As a Product Owner, I start each day by asking myself, “How can I best serve the team today?” The PO and Scrum Master’s roles as servant leaders is not news. The challenge for the PO is translating this mindset into actions. It is all about mastering the cadence of product ownership.
Assuming that a backlog is in place and the team is working on the user stories, the Product Owner’s typical activities are something like:
- Attend daily standups. Every day.
- Help the Scrum Master resolve certain blocking issues for the current sprint.
- Meet with team members to answer questions about stories in the current sprint.
- Prepare for the next backlog grooming meeting. Revisit backlog prioritization, identify which stories will be groomed, add Acceptance Tests/Criteria or other information to the stories. Consult with end users or business stakeholders where appropriate.
- Facilitate backlog grooming meetings with the team.
- Receive demos of or perform testing for stories as they are completed as part of the sprint. This is typically part of the team’s Definition of Done.
- Meet with clients/stakeholders/users to discuss and define future product plans.
- Participate in the team retrospective.
- Facilitate the sprint demo.
- Prepare for the next sprint planning meeting by revisiting backlog priorities and assessing progress against the Release Plan.
- Attend sprint planning.
This is a long list of responsibilities. Note the choice of words. They are not just tasks or meetings – they are key responsibilities that must be fulfilled in order for the team to function properly.
Organizational skills are key here. As a product owner, I use a couple of different things to manage the volume and complexity of this role:
- A calendar for scheduling meetings and recurring events. Of course this includes daily meetings, weekly backlog grooming meetings and other ceremonies. I also schedule time to sit down by myself to prep for the next grooming meeting or to prep for the next sprint planning meeting. In doing so I am much more likely to actually do these rather than to forget about them or push them aside when a lot of other things pop up.
- A personal Kanban board (I use Trello) to keep up with requests that are made of me. This could include questions from stakeholders/users/clients, information requests from developers, research items, or any other tasks that I need to take care of. I find that a Kanban board helps with prioritization. It also helps with tracking items that are in progress, such as when I need to request information from users to make a priority or feature decision for the developers. Some of these activities cannot be done in one setting so tracking them on the Kanban board helps prevent them from falling through the cracks. Limiting personal work in progress can help avoid task saturation and the mistakes that ensue.
- The Product Owner must understand and develop a cadence for fulfilling their responsibilities. Operating in a haphazard manner hurts them and the team.
- Managing personal work in progress helps reduce mistakes and the number of things that fall through the cracks.
- No personal organization system is perfect, so I also make it very clear to the Scrum Master and the team to call me out whenever I have fallen short on fulfilling my responsibilities. I am there to serve them, after all.