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Product Mindset: Encouraging Ownership in a Scrum Team

January 13, 2020

TL; DR: Product Mindset and Ownership in Scrum Teams

There is one product, one Product Owner, one Product Backlog — a simple rule. How is that supposed to scale, you might ask, isn’t that approach turning the Product Owner into the Scrum team’s bottleneck, impeding value creation rather than spearheading it? Well, cargo cult Scrum might end up in that dead-end. The trick to avoiding this fate is to start including the Developers as early as possible in Product Backlog management which requires a product mindset. 

Learn more about how to kick-off this process with an initial day-long product mindset workshop for your Scrum Team.

Product Mindset: Encouraging Ownership in a Scrum Team

The Steps and Exercises of the Product Mindset Workshop

The product mindset workshop comprises of seven steps, starting with the product vision to the business model to personas to ideation:

1. Product Vision

We start the workshop with a recap of the product vision — why are we doing what we do, and where is all of this supposed to be heading? Advocating for the right cause — our product vision — is the team’s Product Owner. You may be tempted to ask why that is necessary, given that the product vision is probably presented everywhere throughout the office, on documents and artifacts, and anywhere else. Be surprised how little impact that might have on the individual team member. (Tip: Take 30 minutes of your time and run a simple survey by asking random colleagues about the product vision; you might be surprised by the variety of answers.) 

Once the Product Owner has refreshed the team’s understanding of what the product vision is, we move on to the product box exercise. In this game, the team members turn a blank, white box into a product package reflecting the value our product provides to our users. Think of the product box as a tangible elevator pitch capturing the essence of your product as a sales pitch to prospective customers. Depending on the size of the Scrum team, issue multiple product boxes. The right size for a product-box-team is two to three team members. Having more small teams working simultaneously on more than one product box also adds a bit of competition. Share the results — better: sell the box — at the end of the product box session with Shift & Share

⏰ Allocate about 45 minutes to the product box exercise. 

Learn more about the product box and the elevator pitch template

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2. Show Me the Money — the Business Model

Once we have addressed the product vision, we move to the next level on our way to the product mindset: the business model. What is the purpose of creating and embracing a product vision if you cannot figure out how providing value to customers according to that vision turns into a sustainable business? This part of inspiring a product mindset within a Scrum team is often overlooked or not considered to be essential. While the former represents a lack of craftsmanship, the latter is worse: it is a mistake. 

To dive into the question of the business model, we utilize either the business model canvas or its cousin, the Lean canvas, if you are working for a startup. Both canvasses are well-suited for teamwork, including everyone on the team. Debrief the completed canvas at the end of the exercise with What, So What, Now What? The purpose of the exercise is less a perfect reflection of the business model that has been worked out by numerous other people in the organization over recent years. Again, it is about initiating a discussion within the team, thus creating a shared understanding.

⏰ Allocate approximately 30 to 45 minutes to the exercise. 

Learn more about the Business Model Canvas and the Lean Canvas.

3. What Do We Know about our Customers? 

Now that we have an understanding of the product vision as well as the (principle) business model, we need to get up to speed with what we know about our current customers. If the team members are not yet involved in user research, for example, by running user interviews themselves, 5-min lightning talks from colleagues working in sales, customer care, or UX provide an excellent opportunity to get a better understanding of our customers’ needs and the market-place. Alternatively, we could use the Liberating Structures microstructure Celebrity Interview for that purpose, too. During the last 15 minutes, the team summarizes — in pairs — the learnings from the previous talks and shares their findings via Shift & Share

⏰ Allocate 45 to 60 minutes for this part of the workshop.

4. Personas: Who Is our Customer? 

The next workshop session is about creating personas with the Scrum team members to summarize and apply the learnings of the previous three sessions on product vision, business model, and our knowledge about customer needs. Our tool of choice is the persona canvas. Like with the product box exercise, we need smaller teams of 2-3 team members each as you probably have more than one persona in mind. In the case that there is only one customer persona to pursue, let the small teams come up with different versions of the same persona. Close the exercise by introducing every persona via Shift & Share. 

⏰ The time allotment for this exercise is 30 minutes. 

Learn more about the Persona Canvas.

5. Where to Go Next — Ideation

Now, we are well prepared to identify new and valuable product ideas for our product. There are numerous options on how to organize this ideation phase. Given the short time available — we talk about 45 to 60 minutes — my suggestion is to borrow from Google’s Design Sprint and run a Crazy8. It is simple, fast, fun, and best of all: it requires no preparation at the team level. 

Some of the engineers may be uncomfortable with the idea in the beginning as they believe they lack the necessary sketching skills. Crazy8, however, is not about sketching techniques or producing something that looks good. It is all about “quieting the inner critic and giving our creative impulses space to flourish.” In this situation, crappy is okay, and more ideas are better than fewer ideas. In the end, each team member presents his or her ideas to everyone else (3 minutes). Once everyone has presented, the Scrum team votes to identify those suggestions that are not feasible or of little value to the user. A variation you might want to consider before the voting: have a second or third iteration of the Crazy8, in which every team member reduces his or her original eight ideas to either four or two. 

⏰ The Crazy8 exercise of the product mindset workshop requires 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the team and the number iterations. 

Learn more: 

6. Ordering of the Ideation Outcome

Now that we have identified new and valuable feature ideas, we finalize the ideation by collectively ordering the outcome from a customer value perspective. The ordering exercise is not supposed to overrule the Product Owner’s prerogative of defining the content and the ordering of the Product Backlog. Its primary purpose is closure as well as getting an understanding of which ideas the Developers support. Two energizing, similar yet not identical exercises can help with the ordering:

Note: Of course, the Product Owner has the final say on what ideas become part of the Product Backlog.

⏰ Duration: 30 minutes.

7. The Closing of the Product Mindset Workshop

Finally, we close the workshop with a debriefing to reflect on the experience, recognize patterns, and choosing the next steps. For this purpose, two Liberating Structures microstructures are well-suited: What, So What, Now What? — probably with an embedded 1-2-4-All — or the alternative Conversation Café

If the team is more action-minded, the former is the right choice. If the workshop experience has proven to be challenging for some team members, the latter offers a more conversational approach. 

⏰ You will need at least 30 minutes for the debriefing. 

What Do you Need for this Workshop? 

For this workshop, you will need the following materials and resources:

  • Post-its, paper, scissors, crayons, pencils, markers, tape, glue, index cards
  • A time management device, for example, a Time Timer
  • White boxes for the product box game
  • Business canvas model posters
  • Empathy mapping posters
  • Crazy8 templates
  • Much free working space on walls or flipcharts
  • A spacious venue. (Calculate about 6 sqm per participant or more.) 
  • Communication supporting items like speaking tokens for the Conversation Café, bells, or a gong. 

Product Mindset — The Conclusion

“It’s a journey, stupid!” As in so many other cases, product ownership at the team level cannot be decreed or simply switched on. It needs to be cultivated at many levels—from the leadership to the organization to the team level itself. 

How are you encouraging the creation of a product mindset? Please share it with us in the comments.

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