Effective Product Leadership — Part 2: Navigating Relationships and Unlocking Collaborative Success

As product leaders, our primary responsibility is guiding our teams and organizations to achieve remarkable outcomes. The cornerstone of our success is the trust we establish within our teams and with our stakeholders, which is essential for fostering high-performing product teams. Trust facilitates open collaboration, ensuring commitment and alignment to the product vision. Without it, our leadership effectiveness is compromised. A key aspect of building this trust is the partnership between product leaders and Scrum Masters, who play a crucial role in empowering agile teams and promoting a culture of innovation. They help by removing distractions, facilitating effective ceremonies, and eliminating organizational barriers, creating an environment conducive to trust. Additionally, effective stakeholder engagement is vital. By involving stakeholders in product discovery, strategy, and development, we cultivate a shared understanding and commitment. Listening to their feedback and addressing concerns not only shows respect for their insights but also strengthens their trust in the project’s direction.

Nima Torabi
Beyond the Build
Published in
40 min readApr 20, 2024


Table of Contents

The Secret Sauce of Successful Product Teams: Building Trust

Maximizing Agile Success: The Crucial Role of the Scrum Master Partnership

Strategies for Empowering Agile Development Teams: A Product Leader’s Playbook

Strategies for Effective Stakeholder Engagement: A Product Leader’s Perspective


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The Secret Sauce of Successful Product Teams: Building Trust

Through experience and neuroscience, effective product leaders learn that the secret to building high-performing, innovative product teams isn’t just about having the right processes, tools, or even the most talented individuals.

It’s about something much more fundamental — trust.

Trust is the magic ingredient that allows relationships to blossom, collaboration to thrive, and teams to achieve remarkable results.

When there is a lack of trust, interactions tend to be superficial, decision-making becomes stifled, and it’s nearly impossible to tackle the tough challenges that come with building great products.

Why Trust Matters in Product Development

In my experience, trust is the foundation for effective collaboration and alignment within product teams. Without trust, product development suffers in two key ways:

  • Compromised Collaboration: Successful products are not built on watered-down compromises or the lowest common denominator. They emerge from the collective expertise, diverse perspectives, and honest debates of the development team and key stakeholders. However, when trust is lacking, team members hesitate to voice their true opinions and concerns. They shy away from challenging ideas or providing critical feedback, leading to suboptimal product decisions and outcomes.

Open, transparent collaboration is essential, but it can only thrive in an environment of mutual trust.

  • Diminished Commitment and Alignment: As a product leader, you rely on your team to wholeheartedly commit to and execute your vision. But when people don’t trust you or the product direction, they are unlikely to buy in fully. At best, they will go through the motions out of obligation, rather than genuine belief and enthusiasm. Gaining the trust of your team is vital for aligning everyone towards a common goal and driving the product forward with momentum and collective ownership. Without trust, your ability to lead and inspire the team is severely undermined.

Trust is the glue that holds high-performing product teams together.

It enables the open collaboration required to build great products, and it secures the commitment and alignment needed to execute the product vision successfully.

As a product leader, cultivating trust should be one of your top priorities, as it unlocks the true potential of your team and sets your product up for long-term success.

Practical Tips for Building Trust

As a product leader, building trust with your team, stakeholders, and clients is crucial for driving successful product development and alignment. Here are some proven strategies to cultivate trust:

  • Come from a Place of Curiosity and Care: Approach people with genuine warmth and a sincere interest in their well-being. Ask thoughtful questions to understand their unique perspectives, challenges, and aspirations. Demonstrate that you care about them as individuals, not just as resources to achieve your goals. This empathetic mindset lays the foundation for trust and open communication.
  • Listen with an Open Mind: Make a conscious effort to actively and attentively listen to others, without prematurely judging or dismissing their ideas. Express gratitude for their contributions, even if you initially disagree. This makes people feel valued and respected and encourages them to be more open and trusting in their interactions with you.
  • Speak and Act with Integrity: Ensure your communication is truthful and transparent, and that your actions consistently align with your words. Avoid harsh or divisive language when providing feedback. Most importantly, be willing to show vulnerability by openly admitting mistakes and shortcomings. This builds credibility and trust, as it demonstrates your commitment to honesty and continuous improvement.
  • Get to Know People (and Let Them Know You): Share personal information about your background, interests, and even past failures. This helps others understand where you’re coming from and the experiences that have shaped your perspectives. Reciprocating this openness is a powerful trust-building exercise, as it requires you to be vulnerable. Additionally, engaging in casual activities like having lunch or coffee together can go a long way in fostering more personal connections.
  • Involve People in Product Decisions: Actively encourage your team and stakeholders to share their ideas, concerns, and perspectives on the product. Carefully listen to everyone, appreciate their input, and respect their views. This collaborative approach increases their sense of ownership and trust in you as a leader, as they feel their voices are heard and valued.
  • Be Supportive and Offer Help: Demonstrate your care for the well-being and success of your team members by offering support and guidance whenever possible. However, be mindful not to micromanage the goal is to empower them to become self-sufficient. By providing this type of supportive environment, you build trust and foster a culture of mutual respect and growth.
  • Strengthen Your Product Management Expertise: The more knowledgeable and capable you are as a product leader, the more likely it is that people will trust and follow your lead. Continuously develop your skills in areas like market analysis, user research, and product strategy. This expertise will inspire confidence in your ability to make informed, data-driven decisions that drive the product forward.

By consistently applying these trust-building strategies, you can create an environment of openness, transparency, and mutual respect — the foundation for successful product development and long-term success.

Recognizing a Trusting Environment

When trust is present within a product team, several telltale signs indicate a healthy, collaborative dynamic:

  • Open and Honest Communication: Team members feel comfortable openly discussing even difficult topics and challenges. They are willing to voice dissenting opinions or constructive criticism, knowing their input will be heard and respected.
  • Constructive Debates: The team engages in healthy debates and discussions, challenging ideas to arrive at the best solutions. There is a willingness to consider different perspectives and explore alternatives, rather than simply rubber-stamping decisions.
  • Comfortable, Friendly Atmosphere: The team operates in an environment where people feel psychologically safe to be themselves. There is a sense of camaraderie and mutual support, rather than an undercurrent of tension or fear of repercussions.
  • Shared Ownership and Commitment: The team collectively takes pride and ownership in the product’s success. They are intrinsically motivated to contribute their best efforts, rather than simply fulfilling obligations.

In contrast, a lack of trust often manifests in more subtle but telling ways:

  • Subdued Mood: The team’s energy and enthusiasm feel dampened, with an undercurrent of hesitation or unease. Interactions may be perfunctory rather than genuinely engaged.
  • Reluctance to Voice Opinions: Team members are hesitant to share their thoughts and ideas, fearing their input may be dismissed or used against them. Discussions tend to be superficial, with people holding back their true perspectives.
  • Artificial Harmony: The team may present an outward appearance of agreement and alignment, but underlying issues and disagreements are left unaddressed. This “false harmony” is a defense mechanism against potential conflict.

Building High-Trust Organizations

Research indicates that organizations and teams that foster high-trust relationships enjoy numerous benefits in terms of behavior, organizational dynamics, and productivity. These advantages include:

  • Increased energy and enthusiasm in the workplace.
  • Enhanced engagement levels among employees.
  • Greater productivity and efficiency.
  • Improved loyalty, advocacy, and referrals from employees.
  • Heightened levels of empathy toward colleagues.
  • Reduced instances of burnout among team members.
  • Elevated sense of accomplishment and personal fulfillment.

To cultivate high-trust organizations, consider implementing the following recommendations based on the same research:

  • Recognize Excellence: One of the most powerful ways to build trust is by recognizing and celebrating the outstanding contributions of your team members. Immediate, peer-driven, tangible, unexpected, personal, and public recognition can have a profound impact on trust-building, as it demonstrates your genuine appreciation for their efforts and reinforces the value they bring to the organization.
  • Induce “Challenge Stress”: Assigning challenging yet achievable tasks to your team members can be a powerful trust-building exercise. When individuals are faced with meaningful challenges, their brains release neurochemicals like oxytocin and adrenocorticotropin, which strengthen focus, social connections, and a sense of shared purpose. By carefully calibrating the level of challenge and providing the necessary support, you can create an environment where your team members feel empowered, trusted, and motivated to excel.
  • Give People Discretion in How They Do Their Work: Autonomy is a key driver of motivation and innovation. By granting your team members the freedom to choose how they approach and execute their work, you demonstrate your trust in their abilities and judgment. This, in turn, fosters a sense of ownership and accountability, leading to higher engagement and productivity. Of course, this approach requires a delicate balance of oversight and post-project debriefs to ensure alignment and continuous improvement.
  • Enable Job Crafting: Closely related to the concept of autonomy is job crafting, which empowers employees to shape their roles and responsibilities to better align with their interests, strengths, and personal goals. By granting your team members the freedom to choose their projects, you tap into their intrinsic motivation and foster a sense of ownership that strengthens trust and engagement.
  • Share Information Broadly: Transparency and open communication are essential for building trust within an organization. By proactively sharing information, you can reduce uncertainty and demonstrate your commitment to keeping your team informed and engaged.
  • Intentionally Build Relationships: The neurological basis of social connections is well-established, and research has shown that strong interpersonal relationships have a direct impact on team performance and organizational success. By prioritizing relationship-building activities, you can cultivate a sense of belonging and camaraderie that strengthens trust and cooperation. Consider the example of companies that organize regular team-building events, social gatherings, or even mentorship programs — these initiatives demonstrate a genuine investment in the personal and professional growth of your team members, reinforcing their trust in the organization.
  • Facilitate Whole-Person Growth: Employees are not just cogs in a machine; they are complex individuals with diverse needs, aspirations, and life experiences. By adopting a holistic approach to employee development, you can demonstrate your commitment to their overall well-being and growth, which has a direct correlation with engagement, retention, and trust.
  • Show Vulnerability: As a leader, demonstrating vulnerability by openly asking for help or admitting your limitations can be a powerful trust-building exercise. This vulnerability stimulates the production of oxytocin in others, enhancing trust, cooperation, and a sense of shared purpose.


Trust is not something that can be demanded; it must be earned through consistent, intentional, and authentic actions.

Building Trust in Product Teams — Building trust is essential for high-performing product teams and requires a multi-faceted approach focused on fostering open communication, empowering team members, and demonstrating authentic leadership.
Photo by Parabol | The Agile Meeting Toolbox on Unsplash

Maximizing Agile Success: The Crucial Role of the Scrum Master Partnership

Seasoned product leaders will come to appreciate the critical role that the Scrum Master or Agile Project Manager plays in driving the success of agile teams. While it’s easy to focus on our relationships with the development team and key stakeholders, the partnership between the product manager and the Scrum Master is often underestimated — but it’s a dynamic that can make or break your agile transformation and the delivery of products.

The Scrum Master [Agile Project Manager]: Your Indispensable Agile Partner

As a product leader, your partnership with the Scrum Master is indispensable in driving agile success. The Scrum Master is not just another team member — they are the conductor of your agile orchestra, ensuring that everyone is playing in perfect harmony.

The Scrum Master’s primary responsibilities include:

  1. Facilitating the Scrum Process: They ensure the Scrum framework is rigorously followed, guiding the team through key ceremonies like sprint planning, daily standups, reviews, and retrospectives.
  2. Removing Impediments: The Scrum Master proactively identifies and resolves any technical, organizational, or interpersonal roadblocks that could hinder the team’s progress.
  3. Coaching the Team: They educate the team on Scrum principles and practices, helping them self-organize, continuously improve, and reach new levels of performance.
  4. Creating Focus: The Scrum Master shields the team from external distractions and interruptions, allowing them to focus on delivering value.
  5. Facilitating Communication: They ensure transparent and effective communication between the team, the Product Owner, and other stakeholders.
  6. Ensuring Transparency: The Scrum Master makes the team’s progress and challenges visible to all, promoting accountability and trust.

By taking these responsibilities off your plate, the Scrum Master allows you to focus on your core product leadership duties, such as continuous discovery, strategy, and stakeholder management. They are the glue that holds the agile team together, ensuring that everyone is aligned, empowered, and working in harmony towards your shared goals.

Onboarding the Scrum Master as your indispensable partner is a critical step in unlocking the full potential of agile methodologies and driving sustainable success for your product. Together, you can create a high-performing, adaptable team that consistently delivers exceptional value to your customers.

The Scrum Master’s Responsibilities

So, what exactly should the Scrum Master be doing? Their primary focus should be on the people, processes, and organizational changes required to support agile ways of working. This includes:

  • Staffing: Collaborating with HR and the development team to identify and onboard the right people with the necessary skills and motivation.
  • Roles and Responsibilities: Ensuring that everyone involved in the product development effort understands their roles, authority, and accountabilities.
  • Agile Coaching: Educating the product team, stakeholders, and management on agile values, principles, and best practices, and helping them apply these in the right way.
  • Facilitating Collaboration: Preparing and leading key meetings, such as sprint planning, daily standups, and retrospectives, while ensuring that everyone is heard and no one dominates the discussion.
  • Optimizing the Work Environment: Helping to create a physical and digital workspace that fosters creativity, productivity, and teamwork and ensures product delivery.
  • Driving Organizational Change: Working with senior leadership to implement the necessary changes to fully embrace agile ways of working.

By taking these responsibilities off your plate, the Scrum Master allows you to focus on your core product leadership duties, such as continuous discovery, strategy, and stakeholder management.

What the Scrum Master Shouldn’t Do

While the Scrum Master’s role is critical, it’s important to understand the boundaries of their responsibilities.

They are not project managers, and should not be:

  • Identifying and assigning tasks
  • Creating project management reports
  • Maintaining or refining the product backlog
  • Directly managing the development team

In many organizations, Scrum Masters are also the project managers, otherwise called Agile Project Managers, who cover parts of the tasks above.

These are all areas where you, as the product leader, need to be actively involved along with other cross-functional leaders. The Scrum Master is there to enable and empower the team, not to do the work for them.

Why You Shouldn’t Take on Scrum Master Duties

Many product leaders fall into the trap of trying to take on Scrum Master responsibilities when the role is not effectively filled.

While it’s admirable to want to support your team, this is a dangerous path that can lead to burnout, neglect of your core product responsibilities, and a missed opportunity to develop true agile expertise within your organization.

There are three key reasons why you should avoid this:

  1. Overwork and Reduced Creativity: Taking on additional Scrum Master duties on top of your existing product responsibilities is a surefire way to become overworked and overwhelmed. This can diminish your creativity, problem-solving abilities, and overall effectiveness as a product leader.
  2. Lack of Specialized Expertise: Becoming a Scrum Master is not something that can be learned overnight. It requires dedicated training, practice, and ongoing development of specialized skills. A full-time Scrum Master who can devote themselves to this role will be far more effective than a product leader trying to juggle both sets of responsibilities.
  3. Missed Opportunity for Organizational Change: If you, as the product leader, can handle Scrum Master tasks, your organization may mistakenly believe that a dedicated Scrum Master is not necessary. This can stall the critical organizational changes required to fully embrace agile ways of working.

Instead of trying to wear both hats, you must focus on your core product leadership responsibilities. Leave the Scrum Master's duties to a dedicated professional who can devote their full attention to ensuring the team’s success and driving the necessary organizational changes to support agile transformation.

Addressing Scrum Master Challenges

As a product leader, the ideal scenario is to have a competent, dedicated Scrum Master who can seamlessly partner with you to drive agile success. However, the reality is that not all organizations have this luxury.

  • Educating Decision-Makers: If you find yourself in a situation where there is no Scrum Master at all, or the one you have is not effectively fulfilling their role, your first step should be to educate your organization’s decision-makers on the importance of this critical position. Highlight the tangible benefits that a skilled Scrum Master can bring to your agile transformation, such as improved team productivity, enhanced collaboration, and accelerated product delivery. Advocate for the resources needed to hire or develop a dedicated Scrum Master who can partner with you.
  • Transitioning Scrum Master Duties: In the interim, if you have no choice but to take on some Scrum Master duties yourself, do so with caution and a clear plan to transition those responsibilities as soon as possible. Engage with your Scrum Master, if you have one, to understand the root causes of the issues and see how you can provide support or guidance. Remember, becoming a skilled Scrum Master requires specialized training and ongoing development — it’s not something you can pick up overnight.
  • Embracing the Scrum Master Partnership: Ultimately, you must recognize that the Scrum Master is not just another team member — they are your indispensable partner in driving agile success. By understanding and respecting their unique role, you can unlock a level of organizational agility and team performance that will propel your product to new heights of innovation and market leadership.

Stay vigilant, advocate for the resources you need, and be willing to temporarily take on Scrum Master duties, but with a clear plan to transition those responsibilities back to a dedicated professional.

Your commitment to this partnership will be the key to unlocking your team’s full potential and delivering exceptional products in an agile environment.

Maximizing Agile Success: The Crucial Role of the Scrum Master Partnership- Product leaders must understand the responsibilities of Scrum Masters, clarify their role compared to project managers, avoid taking on Scrum Master duties, and provide strategies for addressing challenges related to the Scrum Master role.
Maximizing Agile Success: The Crucial Role of the Scrum Master Partnership— Product leaders must understand the responsibilities of Scrum Masters, clarify their role compared to project managers, avoid taking on Scrum Master duties, and provide strategies for addressing challenges related to the Scrum Master role.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Share your insights and feedback in the comments below and let’s continue this discussion.

Photo by Maik Jonietz on Unsplash

Strategies for Empowering Agile Development Teams: A Product Leader’s Playbook

Development teams are not just the implementers of the product vision — they are product managers’ partners in ideation, problem-solving, and delivering exceptional value to our customers.

Setting the Stage for Development Team Success

As a product leader, one of your most critical responsibilities is to set the foundation for a high-performing development team. This starts with the people you bring on board and the environment you create for them to thrive.

Your team members are not just a collection of technical resources — they are individuals with unique talents, perspectives, and the potential to drive innovation.

Your role as the product leader is to identify and nurture that greatness within each person, empowering them to contribute at the highest level.

Creating the optimal environment for your development team to flourish is essential. This goes beyond just providing the necessary tools and resources. It’s about fostering a culture of trust, collaboration, and psychological safety — one where team members feel empowered to take risks, experiment, and bring their full selves to the work.

This might involve ensuring your team has access to the right workspace, with ample opportunities for both focused work and spontaneous ideation. It could also mean implementing rituals and practices that strengthen interpersonal bonds, such as regular team-building activities or dedicated time for knowledge sharing.

Ultimately, your goal should be to remove barriers, provide the right support, and create the conditions that allow the inherent greatness of your team members to shine through.

When you get this foundation right, you unlock the full potential of your development organization and set the stage for sustained product success.

Ensuring the Right Skill Mix for High Performance

Assembling a team with the necessary skills is just the starting point. The most effective development teams go beyond that — they are cross-skilled, where individuals possess both specialist expertise and a breadth of knowledge.

This cross-pollination of skills is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Seamless Collaboration: Cross-skilled team members can easily collaborate and cover for one another when needed, enhancing the team’s overall productivity and resilience.
  2. Improved Planning and Task Management: The diverse skill sets allow the team to better plan their work and manage tasks, leading to more efficient delivery.
  3. Stronger Team Cohesion: The ability to contribute across different areas fosters a greater sense of shared purpose and camaraderie within the team.

By cultivating this cross-skilled dynamic, you unlock the full potential of your development team. They can leverage their specialized expertise while also understanding and supporting each other’s work, creating a synergistic environment that drives innovation and exceptional results.

Cultivating a Thriving Environment for Your Development Team

Creating the right physical and digital environment for your development team is essential for unlocking their full potential. This goes beyond just providing the necessary tools and resources — it’s about fostering a space that nurtures creativity, productivity, and a deep sense of belonging.

  • Prioritizing Collaboration and Connection: Equipping your team with robust collaboration platforms, from video conferencing to project management software, bridges the physical gap and enables seamless teamwork. Collocating your team members, even if temporary, can pay dividends in terms of their ability to align, problem-solve, and build the strong interpersonal connections that underpin high-performing agile teams.
  • Providing the Right Resources: Ensuring your development team has access to the right hardware, software, and amenities demonstrates your commitment to their success. From comfortable workstations and ample whiteboards to the all-important coffee machine, these seemingly small details can significantly impact morale, focus, and the team’s ability to ideate and problem-solve.
  • Cultivating a Culture of Experimentation: An agile, thriving environment encourages a “lab mindset” — one where your team feels empowered to experiment, take calculated risks, and learn from both successes and failures. By creating this psychologically safe space, you unlock your team’s creativity and foster a culture of continuous improvement.

Ultimately, the physical and digital environment you cultivate for your development team is a reflection of your values as a product leader. By investing in the right conditions, you empower your people to do their best work, collaborate effectively, and deliver exceptional results for your customers.

Empowering Through Self-Selection

Embracing the concept of self-selection is one of the most powerful ways to build a highly motivated and committed development team. By allowing individuals to choose whether they want to be part of the team, you tap into their intrinsic drive and passion for the work.

The importance of having team members volunteer for the project is often underestimated. When team members volunteer, they are psychologically more committed to the success of the team.

This self-selection process fosters a deep sense of ownership and accountability among the team members. They are not just assigned to the project — they have actively chosen to be a part of it, making them more invested in its success.

This intrinsic motivation and commitment are essential for navigating the challenges and complexities of product development.

By embracing self-selection, you empower your team to take charge of their destiny, aligning their personal goals and interests with the broader objectives of the product.

This, in turn, leads to higher engagement, better collaboration, and a greater sense of shared purpose — all of which are critical for driving innovation and delivering exceptional results.

Organizing Around Products for Agile Success

In general, you can find three types of product development team alignment in product organizations:

  • Product-Focused Teams: These teams are aligned around specific products or product components. They have a strong sense of ownership and accountability for their assigned areas. They can make decisions and drive progress with greater autonomy, fostering a heightened commitment to the team’s objectives and a deeper understanding of customer needs. This approach creates loosely coupled teams that can make progress with minimal dependencies, enabling them to quickly validate ideas and deliver new functionality.
  • Component-Centric Teams: These teams are organized around specific technical components or modules. They focus on developing and maintaining particular components that can be reused by other teams.
    While component-centric teams can have their place, it’s recommended to keep their number small. These teams tend to have more interdependencies, which can slow down the agile transformation and make it harder to quickly respond to changing market demands.
  • Feature-Focused Teams: These teams are cross-functional and long-lived, focused on delivering end-to-end customer features. They pick features from the product backlog and work to complete them. Feature teams play a crucial role in scaling up agile development, as they are more flexible and have reduced dependencies between teams. Prioritizing feature-focused teams over component-centric teams allows for greater flexibility and faster iteration.

Ultimately, by setting up product-centric teams, we set development teams up for success. By empowering them to take ownership of their assigned areas, we foster a heightened sense of commitment and a deeper understanding of the customer problems we’re solving.

Moreover, this organizational structure enables our teams to work collaboratively, experiment rapidly, and deliver exceptional value to our customers. They can quickly validate ideas, iterate on solutions, and respond to changing market dynamics — the hallmarks of a truly agile and high-performing product organization.

Fostering Stability and Continuity for High-Performing Teams

Stability is a hallmark of truly effective development teams.

Teams with stable membership have healthier dynamics and perform better than those that constantly have to deal with the arrival of new members and the departure of veterans.

By minimizing team churn and keeping your people together for extended periods, you enable them to build the trust, shared understanding, and collaborative muscle memory essential for navigating complex product challenges.

This continuity also facilitates institutional knowledge, reducing the time and effort required to onboard new members.

Cultivating a stable team environment allows your developers to focus on the work, rather than constantly adapting to new faces and dynamics. This fosters a sense of belonging, accountability, and collective ownership — all of which are crucial for driving innovation and delivering exceptional results.

As a product leader, your role is to create the conditions that support team stability, whether through thoughtful hiring practices, professional development opportunities, or fostering a culture that values long-term commitment.

By investing in the continuity of your development organization, you unlock its full potential and set your product up for sustained success.

Letting Go of Detailed Requirements — Empowering Collaborative Discovery

As product leaders, it’s a common trap to believe that we must precisely define the product functionality and spoon-feed our development teams with detailed requirements. While this approach may have its place when a team lacks the necessary understanding or skills, it should not become the norm.

Instead, we need to trust our teams, help them acquire the relevant knowledge, and then step back to let them take the reins.

This means actively involving them in critical product discovery and user experience work, so they can directly observe and interact with our customers.

It also means teaching them the skills to refine the product backlog and craft user stories — tasks that were once solely ours to own.

By doing so, we empower our teams to take ownership of the solution, tapping into their inherent creativity and problem-solving abilities. This collaborative approach not only leads to better technical decisions but also eases our workload as product leaders.

When the team understands the bigger picture, they can become more self-sufficient, freeing us up to focus on strategic priorities.

The key is finding the right balance — providing guidance and support when needed while resisting the urge to micromanage.

It’s a delicate dance, but one that unlocks unprecedented levels of innovation, agility, and customer-centricity within our organizations.

Addressing Team Resistance: Building Trust and Embracing Autonomy

I know what you’re thinking — “But my team insists on receiving those detailed requirements! They’re not ready to take on that level of responsibility.” I’ve been there too, and I can assure you that this resistance often stems from a misunderstanding of agile team dynamics or a fear of being punished for taking initiative.

The key is to use retrospectives as a forum to understand the root causes and build trust.

Help your team see that being part of an agile squad means embracing a new way of working

one where they are empowered to make decisions, experiment, and own the outcomes.

Demonstrate that you value their input and are willing to support them as they grow into this more autonomous role.

Often, the resistance comes from a lack of exposure to the principles of self-organization and a lingering expectation of top-down direction.

By creating a safe space for open dialogue, you can help your team shed these preconceptions and fully internalize the responsibilities that come with being an empowered, agile unit.

This trust-building process takes time and patience, but the payoff is immense.

When your team feels truly empowered to take ownership, they unlock unprecedented levels of creativity, collaboration, and customer-centricity — all of which are essential for driving sustainable product success.

Fostering Self-Organization: Empowering Agile Teams

As product leaders, our primary responsibility is to manage the product, not the development team. Agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban are designed to enable self-organization, where the team determines the sprint work, allocates tasks, and tracks progress — not us.

This can be a challenging transition, especially when we see the team struggling. But we must resist the urge to jump in and take control.

Instead, we should share our concerns, provide guidance, and allow the team to take full responsibility for addressing the issues.

Our role is to hold them accountable, offer constructive feedback, and support their continuous improvement.

By empowering the team to self-organize, we unlock their full potential for innovation, collaboration, and customer-centricity.

It requires trust, patience, and a willingness to let go of micromanagement. But the payoff is high-performing, autonomous teams that can rapidly adapt to changing market demands and deliver exceptional products.

As product leaders, fostering this self-organization is one of our most important responsibilities.

Unlocking the Power of Ownership

Empowering our development teams to own the solution is a game-changer. It taps into their inherent creativity, problem-solving abilities, and sense of commitment.

By letting go of the need to micromanage and instead fostering a culture of autonomy and accountability, we unlock unprecedented levels of innovation and agility.

When we trust our teams, equip them with the necessary knowledge and tools, and empower them to make decisions, they rise to the occasion. They deliver exceptional results that delight our customers, driven by a deep sense of ownership and accountability.

This self-organizing, empowered agile team is the true power engine of our product development efforts. By embracing this collaborative approach, we enable our people to thrive, our products to excel, and our organizations to stay ahead of the curve.

Navigating the Daily Scrum: When Should Product Leaders Participate?

As product leaders, the daily scrum can be a valuable window into the progress and challenges of our development teams. However, we must tread carefully, as this sacred ceremony is primarily for the team to align, coordinate, and self-organize their work.

In my experience, there are benefits to joining the daily scrum at least a couple of times per sprint.

It allows us to stay informed on the current status, identify areas where we can provide support or expertise, and ensure alignment between the team’s work and the product vision.

For instance, we may discover that certain user stories are already complete and awaiting our review, or that the team is grappling with a technical obstacle that requires our input. This real-time visibility can be invaluable.

However, we must be vigilant not to disrupt the team’s self-organization.

If we find that the team members are reporting their progress to us or looking to us for direction, it’s a sign that they haven’t yet achieved the desired level of autonomy.

In such cases, it’s best to share our observations with the team and consider stepping back from the daily scrum for the remainder of the sprint.

The next sprint retrospective should then be used as an opportunity to discuss how to make the daily scrum more effective —

Ensuring it remains a forum for the team to coordinate their work, rather than a status update for the product leader.

Striking the right balance is key.

By selectively participating in the daily scrum, we can stay informed and provide support when needed, while empowering our teams to self-organize and take ownership of their work. T

his delicate dance is essential for unlocking the full potential of our agile development efforts.

Effectively Interacting with the Development Team

Beyond the daily rituals, how can we as product leaders best engage with and support our agile development teams?

The key is to find the right balance between providing guidance and empowering self-organization.

  • Getting the Product Backlog Ready: One of our critical responsibilities is to ensure the product backlog is well-groomed and ready for sprint planning. This is best done through collaborative refinement sessions with the team, where we can jointly define the sprint goal and ensure it is both meaningful and realistic for them.
  • Respecting the Team’s Workload Determination: Agile teams are empowered to freely determine their sprint workload. As product leaders, we must resist the urge to pressure them to take on more than they can realistically handle. Forcing an unrealistic workload can quickly lead to demotivation, quality issues, and even health problems for the team.
  • Making Time to Interact: We need to make ourselves available to the team during the sprint, ready to answer questions and provide feedback on their work. But we must also be mindful not to spend too much time with them, as this can detract from our strategic responsibilities. If the team’s demands on our time become excessive, we should address this in the next sprint retrospective, exploring solutions like increased team involvement in backlog refinement or providing them with more big-picture context.
  • Holding the Team Accountable: While empowering the team to self-organize, we must still hold them accountable for reaching the sprint goal. This requires providing clear, respectful feedback on their performance, recognizing that software development is inherently challenging, but not accepting routine overcommitment. When issues arise, the sprint retrospective is the ideal forum to address them, using techniques like “positive first” and “flipping and framing” to guide the team towards improvement constructively.

Evaluating Team Performance: Beyond the Metrics

When it comes to assessing whether our development teams are “doing a good job,” the formal criteria are relatively straightforward.

In the Scrum context;

a high-performing team is one that reliably meets their sprint goals and delivers product increments that delight users with their quality and functionality.

However, there’s more to evaluating team performance than just the quantitative metrics. The true hallmark of a healthy, high-functioning team lies in the quality of their interactions and collaboration.

  • Signs of a Thriving Team: Look for frequent, ad-hoc exchanges between team members — not just during the prescribed ceremonies, but throughout the sprint. People actively helping one another, sharing knowledge, and occasionally even grabbing coffee or lunch together. The vibe in their meetings should be one of engaged participation, not awkward silences or a few dominant voices. Conversely, if you notice recurring conflicts, a lack of participation, or an overall sense of disconnect, it’s a clear sign that something is amiss beneath the surface.
  • Addressing Team Health Issues: When you identify these kinds of unhealthy team dynamics, don’t simply jump in and try to fix it yourself. That would undermine the very self-organization that makes agile teams so effective. Instead, share your observations during the next retrospective, involving the Scrum Master to understand their perspective and work with the entire team to explore solutions. In extreme cases, where persistent conflicts seem irreconcilable, we may need to consider adjusting the team composition. But this is always a last resort and one that should be approached collaboratively, with transparency and buy-in from everyone involved.

While quantitative metrics like sprint goal achievement and product quality are essential, the true measure of a high-performing team lies in the intangible factors —

  • The quality of their interactions
  • Their level of engagement, and
  • Their ability to collaborate effectively

These qualitative aspects are what enable teams to navigate complexity, adapt to change, and deliver exceptional results consistently.

By looking beyond just the numbers and focusing on the health of the team dynamic, we gain a more holistic understanding of their performance.

This, in turn, allows us to provide more meaningful support, address underlying issues, and foster an environment where our teams can truly thrive.

Carving Out Time for the Future

As product leaders, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demands of driving new feature delivery, optimizing the user experience, and responding to the ever-evolving market.

However, we cannot afford to lose sight of the horizon and the long-term needs of our products and organizations.

The Need for Foresight and Attention to Details: Just as we need to balance strategic foresight with meticulous attention to product details, our development teams must also have the capacity to look ahead, learn new skills, and experiment with emerging technologies. Otherwise, we risk our teams becoming outdated and unable to support the future needs of the product. This delicate balance is essential for ensuring our products remain competitive and innovative. On one hand, we must stay laser-focused on delivering exceptional experiences that delight our customers in the present. But we also need to empower our teams to explore new possibilities, research emerging trends, and acquire the skills necessary to future-proof our offerings.

Providing Space for Experimentation: To strike this balance, many successful product organizations carve out dedicated time and resources for exploration and skill development.

  • Some teams use “gold cards” or “20% time” to allocate sprint capacity for this kind of forward-looking work.
  • Others organize regular hackathons or innovation days where the team can experiment with new technologies and ideas.

As product leaders, our role is to champion these initiatives and help our teams find the right mechanisms to nurture their long-term preparedness.

This might involve securing budget and resources, removing roadblocks, and fostering a culture that values continuous learning and improvement.

By providing this space for exploration, we empower our teams to stay ahead of the curve and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. They can research new technologies, experiment with novel approaches, and acquire the skills necessary to future-proof our products.

This investment in their ability to look beyond the immediate priorities pays dividends in the long run, enabling our offerings to remain competitive, innovative, and responsive to evolving customer needs.

Striking the Right Technical Balance as a Product Leader

The depth of technical expertise required for product leaders can vary greatly depending on the nature of the product. For end-user-facing digital products, in-depth coding skills may not be strictly necessary. But for more technical, enterprise-grade offerings, a solid grasp of the underlying technology is invaluable.

  • Breadth Over Depth: Regardless of the product, I believe all product leaders should have a basic understanding of software architecture, emerging technology trends, and agile development practices. This broad technical knowledge helps us empathize with our teams, communicate more effectively, and better anticipate the challenges they face.

It allows us to speak the same language and collaborate more seamlessly.

  • Avoiding Micromanagement: However, even with technical expertise, we must be careful not to overstep our bounds and start dictating technical decisions to the team. Our role is to provide guidance and support, not to micromanage. If we feel the team lacks a particular capability, the retrospective is the ideal forum to have that discussion and jointly determine the right improvement measures.

By striking this balance, we can leverage our technical understanding to support our teams, while still empowering them to make autonomous decisions and drive innovation. It’s a delicate interaction, but one that is essential for product leaders to master to deliver exceptional, technology-driven solutions.

Unlocking the Full Potential of Agile Development Teams: The Product Leader’s Role

As the product leader, you play a pivotal role in shaping the environment and conditions that allow your agile development team to thrive.

While the Scrum Master handles many of the day-to-day facilitation and process-related tasks, you can leverage your influence to ensure your team has the resources, support, and stability they need to excel.

  • Evaluating Team Performance: Look beyond just the quantitative metrics like sprint goal achievement and product quality. The true hallmark of a high-performing team lies in the quality of their interactions and collaboration. Observe signs of a thriving team dynamic, such as frequent knowledge sharing, mutual support, and a sense of collective ownership.
  • Fostering a Healthy Collaborative Environment: Create a culture of trust, transparency, and empowerment. Empower your team to make autonomous decisions, experiment, and own the outcomes. Address any unhealthy team dynamics through retrospectives, involving the Scrum Master and the entire team in finding solutions.
  • Carving Out Space for the Future: Ensure your teams can look ahead, learn new skills, and explore emerging technologies. Allocate dedicated time and resources for experimentation and continuous improvement. This forward-looking mindset will keep your products and teams ahead of the curve.

By striking the right balance between guidance and empowerment, you unlock the full potential of your agile development teams. They become innovative, adaptable partners who can deliver exceptional results that delight your customers.

Strategies for Empowering Agile Development Teams — Focusing on fostering collaboration, autonomy, and continuous improvement. These strategies aim to set a strong foundation, ensure team effectiveness, and prepare teams for future challenges in the dynamic environment of agile development.
Strategies for Empowering Agile Development Teams — Focusing on fostering collaboration, autonomy, and continuous improvement. These strategies aim to set a strong foundation, ensure team effectiveness, and prepare teams for future challenges in the dynamic environment of agile development.
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Strategies for Effective Stakeholder Engagement: A Product Leader’s Perspective

Effective and experienced product leaders do not simply work toward pleasing or satisfying their stakeholders, but rather, they proactively guide them, ensuring that their products create the greatest possible value for the users and the business.

This delicate play of stakeholder management is a critical part of a product leader’s responsibility and one that requires a nuanced, strategic approach.

Identifying and Engaging the Right Stakeholders

As product leaders, one of our most critical responsibilities is identifying and engaging the right stakeholders for our initiatives.

Stakeholders are anyone who has a vested interest in the success of our product — whether they are directly affected by it or play a key role in bringing our vision to life.

For a commercial product, these key stakeholders may include representatives from marketing, sales, support, legal, and finance.

For an internal-facing offering, we may need to engage with the business units that will use the product, as well as the operations and IT teams.

Recognizing and understanding these diverse stakeholder groups is the crucial first step.

But the real challenge lies in how we choose to effectively engage them. This requires a strategic, tailored approach that aligns with each stakeholder’s level of interest and influence.

By taking the time to identify all relevant stakeholders and develop a nuanced engagement plan, we can ensure that our product development efforts are supported by a strong network of invested partners.

This collaborative approach not only leads to better-informed decisions but also secures the necessary resources and buy-in to drive our products to success.

It’s a delicate balancing act, to be sure. But by mastering the art of stakeholder identification and engagement, we position ourselves and our teams for greater impact, agility, and long-term sustainability.

Leveraging the Power-Interest Grid for Stakeholder Management

As product leaders, we navigate a complex web of stakeholders — individuals and groups who have a vested interest in the success of our offerings. Effectively managing these relationships is crucial to driving sustainable product growth and delivering exceptional value to our customers.

The power-interest grid is a powerful tool in the product leader’s toolkit for effectively managing stakeholders. This framework allows us to analyze and categorize our stakeholders based on two key dimensions — 1) their level of interest in the product, and 2) the power they wield to influence its direction.

The Power-Interest Grid — By categorizing stakeholders using the Power-Interest Grid, product managers can develop tailored communication and engagement strategies for each group, ensuring effective stakeholder management and increasing the chances of project success.
The Power-Interest GridBy categorizing stakeholders using the Power-Interest Grid, product managers can develop tailored communication and engagement strategies for each group, ensuring effective stakeholder management and increasing the chances of project success. (more)
  • Players: These are the stakeholders who possess both high interest and high power. They are our most critical partners, and we must work diligently to establish trust, align on shared goals, and deeply involve them in key product decisions. Engaging the “players” is essential, as they can significantly impact the success or failure of our initiatives.
  • Subjects: Individuals with high interest but low power, these “subjects” can be invaluable allies. By keeping them engaged, aligning roadmaps, and inviting them to reviews, we can secure a broader understanding and buy-in across the organization. While they may lack the direct influence of the “players,” their enthusiasm and advocacy can be a powerful force.
  • Context Setters: Stakeholders with low interest but high power, the “context setters” can have a significant impact on our product’s environment. We must consult them regularly, listen attentively, and have the courage to respectfully decline suggestions that don’t serve our users and the business. Navigating the influence of these stakeholders requires a delicate balance of diplomacy and conviction.
  • The Crowd: Everyone else falls into the “crowd” category — low interest, low power. For these stakeholders, simple updates and access to information may be sufficient. While they may not demand our constant attention, we must still ensure they are kept informed and their needs are not overlooked.

Tailoring Our Engagement Strategies: By mapping our stakeholders onto this grid, we gain invaluable insights that allow us to tailor our engagement strategies for maximum impact.

  • For the “players,” we must prioritize building trust, aligning on goals, and deeply involving them in critical decisions.
  • With the “subjects,” our focus should be on keeping them engaged, informed, and empowered as advocates.
  • For the “context setters,” we must balance respectful consultation with the courage to stay true to our user-centric vision.
  • For the “crowd,” efficient communication and information-sharing is often the best approach.

Navigating the Stakeholder Landscape: Ultimately, the power-interest grid is a strategic tool that enables us, as product leaders, to navigate the complex stakeholder landscape. By understanding the unique needs and dynamics of each group, we can optimize our limited time and resources, forge stronger partnerships, and drive our products to greater success.

Managing Shifting Stakeholder Dynamics

The power-interest grid is a valuable tool, but it’s important to remember that stakeholder dynamics are rarely static.

Stakeholders don’t always behave as we expect based on their assigned quadrant. Some may want more involvement than we think appropriate, while others may disengage more than we’d like.

When we encounter these shifts, we must take the time to understand the root causes.

  • Is it a matter of trust — a concern that their interests are being overlooked?
  • Or perhaps a simple issue of availability and bandwidth?

By actively listening to these stakeholders and addressing their underlying needs, we can often help them move into the right quadrant — one where their level of involvement aligns with the product’s best interests.

For example, a stakeholder categorized as a “subject” may express a desire for more decision-making power. In this case, we should explore the reasons behind their request — is it a lack of confidence in the team, or a belief that their expertise is essential? By addressing these concerns, we may be able to empower them as a true “player” without compromising our user-centric vision.

Conversely, a “player” stakeholder may start to disengage due to competing priorities or a perceived lack of progress. Here, we need to re-establish trust, realign on shared goals, and ensure they feel their involvement is valued and impactful.

Navigating these shifting stakeholder dynamics requires ongoing vigilance, empathy, and a willingness to adapt our engagement strategies. But by doing so, we unlock the full potential of our stakeholder relationships, forging stronger partnerships and driving our products to greater success.

Building a Collaborative Stakeholder Community

As product leaders, we often find ourselves navigating a complex web of stakeholders — individuals and groups who have a vested interest in the success of our offerings.

Traditionally, we’ve approached this challenge through one-on-one interactions, trying to convince and persuade each stakeholder to align with our vision.

However, I’ve come to realize that this siloed approach has significant drawbacks.

  • The Limitations of Stakeholder Management: When we interact with stakeholders individually, we miss out on the collective wisdom and creativity that can emerge when people come together in open, constructive dialogue. There’s also a tendency for a lack of understanding and trust among the stakeholders, as they’re not aware of each other’s needs and concerns. Ultimately, this makes it incredibly difficult to establish shared goals and a true sense of commitment.
  • Transitioning to Stakeholder Collaboration: Instead of managing stakeholders in isolation, I believe we need to shift towards building a collaborative stakeholder community a stable group of individuals who work together over an extended period, learning to trust, respect, and support one another. By fostering mutual understanding and shared values, we can unlock unprecedented levels of alignment, innovation, and collective problem-solving.
  • Forming a Stable Stakeholder Group: The key to success here is minimizing changes to the stakeholder group. Frequent turnover of representatives makes it challenging to build the necessary relationships and trust. Aim to keep the core group stable, with each stakeholder serving as a consistent voice for their function or area of expertise.
  • Practicing Collaborative Goal Setting: One of the most powerful ways to align our stakeholders is through joint goal-setting. This process may be initially challenging, as we navigate differing priorities and strong personalities. But by establishing common ground rules and learning the art of collaborative decision-making, we can forge a shared sense of purpose that transcends individual agendas.
  • Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities (R&Rs): While we want our stakeholders to support one another towards these shared goals, it’s also important that everyone understands their specific roles and responsibilities. A simple one-page role description can go a long way in preventing confusion and facilitating more effective collaboration. This clarity helps ensure that everyone is aligned on their contributions and accountabilities.
  • Bringing People Together: Building trust and empathy is crucial, and there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Whenever possible, I recommend collocating our stakeholders, at least temporarily, to accelerate the relationship-building process. Supplementing this with regular onsite meetings can help renew and strengthen the connections within the group. These in-person interactions foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for each stakeholder’s perspective.
  • Holding Stakeholder Retrospectives: Just as we do with our development teams, we should regularly review and improve the way our stakeholder community is functioning. Stakeholder retrospectives provide a safe space to surface issues, analyze root causes, and identify specific actions for enhancement. Encouraging honesty, vulnerability, and a focus on solutions is key. This continuous improvement mindset helps us optimize our collaborative processes and address any underlying tensions or misalignments.
  • Leveraging the Scrum Master: Building and maintaining a thriving stakeholder community can be a significant undertaking. To avoid burnout and ensure that we are not neglecting our core product management responsibilities, it’s invaluable to engage our Scrum Master in this process. They can provide guidance, facilitate meetings, and help address any organizational impediments we encounter. This allows the product leaders to focus on strategic stakeholder engagement while the Scrum Master handles the operational aspects of community-building. [alternatively, this can be part of your product operations responsibilities]
  • Collaborating with Other Product People: Finally, I want to touch on the unique dynamics that arise when collaborating with other product leaders. When collaborating with other product leaders who are stakeholders in our product, we need to engage them much like any other subject-matter expert. The key is to align roadmaps and foster mutual understanding of priorities and constraints. For example, if our product integrates with another team’s product, we would need to work closely with their product leader to ensure our roadmaps are synchronized. We might have regular sync-ups to discuss upcoming features, dependencies, and potential integration challenges. The goal is to build a shared understanding so we can deliver a cohesive experience for our customers. However, the dynamics change when we’re sharing product ownership with another product leader. In this case, we must establish a strong foundation of trust and support for each other’s efforts. Let’s say our company has decided to split a large product into two distinct offerings, each with its product leader. In this scenario, we must empower each other to own their respective domains fully. This means delineating responsibilities, aligning on high-level strategy, and then giving each other the autonomy to execute. Providing this support and empowerment is key — we don’t want to undermine each other or create unnecessary dependencies. Instead, we should focus on unlocking synergies, such as by sharing user research, aligning on common design patterns, or collaborating on shared infrastructure. The end goal is to ensure we’re delivering the best possible outcomes for our customers, even if we’re dividing product ownership. This collaborative approach, built on trust and mutual support, is essential for navigating these complex multi-product scenarios.

The shift from stakeholder management to stakeholder collaboration is a profound one, but the payoffs are immense. By building a stable, trusting community of invested partners, we unlock the collective wisdom, creativity, and commitment needed to drive our products to extraordinary heights.

It’s a challenging journey, to be sure that requires exceptional leadership and social skills, but one that I believe is essential for product leaders who aspire to deliver exceptional, customer-centric solutions in today’s fast-paced, ever-evolving business landscape.

Engaging Stakeholders in Product Discovery and Strategy

One of the most powerful ways to unlock the potential of our stakeholder relationships is to invite them into the heart of our discovery and strategy work.

By bringing together cross-functional teams, including both stakeholders and our development crew, we can collaboratively craft a shared product vision and initial strategy.

This collaborative approach not only taps into the collective expertise and creativity of the group, but also helps build a deep, shared understanding of the user needs, market dynamics, and business imperatives that will shape our product’s direction.

Stakeholders who are actively involved in this foundational work are far more likely to feel a sense of ownership and commitment to the decisions that emerge.

But the collaboration shouldn’t stop there and these stakeholders should be continuously engaged throughout the discovery and strategy process — reviewing product performance, exploring new market trends, and iterating on our roadmap.

Quarterly strategy reviews provide an ideal forum for this ongoing dialogue, further strengthening the bonds within our stakeholder community.

Involving Stakeholders in Product Development

Of course, our stakeholder engagement can’t be limited to the strategic realm.

To truly create products that delight our customers and serve our business, we need to bring these key partners into the development process as well. Effective product leaders need to make it a point to invite their core stakeholders to attend sprint review meetings at least once a month.

This allows them to see the progress firsthand, offer valuable feedback, and raise any concerns that might impact the final offering.

While product leaders should not blindly accept every stakeholder request, they need to make a concerted effort to understand their underlying needs and explore creative ways to address them within the context of our overarching strategy.

Addressing Stakeholder Resistance and Inappropriate Behavior

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that stakeholder engagement isn’t always a smooth and easy process.

We often encounter resistance to participation, whether it’s due to concerns about workload, past negative experiences, or a simple lack of understanding about the value they can bring.

In these cases, I find it essential to dig deeper, understand the root causes, and work collaboratively to address them.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as adjusting the meeting format or enlisting the help of our Scrum Master to better explain the importance of their involvement. Other times, it may require a more concerted effort to rebuild trust and demonstrate the tangible benefits of their active participation.

And of course, there are those rare instances where we encounter stakeholders who simply refuse to act in the best interests of the product and the business.

  • In these cases, don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations, set clear expectations, and, if necessary, remove individuals from the stakeholder community. Toxic behavior cannot be tolerated, as it undermines the very foundation of the collaborative relationships you’re striving to build.
Strategies for Effective Stakeholder Engagement Throughout the Product Lifecycle: A Product Leader’s Perspective — From identifying and engaging the right stakeholders to managing shifting dynamics and addressing resistance, these strategies aim to foster collaboration, ownership, and alignment with the product vision and goals.
Strategies for Effective Stakeholder Engagement Throughout the Product Lifecycle: A Product Leader’s Perspective — From identifying and engaging the right stakeholders to managing shifting dynamics and addressing resistance, these strategies aim to foster collaboration, ownership, and alignment with the product vision and goals.

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