Dear Agile team
This is what I would say to a new team if I were to collaborate with them.
Thank you for taking me in as your product 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
Being an agile team is not an easy task. 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 is 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!”
Sure, I could be wrong and assume the worst of you right away. I’ll take that
chance. I had some experiences where people fall on this 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- To follow up on the definition of understanding, do not expect me to serve
you prototypes or visual 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.
- 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.
- I don’t mandate anyone on what to do. I serve and lead them in the right
path. I trust that they’ll want 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,
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
show no mercy for 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, product management, soft skills,
photography and even AV production. A stale brain is an unwilling one.
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.