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Teams that behave more like doctors, than waiters!

What challenges have you seen on teams without a dedicated PO, or a product coach?

I’ve seen teams struggling to focus on what is important. This means they end up ‘boiling the ocean’. They work on many things at once without a focus on delivering a single piece of value. Instead of focusing on one outcome to achieve they’ve spread their effort across many. 

This might have felt ‘efficient’ at the time — ‘whilst we’re here we may as well do such and such..’ but in reality it led to waste. When they did eventually deliver the desired feature, it didn’t achieve the expected outcome and was riddled with bugs. This meant the other features they’d worked on at the same time were also riddled with bugs. Do one thing at a time, deliver it, get feedback and learn — then adapt and increment.

In other cases I’ve met teams who’ve delivered completely the wrong thing. They’ve then spent more time, effort and money building it again. In the end the client chose to continue using their original solution. Part of the issue here is ‘solution pollution’. This is where technical teams — with the best will in the world — jump straight into thinking of a single solution. They don’t spend enough time understanding the problem. When they do they are already biased toward their solution. 

Teams like this may look incredibly ‘Agile’. They work in sprints, from a backlog brimming with user stories. They have scrum masters, sprint planning, reviews and retrospectives. They even have product owners! But unfortunately they are still building the wrong thing — albeit in an efficient looking manner.

Instead, with the right skills, experience and a degree of intellectual rigour, an experienced product person can lead the team through discovery. Together they seek to fully understand the problem, the users affected and what success looks like. They’ll ask hard questions like ‘what does success look like?’ and ‘how will we measure success?’. Only then once the problem is sufficiently understood should we begin to explore possible solutions. 

This shouldn’t involve masses of up-front pontification or navel gazing. Neither should they be a hard line between problem comprehension and solution exploration. Effective discovery involves research and experimentation with quick iterations and fast feedback. As confidence grows, so can a solution. Start small, cheap and quick. Then build up into production quality, tried and tested solutions we know the users needs and will generate value.

Of course, this all goes back to why you believe you need product leadership. To become your client’s trusted expert partner this is crucial! No client wants to pay for the wrong solution. If you already have consultants performing this discovery, and delivering valuable solutions — then great! Keep up your winning formula. But if it’s not working — could this be an option to consider?

If you are hiring a PO, what are the main qualities you look for?

A product lead in the consultancy environment needs to be versatile and pragmatic. They need to hold product principles firmly but remain flexible on how these work out in practice.

They should know that working with clients can be hard — and very often money rules! 

Whilst it would be great to simply burn through a budget each iteration pushing out a degree of value with each increment, many clients are not used to working with partners on that basis. Many businesses find it hard to trust their own internal teams with that level of autonomy! Instead they seek to specify each project down to a very granular level of detail but then get upset when it doesn’t work out as planned. 

In the emergent environment of software development and implementation, clients need to trust their expert partners — be that in-house or external — to build the right thing at the right time for the right people to maximise value.

In the same way you need to trust your product leader. And they need to be able to collaborate closely with all aspects of the consultancy. Working ‘hand in glove’ with client services, technical consultants and programme managers is vital to success.

What do you believe the future is for the PO role? What would you like to see?

I’m excited to see the 2020 Scrum Guide has changed product ownership from a ‘role’ to an ‘accountability’. In fact, the whole team is now explicitly accountable for delivering something of value at the end of each sprint. The whole team — developers, product owner and scrum master — are responsible for all product related activities “from stakeholder collaboration, verification, maintenance, operation, experimentation, research and development, and anything else that might be required” (Scrum Guide — November 2020 version).

This excites me because it elevates the discipline of product management. It is no longer an individual role, but now a team activity. Whilst the best teams already do this, too many are not. Too many teams reduce the product owner to a ‘single wringable’ neck. They expect them to order the backlog, write the stories and run product demonstrations, but care little how they achieve this!

It can also been true in reverse however. As I look back over a decade of product management there are times I wish I’d done more with the team. I wish I'd invited them deeper into the process and done more to empower them.

But as I look forward I am eager to see whole teams embracing the responsibility of product success. I want to see teams behave more like doctors and less like waiters. I want to see them focusing on needs and pushing back on feature requests. I want to see teams aiming at outcomes, building their confidence in solutions and measuring impact.  

For that to happen we need experienced product leaders to coach and mentor teams. But we also need to coach other leaders and disciplines within the organisation. This way the entire organisation can start to think in product terms. They can begin to move away from ‘big bets’ and the wrong solutions. Instead they can move towards impact, outcomes and goals. They can move towards empowering teams and partners to discover the right thing, to build their confidence and maximise value. Who knows, we may also see new future product leaders and thinkers emerging!

With thanks to Phil Osmond from PGO Product Consulting for this informative guide. If you want to read Part 1 of this interview please visit

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