Food For Thought #56: Autonomous Teams, Agile Pirates, Product Borgs in Cuba, Holacracy, Fun at Work

Age of Product’s Food for Thought of August 28th, 2016—shared with 4,165 peers—checks in on the state of autonomous teams from Dublin to Africa, and how team membership is usually managed in organizations.

Arrrgh! We also learn that pirates were pretty agile, true examples of self-organization, the application of which nowadays needs to be explained by a Harvard Business School professor.

We then try to better understand the cultural habits of highly effective (cross-functional) product teams, that allow, for example, AirBnB to spearhead the assimilation process of Cuba into the international tourism industry. (Product borgs, so to speak.)

Last, but not least, we need to come to terms with the idea, that work can actually fulfilling and fun, and not just pain and misery, at least at Menlo Innovations. Enjoy a great Sunday!

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Lean User Tests – Equipment and Location (Part 4 of 7)

TL;DR

This fourth part of the Lean User Tests series focuses on equipment and location: What hard- and software do you need to run your user tests, and where to run them? (Spoiler alert: It’s preferably not your office.)

How are your preparations progressing? If anything is impeding you from reaching this goal, please do not hesitate to contact me by commenting this post, and I will gladly help you.

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10 Proven Stakeholder Communication Tactics during an Agile Transition

TL;DR

Stakeholder communication: It is simply not enough for an agile product development organization to create great code and ship the resulting product like a clockwork. You also need to talk about it, particularly in the beginning of your agile transition. Marketing the agile journey of product and engineering to the rest of the organization—and thus getting their buy-in—is a critical success factor to step up the game: You want to become agile, not doing “Agile”.

So, learn more about ten proven stakeholder communications tactics that contribute to making this happen.

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How to Kick-off Your Agile Transition (Part 1)

Agile Transition—TL;DR

A hands-on, practical guide on how to kick-off an agile transition: Embrace the agile mindset and scale your engineering and product organization to harvest your organization’s full potential.

How to Kick off Your Agile Transition: Scrum Team #1 – Age of Product
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Lean User Tests – Inviting Interviewees (Part 3 of 7)

This part of the Lean User Tests series focuses on selecting and inviting interviewees: Who is a suitable candidate, how to invite them and why you will need replacement candidates.

You should now be around three to four weeks away from your next—or first—user test. If anything is impeding you from reaching that goal, please do not hesitate to contact me by commenting this post, and I will gladly help you.

Continue reading Lean User Tests – Inviting Interviewees (Part 3 of 7)

Scrum Master Anti Patterns: Beware of Becoming a Scrum Mom (or Scrum Pop)

Disclaimer: Of course, this post is in no way intended to be gender-specific. In my experience, there is no difference between the Scrum pop and the Scrum mom. This post is all about the emerging trend of Scrum helicopter parenting.

Beware the Scrum Mom

Trying to be supportive and do good, is most of the time a honorable thing. This is particularly true in your capacity as a Scrum master. However, doing too much good can quickly have the opposite effect. It’s a known Scrum anti pattern, often referred to as the Scrum mom syndrome.

Read on to learn more about its manifestations, and the damage to your team caused by being overly protective.

Age of Product: Scrum Master Anti Patterns: Beware of Becoming a Scrum Mom
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20 Questions from New Scrum Master to Product Owner

From Scrum master to product owner, this set of questions addresses the future collaboration between the both and the rest of the team. The questions have been modeled after some basic principles, that high performing teams have in common. (You can read more on this topic in Marty Cagan’s post Product Success.)

20 Questions to Ask the Product Owner to Get up to Speed as a New Scrum Master

This post is following up on the previous post 20 Questions a New Scrum Master Should Ask Her Team to Get up to Speed.

This set of questions is intended for a first talk between product owner and Scrum master without involving the whole Scrum team.

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Lean User Tests – How to Find the Right Candidates (Part 2 of 7)

This part of the Lean User Tests series focuses on acquiring the right candidates for the interviews, answering questions like:

  • How many applicants are required to fill an interview slot?
  • How to reach out to prospective candidates among your user base?
  • How to set up the application form?

There are differences in approaching candidates in the B2B versus the B2C space. However, the following general principles apply to all user interviews.

Continue reading Lean User Tests – How to Find the Right Candidates (Part 2 of 7)

Lean User Testing – How to Run User Tests Successfully: The ‘Why’ Question

User tests…

In a world where data-driven decision making is often prevalent, some people feel uncomfortable with agile methodologies as those provide only a few useful metrics. One of those few, however, is the cycle time from idea to shipping a valuable product increment to your customers.

If you want to optimize this metric for your organization, speeding up your product discovery process is essential. And this requires two things: a) rapid prototyping and b) people to test your prototypes with. That’s the main reason why running user tests continuously is so important.

Learn how to best organize and run user tests in this series of six blog posts. Today, we start with answering the “why” question and what huge benefits user tests will provide to your product discovery and delivery process.

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Product Roadmap Failure: Stop Setting Them Up To Fail

TL;DR

When dealing with product roadmap failure, stop debating whether you are doing product roadmaps “right”, or whether roadmaps are evil. Look instead at the job you are hiring your roadmap to achieve. And then ask if the roadmap is the best tool for the job.

TOC

  • 14 Common Product Roadmap Failures
  • A Summary of Almost all Methodology Debates on Twitter
  • Roadmap Needs and Being Awesome

New to Product Management? What is a product roadmap? For a standard definition see here.

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Why Agile Turns into Micromanagement

Agile turns into micromanagement as a result of the middle management’s resistance to change. Despite better knowledge, changing an organization into a learning one, that embraces experimentation and failure is not in the best interest of everybody. Self-organizing, empowered teams often conflict with the middle management’s drive to execute on personals agendas.

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Why Engineers Despise Agile

The agile consulting industry repackages an originally human-centered, technology-driven philosophy into a standardized, all-weather project-risk mitigating methodology. Sold to command & control organizations, their middle managers turn “Agile” into a 21. century adoption of Taylorism for knowledge workers. Beyond this meta-level, the reasons, why engineers despise Agile, fall into five categories: Control, manipulation, monitoring, technology and teamwork.

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Cargo Cult Agile: The ‘State of Agile’ Checklist for Your Organization

You want to know the state of agility in your organization? Here we go: Download the checklist, distribute it generously among your colleagues and run a quick poll. It will only take 5 minutes of their time–and then run an analysis on their feedback. If the average number of checkboxes marked is higher than nine, then you are probably practicing cargo cult agile. Consider changing it. Or abandon your agile experiment all together. But don’t refer to it as “agile” any longer.

Everyday Failures in Applying Agile

Agile methodologies, like Scrum, have been on the rise across organizations of all kind and sizes for some years by now. Many consultants responded to the increasing demand for agile practitioners, particularly from corporate organizations, with rebranding themselves.

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Customer Care as a Litmus Test for Innovation and Agile Change

Customer care as entity, its function and status within a company, can act as a good litmus test for a company’s culture, its product management, and thus its potential for innovation and agile change.

If customer care is regarded solely as a cost center that needs to be outsourced, agile change is unlikely to happen in that organization.

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20 Questions a New Scrum Master Should Ask Her Team to Get up to Speed

20 questions for you — the new Scrum master — that fit into a 60 minutes time-box. Start learning how the new Scrum team is currently working and get up to speed. Download an easy printable template for your convenience.

Start Learning the Ropes in 60 Minutes

I was recently asked to participate in the product backlog grooming of a team that was looking for a new Scrum master. I was skeptical in the beginning. I had only limited knowledge about the project—a commercial website based on a CMS—, the grooming session was time-boxed to 60 minutes, and I hadn’t met the team members before beyond a very brief “hello”.

So, I prepared a questionnaire with topics I wanted to learn more about, and listened to the team grooming several user stories asking questions from the list when appropriate. Surprisingly, the insights turned out to be much more qualified than I expected. Particularly, the low-hanging (user story and Scrum improvement) fruits could be identified rather easily.

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Hiring: 38 Scrum Master Interview Questions to Avoid Agile Imposters

Scrum Master Hiring: Demand Creates Supply and the Job Market for Agile Practitioners is No Exception

Image from age-of-product.com

Maybe, “Agile” in general is a management fad and not trend at the moment. But what we can say for sure is that Scrum has become very popular for software development purposes. A seasoned Scrum master is nowadays in high demand. And that demand causes the market-entry of new professionals from other project management branches, probably believing that reading one or two Scrum books will be sufficient.

If you are looking to fill a position for a Scrum master (or agile coach) in your organization, you may find the following 38 interview questions useful to identify the right candidate. They are derived from my ten years of practical experience with XP as well as Scrum, serving both as Product owner and Scrum master as well as interviewing dozens of Scrum master candidates on behalf of my clients.

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App Prototyping with Absolute Beginners – Agile Experiments

Yes, even absolute beginners can prototype an app. And learn a lot about product management, product design and user experience along the way. It is a low cost exercise that will greatly improve communication within your organization.

Intro: Why Organize an App Prototyping Workshop?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “No More LEGO® At Agile Workshops – I Am Tired Of Building Airports” expressing my annoyance with the common practice of exercises in workshops that use an inappropriate means in my eyes. I also promised to experiment with an alternative: Building app prototypes, utilizing one of the many prototyping apps in the market. And here is what I have learned over three workshops into this experiment.

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7 Best Practices on How to Build a Product Roadmap

It’s Roadmap Building Time Again!

The end of 2015 is nearing and it’s product roadmap building time again—at least for those companies that are still dedicated to the old command-and-control model. In the next few weeks, execs and (key) stakeholders will come together and define what needs to be built to meet business demands in 2016. So, here are the seven best practices on how to build product roadmaps the agile way.

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Welcome to the Agile Clinic – Our New LinkedIn Group For Agile Change

Let’s Fix Agile

When I wrote the Agile Failure Patterns In Organizations post in October, I could not anticipate the feedback it would receive: Over 80 comments on the Hacker News thread and almost 15,000 readers on the blog and additional channels like DZone or Business2Community.

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Scrum: The Obsession with Commitment Matching Velocity

The Fine Line Between Risk Mitigation and Falling Back into Covering Your Butt

The team hasn’t met its commitments once. Not once.

The atmosphere was becoming thicker by the minute. The management was displeased with the progress of the project and was looking for answers, starring at a bunch of Jira charts, I prepared earlier. “How can we claim that we are working in Scrum mode, if the team is not sticking with the rules?”

Throughout the majority of projects I have been working on I could observe an obsession with burn-down charts and other Scrum metrics, mainly team commitments. And as a consequence, a side product of backlog grooming, estimation and sprint planning is elevated to the most important management indicator that “Agile” works: The team’s commitment is matching or outperforming its average velocity.

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Ebookmakr Failure: The Fallacy of Knowing What to Build – The Post Mortem

Executive Summary – Lessons Learned from Ebookmakr’s Failure:

  1. Love the problem more than your solution.
  2. Don’t push too far your dreams of China in your hand.
  3. Use prototyping tools such as Marvel when running user interviews. (More here: Four Lessons Learned From Making Customer Value Your Priority.)
  4. Be careful with the selection process for user interviews: You might end up picking those that will support your vision – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy trap.
  5. Beware of false positives in user interviews.
  6. Never start writing a single line of code before an appropriate number of customers signed up. (For clarification: Customers are paying users.)
  7. Never spend money on developing a prototype when you’re not working full-time on growing the user-base and increasing customer value.
  8. Be patient and give your product the time it needs.
  9. Always make branded t-shirts and wear them later regularly to preserve the recollection of the disaster. (See below.)
Continue reading Ebookmakr Failure: The Fallacy of Knowing What to Build – The Post Mortem

Four Lessons Learned From Making Customer Value Your Priority

Building a valuable, useable and feasible product does not happen overnight. These are my four core learnings from focusing on customer value, looking back at the projects I have been pursuing over the years.

Lessons Learned #1: Customers Don’t Know What They Want. And You Cannot Just Ask Them.

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
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Agile Failure Patterns in Organizations

Why Agile is Simple and Complex at the Same Time

Who wouldn’t agree that the four core principles of the Agile Manifesto

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

— aren’t derived from applying common sense to a serious problem?

That the application of those principles might be suited to fix numerous organizational dysfunctions and reduce an error-prone and complex social setting to maybe just a complicated one?

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No More LEGO® at Agile Workshops – I am Tired of Building Airports

How I Have Been Practicing Processes in Recent Agile Workshops

During the last 12 months, I participated in three inspiring workshops–I enjoyed all of them:

All of those agile workshops used LEGO® more or less heavily as a training ground to build a “product”, for example, to practice basic Scrum techniques such as organizing and running a sprint.

So, I was building airports…

Continue reading No More LEGO® at Agile Workshops – I am Tired of Building Airports

Food For Thought #55: 100% Scrum Master, Getting Hired, Product Squads, Unwanted Users, Jobs We Lose to AI

Age of Product’s Food for Thought of August 21st, 2016—shared with 4,036 peers—points to 15 simple phrases from great leaders that boost team engagement. Which might prove to be helpful, when Agile will break your organization.

We also learn why removing “Agile Coach” from your profile might make the resulting 100% Scrum master more authentic, and how to land your next Scrum master position in the first place. Or your dream product manager job.

We then try to weight the benefits and potential risks of Spotify’s product squad concept, and finally have to admit that not every great product automatically creates a great business. Speaking of which: What is also not creating a great business, is a bunch of 50% solution.

Last, but not least, we come back to the question if we will have a job in ten years from now, given the advances of machine learning, and hear from Mr. Facebook himself how to build a better tomorrow. Enjoy a great Sunday!

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Food For Thought #54: Scrum Sucks, Agile = Change?, Love Your Problem, Poker & PM, Zappos Revisited

Age of Product’s Food for Thought of August 14th, 2016—shared with 3,929 peers—finally explains why Scrum sucks, sort of, and whether agile is really about change. We learn to better understand Scrum aficionados, and that we have had so far a completely twisted understanding of technical debt.

We also learn how to build teams that can cope with today’s complexity, and that we should avoid falling for the innovator’s bias. Good news is, though, that poker is a great training for product management. (I knew it…)

We then dive deep into product roadmap strategies, and that the senior leadership needs to embrace Steve Blank, too, and get out of the building to test new ideas.

Last, but not least, we revisit the state of holacracy at Zappos.com, and get a better understanding what companies can learn from the human immune system to last at least a century. Enjoy a great Sunday!

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Food For Thought #53: Technical Debt, Agile at BMW, Joy@Work, CSM History, Empathy, Pricing Is Right

Age of Product’s Food for Thought of August 7th, 2016—shared with 3,817 peers—lets you steal agile insights from BMW, and encourages you to redefine your attitude towards technical debt.

We also learn why the CSM certification originally was created, why public roadmaps with release dates are bordering on being moronic, and why the art of product management requires empathy. (I know, you thought that A/B testing and Analytics would suffice—sorry for breaking the bad news…)

We then dive deep into creating happiness at work, and this even seems to work in the software industry, given the lastest DZone poll among developers on agile methods.

Last, but not least, we are getting the price of our product right, at least we could fix it now, and we have an in-depth look at a place where pair programming is the norm, and not an exception. Enjoy a great Sunday!

Continue reading Food For Thought #53: Technical Debt, Agile at BMW, Joy@Work, CSM History, Empathy, Pricing Is Right