If you are working in an agile team, I’m sure you must have faced this problem atleast once in your life-
Your agile team follows a two-weeks’ sprint and picks story points as prioritized by your product owner. After a couple of sprints, you start noticing that the team hasn’t accomplished much. There was too much focus put on individual engagement and a lot of emphasis was put on what the team member accomplished in a day. As a result, a lot of context switching happened in the daily sync up. Everyone just ‘looked’ busy.
However, the ground reality that you later figured out was that amidst all this juggling between the stories, the focus had faltered and shifted from delivering value to delivering status updates.
So, how should a product team organize itself around the set of product features that they are delivering?
To understand this, I believe, you first need to have an understanding of one of the principles of the Agile Manifesto-
Working software is the primary measure of progress.
Product management begins with gathering market intelligence and performing user research to convert “needs” into “user stories” that deliver value to end users. Your team needs to understand that working software is the only way by which you can measure your progress- not by how occupied your team was in that sprint, not by the number of individual hours put into completing it.
Consider this example- if your sprint goal is to release 10 story points and put them out in the real world, then you need to prioritize which stories you are going to pick in that particular sprint. And, your self-organizing agile teams need to collaborate towards realizing that goal. They all need to have the same vision and the same definition of “done”. Your work is not done, until the customers get to experience the product.
So, what’s the solution?
While managing a product, nobody should micromanage people on the product team. That’s disastrous! We said self-organizing, right? Nothing disrupts your team’s culture of focus more than a random “where are we with this?” in the middle of the day.
The Product Manager should be able to walk-in to the team’s daily sync up and get to know how is the product developing without grilling into who is doing what. The role of PM should be limited to understanding the requirement related impediments and resolving them quickly for the team to proceed.
Also, if it’s a big story then there might be a scenario when more than one team members are collaborating on the same story. So, drop the status update from each individual. It becomes hard to ascertain the progress if an individual answers the standard questions- “What did I do yesterday?”, “What are my plans for today?” , “What is blocking my progress?” and passes the ball to the next person.
Dev teams are always reeling under the pressure to get better products to market, in less time. So, in order to bring order to chaos and manage product efficiently, put together a cadence in your standup.
Pick one, and only one story at a time.
When product teams organize their syncup around stories, then it makes daily standup more efficient and goal driven.
Allow your team members to come forward and let them walk you through a storyboard, starting from the most critical In-progress story. Let them collaborate and share what they have done and what they plan to do for the story in spotlight and highlight impediments (if any). That will immediately put the focus back to what value is getting delivered instead of everyone telling about how busy they are.
If you are thinking what if a team member doesn’t have enough work, let me tell you this- if people are self-directed then you’ll see your team members coming forward to help each other as and when they have bandwidth. You really have to trust your team on this!
That said, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to product management. Everyone faces different challenges and solves them accordingly.
I would really love to hear what approach do you follow in your team. Do share so that we all can learn and improve our teams.
I wrote this blog for our Medium Publication- Unboxing Product Management. If you liked reading it, clap your heart out and let other people find it.