Be interesting: Product Ownership at Scotiabank

For the second instalment of our “Why we work” series, we take a look at the Associate Product Owner (APO) program—an 18-month digital talent program designed to develop the next generation of digital product leaders at Scotiabank. We sat down with newly-appointed Product Owner Jash (graduate of the first cohort of the program) and his coach Blake (Senior Product Owner) to discuss how the APO program drives digital transformation.

Blake (right) gazes with both adoration and respect at Jash (left)

Jash, you were part of the first class of APOs. What’s been the best part of your experience so far?

Jash: The best part would have to be the diversity of learning experiences. Working in both Digital Banking and Retail Canadian Banking gives you a glimpse of how we’re doing things in two different cultures and ecosystems. The ability to integrate both of these mindsets is extremely useful, I think, as a Product Owner.

What is a PO, if you’d describe this to your mother?

J: [laughs] A Product Owner is someone who works in between customer requirements and business needs to define how a product is built. Whether that is short term or long term.

You’re an engineer by trade. Does an APO need to know how to code?

J: Not necessarily. You can definitely come from a variety of backgrounds and work as an APO. I will say that a lot of projects involve programming languages like Java or JSON, so understanding those at a high level will definitely help.

[Blake enters the room]

Blake: Are you guys recording this? Sorry I’m late, you got that on the record.

Jash, what’s your advice for potential APOs?

J: Definitely try and do something different. You want to…not necessarily go against the grain, but you want to find your niche, or something you’re super interested in outside of school or school projects. Doing other things, like making your own website, or running your own company, or competing in a random competition…that can bring out the other skillsets that a lot of candidates don’t have out of university.

Blake, you’ve been a Product Owner here from the very beginning. How do you describe what you do to your mom?

B: Oh. — long pause — I help people to do everything that they want to do with their bank from their homes.

And what’s your role in that?

B: My role is to help our teams plan for all the projects we need to deliver. When you work for a bank there are a lot of complexities you need to take into consideration from a delivery perspective. My job is to reduce those ambiguities, find facts, find truths, and translate those findings to my team. Ultimately all of that reduces risks, right? And banks hate risk. That’s why my job is very important. [laughs]

Collaboration stations (and collaborative people) for the win!

What characteristics make a good PO?

B: I think the number one thing is teamwork: being able to work on a cross-functional team. POs work with software developers, designers, delivery leads, different types of people, with diverse skillsets, backgrounds, and perspectives. You work with stakeholders, senior leadership, and customers: almost everybody you can think of.

So you guys have been working together. How did that go?

J: I think it went really well. I’ve never been in product before, but being with Blake on my first rotation made it easy to understand what’s required of a product owner. Blake gave me autonomy to do my own thing, while at the same time having frequent checkpoints to ensure I was on the right path. I could make mistakes, but those checkpoints would put me back on the right course, which was a great learning experience.

B: Having an APO made my job a lot better — not easier, just better [Jash laughs] — because I had a kind of sounding board. Jash could challenge my decisions, and make me think in a different way. That’s why I say it made my job better. And I think by running these decisions by Jash, we were each able to see how the other person thinks.

I love how you say running decisions by Jash, as you run the decisions by your associate, instead of the other way around.

B: Is that how it went? I don’t really remember. [Both laugh]

J: Yes, we definitely collaborated a lot. And sometimes I said yes that’s a great idea, sometimes I said: what about this? The decision wasn’t up to me, but you always asked me what I thought.

B: I remember one specific moment. We were talking about this story in sprint planning, and Jash basically said: we don’t need to do this now, because if we do this other thing first, it can inform our decision down the road. And that was huge. I wasn’t thinking like that at that time. I just remember thinking, “Holy shit, this guy actually knows a thing.”

J: I’m not just a pretty face. [Both laugh]

What excites you about working at the Factory?

B: I always tell people that it is awesome, I’m not just saying that. It feels good coming into work. Great people…

J: Good atmosphere.

B: Great atmosphere. The work is stimulating. There’s a bowling alley and a great cafeteria, and that’s fine, but that’s not what makes me excited to come into work every day. I don’t care about that. The things that we’re building here are going to affect — how many digital customers do we have in Canada?

J: 2.5 million in the app.

B: 2.5 million people. I’ve never done that before. Every day I’m doing something I’ve never done before.

J: For me, besides the obvious, the great food and bowling alley, there is a genuine joy coming from working with people at the DF. Everyone has a different perspective to bring to the table, and that’s very energizing.

For you the same question we asked Jash, Blake. What’s your advice for potential APOs?

B: Be interesting. It is so easy to not be interesting. When I’m interviewing somebody and they don’t say anything about themselves, or anything about who they are as a person, I find it strange.

J: You mean show some character?

B: Yeah, exactly, be interesting. Like Jash said when he was answering this question: have extra projects, have a website, do robotics.

J: Do something different.

B: Do something different, exactly. Be interesting and then tell that story. More often than not, you’re able to link that story into something that relates to the role. Like I said, teamwork is huge. Are you a competitive volleyball player? Did you start some sort of club at school? You can take a story like that and use that in the process. And that’s what I mean by be interesting. Everybody has something that is interesting. You’re not just looking for a job, you’re looking for a place where you spend eight hours a day with other people, and if we’re not hiring interesting people, it will be such a boring place to work.

Product Owners won’t be beat!