José Mota

Product & Coaching

Dear Agile team

Published on .

Tagged under agile.

Around 4 min read.

This is what I would say to a new team if I were to collaborate with them as a product manager.

Thank you for taking me in as your product manager/owner. I am happy that I get the chance to help you shape the product we’re building together and I can’t wait to get started.

Being an agile team is challenging. I’ve been there quite a few times. It requires a lot of effort to constantly put ourselves outside of our comfort zone and deal with regular conflict. Always dealing with change can be exhausting and being willing to bring issues to light with transparency and respect takes a toll out of our small bubble.

I could bet that all you’re thinking right now is something like this: “Wow, I just wish things stayed the way they are: me, in my office at home where no one is constantly demanding my attention, doing whatever Jira tasks are assigned to me and that’s it. That would be great!”

You’ll be curious to know I have a different approach. I had some experiences where people fall on the uneventful side of the spectrum. On the other hand, I’ve had people working with me that were the complete opposite: people who were driven, wanting to build a truly great product as members of a real team, where they got each other’s back, dealt with conflict constructively and early on, and raised each other up when they fell down. Perhaps you fit this mindset after all? If so, I’ll be very excited to work with you!

So what are the expectations after all? What’s in it for you and me? How should we work together? I’ll give you my perspective for now and hopefully some time soon you’ll offer yours.

As a product owner, I have some ground rules:

  1. I live my work with focus on the present moment; not the past, not the distant future. There’s no point in dwelling over mistakes that happened and there’s no point in overthinking what might happen and later be discarded.
  2. I fail only if I do not learn. Mistakes happen and I cherish them as much as I cherish accomplishments. Sure, achieving a result is always the best feeling in the world. However, it takes immense courage and tenacity to face mistakes head on and smile upon the opportunity to make a better decision or to gain wisdom.
  3. I believe and live by the values that Scrum embodies: respect, openness, focus, commitment and courage. These values are universal and essential to any successful team in any setting. Everything that I say and do with any team must live by these values. The moment I fail, I expect you to bring me back up.
  4. My responsibility is to ensure you understand the needs of the product and its customers. I expect you to hold me accountable the moment you feel you’re not ready to pick up the work.
  5. No amount of written requirements or tasks I write will ever lead to a shared understanding like direct conversation and visual collaboration do. So I don’t do those. If you want to do that on your own, that’s fine; as long as it is more useful than it is wasteful.
  6. To follow up on the definition of understanding, do not expect me to serve you high fidelity prototypes or mockups. That’s a skill that the team develops and leverages to execute a need into product, not the product owner. This does not mean, however, that I won’t collaborate — it just means that whatever I hand off to you should help you understand the need better. (note: the ideal time and place to gain this understanding is through discovery, which can happen anytime or we can agree to some sort of schedule.)
  7. I expect any person I work with, extrovert or not, to be respectful of others. More specifically, if questions are asked, I’d rather moderate than to repeat the question after 10 seconds of silence. Saying “I’m not sure, I’ll get back to you” is a thousand times better than saying nothing at all.
  8. I don’t mandate anyone on what to do. I serve and lead you in the right path. I trust that you’re motivated to do good work with drive, commitment and focus, and anytime I’m asked for some help, I’ll gladly assist.

Those are the ground rules. Now here are some interesting facts you should know about me and the way I usually work:

  • I love post-its, whiteboards and sharpie pens. Nothing beats the awesome feeling of standing up with a team and scribbling away our questions and figuring out the answers. Post-it backlog, product discovery on a whiteboard, story mapping, impact mapping, you name it.
  • I am happy to be wrong. It means that I respect your opinion to the point of not taking anything for granted and staying curious and open to new ideas.
  • I will admit my mistakes ruthlessly when I recognize them. If something happens that impacts our customers or colleagues in a negative way, I will stay true to myself. I’ve had people tell me to take it easy way too often. Being hard on myself is my way of growing.
  • I’ve been working remotely since 2012. It’s been an absolute blessing to work with very talented people around the world from the comfort of my own home. Nonetheless, when it comes to working as a team, thinking and making decisions together, nothing beats face-to-face, especially if the team is cross-functional, with mixed levels of expertise.
  • I love to learn new things all the time. I enjoy knowing a bit of everything, from software engineering to UX, Scrum, Kanban, XP, product management, cognitive skills, photography and even AV production. A stale brain is an unwilling one.

One last thing: writing code, drawing screens on Figma or running tests are but a fraction of your whole responsibility. There is a whole lot more that is expected of you. Go read my piece on the expectations about Agile teams to get a full picture.

This letter is meant to change as I grow as a product owner. Lessons I learn along the way will shape how I interact with my teams and thus my ground rules and expectations become subject to an update.