and public cloud? In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Dan Pollack, Chief Architect of Storage Operations at AOL Inc., examed the workload differences and required changes to reuse existing knowledge and components when building and using a cloud infrastructure. He also looked into the operational considerations, tool requirements, and behavioral changes required for private cloud storage s...