My friend Tom Agile likes playing the super hero role, so once in it; he believes that he has been empowered to protect the team against interruptions, disruptions or impediments that could block their path to success.
Tom is courageous, he enjoys being the middle man, the mediator, the bond builder, but when wearing the super hero suit, protecting the Scrum city requires mental and physical preparation, and that is something he knows pretty well.
This time, Tom shared with me his experiences when protecting Lisa, the Product Owner. Lisa is an experienced Product Owner and a strong, fully involved project manager; highly analytical, results oriented and really passionate about collaborating with people to get outstanding results. Lisa is recognized as a leader within her team. In addition, Lisa likes coaching as her way to get the best out of her team mates. She is stubborn and someone with a strong character and personality, but I can tell you from what I heard from Tom, when she trusts you, anything is possible. Last but not least, Lisa enjoys teaching others, a tool that she uses to understand and learn about how the world works.
Tom was assigned as the Scrum Master of a team composed of four (4) Software Developers, Lisa, and the Product Owner. There is also Mike Creativity, the Product Director and Lisa’s boss; Pedro Filament, the Stakeholder and Mike’s boss. All of them have a word to say and a role to play within today’s story.
– Lisa is responsible to keep the ball rolling for the team and to get the highest value possible from the team, which means to carry on with the Product Vision (Mike Creativity’s vision in fact) and turn it into something tangible for the team. What are Lisa’s options?
– Lisa represents the customer’s interests within the team, so that, she is the one responsible to manage the stakeholder’s expectations and make things happen. In this case, she is dealing with multiple stakeholders, with different problems and needs, at the same time. How does she deal with that?
– Lisa is accountable for all projects related with the product development, so that her state of mine, her calmness, and her leadership style matters when wanting to get results from a self-organized team. What could Lisa do, in order to lead at her best?
– Mike Creativity is always looking at new ways to generate more revenue, but he has trouble putting his priorities and vision into a Vision Statement that could be shared, understood and owned by all of the department, which from time to time becomes an impediment for the team; when planning product development with a medium term horizon,(release planning for example). How do you deal with that, in terms of keeping the team focused and performing?
– Lisa’s attitude (being stubborn and continually asking to get a clear Product Vision) and the lack of trust from Mike with her; is discouraging collaboration and permanent communication. How do you keep motivation up and encourage collaboration?
– Without a clear Product Vision, priorities could be misleading, so when having multiple stakeholders with different priorities, then how do you deal with having Lisa seating in the hot seat by being obliged to decide what to do first?
Tips & Tricks
– Mike’s Product Vision is not available/is unclear/is unknown for Lisa, the Product Owner; well let’s create it together. Having Lisa exposing this issue as a team impediment, could open it up with Mike and generate opportunities to propose to Mike some high level ideas (themes/epics) to be discussed together. Tom also recommends asking Mike’s opinion about his Product Vision without mentioning that crazy word (remember always use “What” type open ended questions):
– What would be different in “X” amount of years from now? In terms of products and services. Tom also recommends asking Mike questions about income and sources of revenue:
– What do you think would be our main source of revenue three (3) years from now: would it come from current services or from new sources of revenue?
Trick: Tom likes to use big colorful post-its to help Lisa when discussing with Mike about the Vision. Go visual, simple but direct and to the point.
– Include the development team into the equation. When discussing with stakeholders like Mike about possible ideas, problems that need to be solved or even potential needs from customers; invite the team. Tom recommends bringing all of the questions to the team, no matter what issue Lisa wants to deal with, go and ask them. Empowering is the key, go for it.
– Focus on getting better results. A good way to avoid being bombarded is to get incredible results. Given that, Tom focuses his energy in helping the team to be focused on getting results, which means:
* Since the beginning of Tom’s relationship with the team, completing iterations (sprints) is extremely important, and Tom makes that visible and transparent for every occasion he has when sharing the space with the development team.
* Teach the team the importance of being in sync. Help them to have shared understanding during daily synchronization meetings (stand ups in Scrum for example). Ask open ended questions about what is in progress, and how much is left to be done. Help the team improve their iteration planning, go safety first until you get stabilized results and some kind of rhythm. Be constantly there to remove impediments out of their way so they can complete their work.
* Keep track of iteration results to show them how good they are and what the team need to improve. Keep going!
* Give the team some structure. Organize your meetings and ceremonies, stick to the agenda and make them repeat and repeat until they repeat what you’ve shown them.
– Help Lisa (The Product Owner) improve her Emotional Intelligence skills; especially when communicating with stakeholders. Tom suggests that is highly important that Lisa keep open, direct and if possible collaborative and supportive communication with stakeholders like Mike. So that Tom invests quality time coaching Lisa; reflecting, discussing and creating awareness about Lisa’s Emotional Intelligence skills, particularly to improve Lisa’s Accurate Self-Assessment, Self-management and to increase Lisa’s Organizational Awareness. Like Mike, Lisa needs to lead by example for the team, so then, when the Product Vision is available, the team can adapt and create products that solve problems, increase revenue and customer satisfaction.
– Offer Lisa permanent and useful feedback. Get the team reflecting together during retrospectives about behaviors that could lead to create bad perceptions about the team? Remember, the leader (Lisa, the Product Owner) is exposed within the organization, so that is the team’s mission to do all in its power to create those conditions required to be trusted. Tom recommends offering sincere feedback to Lisa, the Product Owner, in order to help her create awareness about everything that could be damaging her professional image and the image of the one from the team within the organization.
– Show the example, and protect them in public. You are the Scrum Master/Agile Coach, so you have to act as a leader when the situation calls for it. Show by example; if somebody like Mike is interrupting, bothering or just defocusing the team (of course Lisa) stand up and say something to protect them. Ask for respect and show some courage by being polite but firm.
– Ask your line manager for help. It would be difficult if you have to fight for it alone, so get some of your friends and your line manager is there to support the Agile Organization, so talk to him/her and ask for help when facing these kinds of situations.
A touch of curiosity
– What would you do to help Lisa to be at her best?
– What would you advise for Mike to help him move forward?
In our next post, I will be sharing more about Tom’s and Lisa’s experiences regarding emotional intelligence self-management skills and how he and his colleagues are doing when facing different situations in the field.
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