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Practical Product Management for Product Owners

February 15, 2024


In this episode of the Community Podcast, hosted by Dave West, PSTs Robbin Schuurman and Chris Lukassen discuss their book, "Practical Product Management for Product Owners." They explore the evolution of the Product Owner role, emphasizing the need for Product Owners to act as true owners of their products. They also discuss future trends, such as the potential for Product Owners in larger organizations to increase their ownership scope, and how advancements in technology, like generative AI and product analytics, will impact the field of product management. Overall, the episode provides valuable insights and practical advice for Product Owners looking to enhance their skills and effectiveness in their roles.



Lindsay Velecina  0:03  
Welcome to the community podcast, a podcast from the home of Scrum. In this podcast we feature professional scrum trainers and other scrum practitioners sharing their stories and experiences to help learn from the experience of others. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Dave West  0:19  
Hello, and welcome to the community podcast. I'm your host, Dave West see here, CEO That was a bit hard to say on a Monday morning, in today's podcasts where I'm really excited, because many of you know I'm a bit of a product nerd. And I'm actually on with two PSDs that are more product nerdy and certainly smarter about product than me. So it's it's I always get so much out of these talks. today. We're talking to Chris Luca sun and Robin Sherman, about their new book, I actually was fortunate enough to write the foreword. So I got a sneak preview of the book, the new books called practical product management for product owners. Welcome to the podcast, Robin and Chris. Thanks. Thank you, Dave. Yeah. It's great. Great to have you here. I'm, you know, we always get very nerdy on the whole product topic. So let's, let's, before we jump into that, and I'm, I'm going to do it let before we jump into that, tell our listeners a little bit of where, who you are and where you're talking to us from maybe start with you, Robin.

Robbin Schuurman  1:31  
Yeah. Thanks, Dave. Great to be here. My name is Luis crewman. I live in the Netherlands live quite in the center of, of the Netherlands, between Utrecht and Nimbus in a very small town. I think I've been a PST for around six years now. mostly focused on product management. So teaching other people about product management growing this profession is kind of what I do.

Dave West  1:57  
It's great. Yeah. So yeah, I think maybe almost seven actually, because I can remember when you join the community, and I remember spending many hours talking about product two, which was, which was really exciting. Thanks. So thanks for welcome to the podcast. Yeah, great talks. And Chris.

Chris Lukassen  2:15  
Yeah, so Chris Lucas, I don't think I've been called a nerd that often, very long time, I do have a background in software engineering. So being the labels stuck, but very quickly learned that engineers had very little to tell in our organization. And I know that's not what it's supposed to be. But that's what life was like. And I tried to figure out how, why are we building this stuff? And why is it important, and that's my segue into product management. I became a PST slightly later than Robin Robin was already a PST I think when I joined. I came from a product management background. And I was fortunate to come across this strange concept that was called Scrum that seemed to make everybody happy. And as I was working with it, it became my favorite tool. So that made me move me into product. Yeah. And

Dave West  3:09  
it's great to have you both here. And in our community. There's this, the smaller, but thriving group of PSPs, that talk about product all the time. And I'm very passionate about that, which is, which is great. All right. So let's let's jump into the content, a new book, a new book on Product Management. Now, Chris, you wrote a book called product Samurai, which is such got such a cool title. And I wish I'd thought of it. Robin, you wrote also a brilliantly titled book about product managers and mastering the art of No, basically talking about stakeholder management, both great books and with awesome titles. But why do we need another book on agile product management and product ownership? And let's start there with Chris, tell me why do we need another book, Chris?

Chris Lukassen  4:03  
Well, first of all, I think you made an interesting remark with the titles like often we focus on creating products, creating content, and we forget about the marketing and the channel and the way we sell it are connected to customer problems. And for example, Ron's book on saying no, it's the key problem that many of our product owners run into. So it makes totally sense to not only come up with a way to do that, but also to find a way to tell the public about your yearbook to stand out. And building on that, like another book. I don't think that there were many books that were specifically targeting product owners on how to become more effective in their role and their accountabilities and how to find our way in large organizations or organizations that already had a product and already had had As an established way of building products and behaving and, and it's sort of not exactly scrum by the book. And these people go to our pspo on training, and they become super enthusiastic about doing Scrum. And it's awesome. And I'm gonna create a greenfield scenario, and they come back to their companies, and they're super disappointed. And we felt that they needed a little bit more guidance on what effective behavior is for product owners to apply a different set of tools in a different context. Basically, it's about practical product management for product owners.

Dave West  5:37  
It's the title says it all right, Robin, what's your take on it? Yeah,

Robbin Schuurman  5:42  
I think that's a that's a great point. Most importantly, from my perspective, is what I see a lot of product owners do in practice is really focused on getting those basics in place for a striker because for a lot of companies, Scrum is quite new, in a sense for us. We've been doing all kinds of fun stuff with with Scrum for somewhere between five to 25 years, depending who you ask in the community. So for us, it's kind of normal. But for a lot of people in practice doing Scrum, isn't that normal? So we typically start by teaching them what is product ownership in the context of Scrum. Right, so that's where you start with a pspo. One course what is product ownership with Scrum. However, at some point in time you want to outgrow to focus on Scrum, especially as a product owner. Scrum is still important. It's a framework that will help you to build good products. But it's kind of the basics of having a good retrospective or a daily. That's not the main concern for a product owner, you want to build an awesome products. And in order to do so you need to outgrow Scrum, I would say and focus much more on good product management practices. And that's why we wrote a book to help you get to take the step from being a Pio in a scrum team to becoming this more agile product manager.

Dave West  7:08  
And it's interesting that the stances kind of glue everything together, they're the I think you call them the red thread, or they kind of bring everything together and stances in it is an interesting way of approaching the skills because it talks about, okay, in this situation, you arrive at the problem in this way, or the situation in this way. And you apply these skills in that context can, you know, maybe, Chris, if you could talk a little bit about the stances for our listeners.

Chris Lukassen  7:44  
I'm not sure to whom I should attribute a quote. But there's a quote that says, all models are wrong, some are useful. And I absolutely love that quote. So bear in mind that the standards are just a model. It's just a way for us to describe typical behavior of successful product owners, or now successful product owners. And it was like a metaphor that we use to connect the different subjects to and me as a martial artist stances are of course very important because wrong stance on makes, makes you quickly unbalanced. And basically, you lose. And the same is true for for golf, which is Robins poison.

Apparently, point, stances are important there as well. I don't know I throw people in our bowls. But

today because of standards was super, super important for us to, to have this kind of metaphor to connect the subjects to. And we we actually did a bit of research on this. And we, we looked at typical behavior of more effective product owners and less effective product owners and him said, wow, this person feels like they feel like a clerk. They're just running around taking orders. That's probably not how scrum intended his role to be. And then we run into some other product owners that are like real true visionaries, and rallying people behind them and giving these great storytelling, doing great storytelling, doing great presentations on what they want to achieve, showing people the future and building an alliance. It's a little bit more of that that would be useful. And so that's sort of the structure that we we used a lot. Yeah, maybe maybe Robin, you can build on that because you created all the beautiful little icons for their

Robbin Schuurman  9:39  
stances, which are just the visuals right, but, ya know, I think you pretty much described it very well. Maybe important to mention is that when talking about these stances, it's a temporary behavior or collection of behaviors mindset and an attitude and and much like a temporary stance in martial arts or go for something else, it's something you do for a while. And we probably go into some more detail about the stances, Chris mentioned a couple like the visionary or the customer representative. These are just temporary things that you do. So the one of the key points why we started calling these stances is because you want to stimulate that, given a certain situation, someone will step into a certain stance, which you believe will resolve that situation most effectively, most quickly, most efficiently, whatever it is you're trying to achieve. So there are some situations where you may need to step more into your visionary stance. So you start communicating your vision, telling the stories like Chris just shared, but at another point in time, in another situation, it may be required of you to step more into the shoes of being the customer representative, and actually focusing everyone around you maybe to stakeholders on what is the customer problem that we want to solve? Who is our customer in the first place? What are they looking for? What are their needs and problems to solve. But this may not be something that you do all the time. And in the book, we also write some misunderstood stances like the story writer, for example, which is a product owner who spends most of their time in JIRA, or Azure DevOps, or Confluence or whatever tool you use, basically writing down all the user stories with acceptance criteria, and details and all that kind of stuff. But that's not really the point of being a product owner, right? Writing down all those details. And, of course, the book describes in more detail, what it is that the stances actually are. So we want to move you away from these misunderstood stances like a story writer, and actually move you into preferred stances like that visionary.

Dave West  11:55  
I found them really useful. Because sometimes, just being reminded of them helps you sort of step away from I don't want to say the detail or the chaos, that is product ownership. I myself do a little bit of it, sometimes very badly, sometimes occasionally by accident very well. But it's good to step back. I particularly like this, okay. Okay, I need to be the visionary here, I need to communicate to our community or, or my team, what the story is, how do I jump into that and and the book, I found really provide you with some excellent, like, little tips for how to do that, and, and skills for doing that, which, which sort of brings me to the next thing. So you talk a lot about in the book about the skills, you know, the storytelling is a great skill, right? You talk a lot about what so what are that minimum set of skills that you think a product owner really needs? Or certainly, where should they start? They've been to the pspo class that that or not, but they're starting this journey. We hope they've been, obviously, they're starting this journey. What what is taught me a little bit about the skills that you think are super important for a product owner? Yeah, but

Robbin Schuurman  13:14  
I mean, there's many, right, so besides the stuff that we wrote down in the book, there's, there's some competency or skill models that both Chris and I have created in the past, sometimes ranging up to depending on the type of product owner and context that you're in 36 different skills, potentially. So there's a lot that could be relevant. It depends, really, on your context, right? Are you a more technical kind of product owner? Or are you more marketing kind of product owner or more business savvy kind of product owner. So there's a lot that kind of influences all this stuff, just to name an example, if you're a more technical product owner in a really big company, and you own some kind of technical components products, for example, pricing may not be very relevant to your content. However, if you're a business or marketing kind of product owner, and you want to put your product in the market successfully, it is super important that you actually understand pricing. So there's a bit of context related to the the actual skill set you need as well. But in general, we also focus the name on the book, practical product management, really on teaching, those kinds of skills that you tend to need in all those different product owner jobs. And that's why we tied them to the six preferred stances. And basically, what I would recommend to people is just read the introduction chapter of the book, figure out which kind of misunderstood stances Am I displaying most often, which kind of preferred stances should I be growing into more? And then just go into that stance and explore a couple of the skills that we mentioned there? That would probably be the best starting point. Yeah, because there's a lot of skills to learn And

Dave West  15:00  
there are and they're very contextual. And that's always been the biggest challenge that we In terms of teaching. Because as you well know, when you walk into a product owner class, virtually or physically, the particularly a public class, they are very varied who's going to be in that class, some of them could be more like project project managers that I say that some people will be more like business analysts, which definitely have that writing story problem. And some of them are more like that, you know, ISV, independent software, vendor type real product type people that come from a product management product marketing background. So it's so hard. And so I think that the guidance about Hey, start with looking at the stances and the anti stances as it were. Look at that, and then move into that is so, so crucial, Chris, anything to add? Yeah,

Chris Lukassen  15:57  
so the advantage of Robert answering the question is that I have time to think. So, I'm never sure if it's if it's a skill or a tree, but like the one thing that you if you've, if there's one thing you should have is like empathy, or pure passion for the problem that you're solving for the customer. So you have to be madly in love with the work that you're doing, because it's a crazy job. And it takes you all over the place it takes you for all the different stances, the amount of problems that you're running into is usually quite a lot and quite difficult and complex, and it changes all the time. And your anchor in that time. For me, at least, it's the passion for what am I trying to do here? What, what am I trying to help? What what is my mission here. And as you go through that, the, I think it was an excellent suggestion for when you start at some point, do one thing, don't start doing six dances, and then seven different practices. Because that's 42 different combinations, you lose yourself in that. But try to figure out what your true passion is here and figure out which one of the stances or practices helps you best and then get better in that one. And also, because it's such an incredibly complex profession, you don't need to do everything. Sometimes, learning about the stances can also teach you saying, well, actually, I'm not very good with customers, then find somebody in your team that is, that is skilled in doing customer interviews and finding that, that feedback about what would really the issue, so find people that augment your weaknesses, I was talking to a head of products just just before this meeting, and he's very much into the financial part. And that's a skill we don't see everywhere, but he's weaker in the engineering part. So my advice would be find somebody that you trust in your team and your inner circle that helps you create that product and build relationships and make sure your team has that expertise. And it's also the other way around, if you're a great engineer, and you've made should have stayed in engineering, but if I should have stayed an engineer, if you're really clear, and you happen to become a product owner, then find somebody and you don't like finance, then find somebody that finds finance important and has a passion about finance. Because if if you don't know what to print, how much is print costs, or what a protocol so what a return on investment is or, or whatever the impact is on the liquidity or on the risk or on, then somebody in your team should know that.

Dave West  18:37  
So I'm so glad you didn't stay in an engineer. Just as Chris, just because you said something that it's right at the start, you have your answer, you said something that I that just hit me really hard. product ownership isn't easy. The reality is though, if you care as I do deeply about the the outcomes that we're trying to achieve, in the case of, it's helping people in team solve complex problems, giving them just some tips to the art of the possible, you know, managing this complexity that the world is and giving them hope, when sometimes it is hopeless. If you care about that passion, then you everything else is just I mean details, pain, etc. And then yeah, I think that so I'm glad you didn't stay an engineer for that. One thing that really resonated with me. I'll be honest, it was it was really good. Thank you for that. Okay, so I'm going to get deep there for a second but but that is the power of this, this book actually and, and the power of the stances and the power of the practical stuff. It sort of serves many levels. It sort of is protective, it's inspiring, it's informative, and it helps you get stuff done. I think it's a it's a really Good book on, on product ownership and an agile product management, which these are the last the last section and I know our time we tried to keep it short. I'd love your take on there. So originally, product ownership was called Agile product management in the original document that Ken wrote 20 Rules seven years ago, 28 years ago. And then over time, it changed to product ownership to emphasize the importance of control. Because teams were being moved from left to right. All over the place. They this this agile product manager was really just managing wasn't actually directing. And so it became product ownership. And, you know, over the last probably 10 years, we've seen the influx of design thinking experimentation, hypothesis driven development, you know, the work of Lean UX, the work of that kind of those ideas, value streams, outcome centric, EBM, etc. I love you're just and this is a huge question. And I appreciate you're not going to have time to answer it properly. But I'd love your take a little bit about the future. And talk to me a little thing, you know, got this great book sets out some some foundations some really good stuff. Where is product ownership and agile product management going? And and how are things gonna change?

Robbin Schuurman  21:30  
Maybe before actually going into that question there. It's kind of interesting what you just mentioned, right? That when the first scrum guide was published, can actually spoke about agile Product Manager instead of more product manager instead of product owner, which is a super interesting topic in itself, right? You can have a debate of like an hour on is it product owner is it product managers, there are two different roles or positions even or jobs, whatever you want to call it. But I think it's kind of interesting to to putting these names into perspective, like you said, it's called, it was product manager, it's moved into product owner. For me as a Dutchman, it also makes a lot of sense, when I hear about someone being a business manager, or a business owner, or a company manager or a company owner, that sets the tone, right? The owner, there's nothing higher in hierarchies or mandates then the owner of the company, typically. So it's, it's always so interesting that a lot of organizations and other frameworks besides Scrum, kind of flip those around where the product owner sits in a team, and a product manager is doing more strategy stuff. So I'm actually hoping and kind of going to your question, what is the future going to hold? I'm actually hoping that in the industry, we start considering it more, that maybe the product owner is the actual owner of the products. Maybe not like by law, or financially, getting all those benefits, but really acting like the owner of that product. So there's nothing to beat them, much like the scrum guide says as well. Nobody can overrule the product owner, right? sounds good in theory. But what if you try to practice nobody can overrule the company owner. And then we can all understand it makes sense. So hopefully, we can move more in into that direction. That would be one thing that I would hope for the future is

Dave West  23:33  
what about you, Chris? Where do you think this evolution is taking us? While

Chris Lukassen  23:39  
I'm still a little bit an engineer so I can know what I think it's really interesting, as Robin says, And I, I was attributed to Ken, but I'm not really sure if he actually made it the analogy, but he compared it to a restaurant. Like if you're a manager of a restaurant, you sort of leave at 10 o'clock when the restaurant closes. But if you're the owner, you will sweep the floor, because you own the place and you want it to be pretty and tidy and as you intended it to be. And I think that's that's the point that Robin made very powerful. I think when you look at from an engineering perspective, some amazing things are happening these days. And what I hope that will happen is that it will everyone was about to say reduce the workforce, but I realized that has a negative connotation to it. But it will reduce the amount of people that you need to solve a complex problem. And what we see now is that there's still a bit of this old mindset that if you throw enough people at a problem, there's going to be more value. And you still see this mindset in a lot of companies like oh, we need more teams, we need more engineers. And we're on the threshold of really delegating all the stupid work like the simple work to AI and other technologies and really Focus on the brainpower of people that you have in there. And that opens up the opportunity to do maybe with 20 people what you can do with 200 people. And that will drive us towards smaller organization creating equally valuable or even more valuable products. And that is an excellent place for scrum to thrive and for product ownership to be real product ownership, where we take all the boring work away from us. And that happens on an engineering level. But it also happens at a product level, like lots of the analytics. And the analysis that we do is nitty gritty work. And there's every day, and literally every day, there are more powerful tools coming around that simplify the work, that used to take me a very long time to figure out. So I think the future will move towards smaller organizations, smaller teams, and basically smaller companies with a small company owner. And, yeah, that's sort of the best place for practical product owners to be.

Dave West  26:06  
I think the the idea that complicated and simple work will be will be replaced with this technology for knowledge workers, and ultimately, that will free up so many millions of people to do creative work, which means, you know, obviously, we use containers called products for the customer value boundary, but there's a we'll have a lot more opportunity for product owners, and the giving them the skills to actually thrive in this world, is the reason why I am a product So thanks for that, Chris, I completely agree. But gentlemen, we'll come to the end of our time. Oh, but before we do, Robin, I think you've got something to add here.

Robbin Schuurman  26:54  
Yeah, so I really liked the other division that Chris just just pitched with companies or, or product groups becoming smaller. There's, of course, also a lot of enterprise organizations. And I'm assuming there's also a lot of listeners who are in one of those enterprise organizations, who may kind of feel like oh, yeah, what's gonna happen with with my company then. So I also think the other trends could be applicable, right, instead of companies becoming more like mini companies, bigger organizations, and product owners in bigger organizations could also increase their ownership in their scope, where currently, you may be owning some kind of a technical product, which is part of a bigger product, which is part of a bigger product. Now, which is part of some kind of a suite, maybe you end up being a product owner of a bigger product at some point in time. And this is probably not going to happen tomorrow. But hopefully in a couple of years, we can actually start increasing our ownership as product owners, where you can own a bigger end to end problem to solve or market problems to solve or customer problems to solve, or even a technology problem to solve. But it's going to be a bigger one than just manage this set of API's. And that's where I do see product management going in the future. And like you said, Dave, with technical technology kind of stuff supporting us. I also think like stuff like generative AI, for example, is going to support us there. I mean, there's a lot of product managers, product owners who spent quite a bit of time what writing user stories? Well, in a couple of years, maybe Gen AI can actually generate the user stories for you, if you really clearly point out what is the problem to solve. So technology is going to help there. Think of stuff like product analytics, being able to actually track and measure how your product is performing, to see people behaving in your product, especially if it's a digital one. That's going to massively change product management rates. But there's a lot of companies who aren't really able to steer on product analytics data. There's a lot of talks about value. But who is actually be able to qualify and quantify what kind of value is being delivered every single sprint? There's not a lot of teams who are there already. So there's a lot of stuff in those areas that can still be done, I think.

Dave West  29:27  
And we should be doing that in the future. And I think I'm hoping we will, I think I think the next big stay. I think both of you talked a little about this, but we have to start thinking more effectively about how we productize our organizations call it product model, call it whatever alignment call it. I think that is going to it's going to basically uncork the opportunity that both of you are talking about. And yeah, it's super interesting. I can talk all day to you too. I mean, you know that it's not this isn't the first time so, and I know that our listeners have other things to do. Maybe they themselves are going to go back to writing user stories or something. Remember, chat GPT can almost do it now. So thank you for your time today. I really, really, really do appreciate it and taking the time out of your busy schedules to talk about your new book, practical product management for product owners, which is available in on or wherever you get your books. So thank you, Chris, Robin, for taking the time today. Thank you, Dave. So everybody, that was today's podcast we had, we're very fortunate to have Chris Lucasian and Robin Sherman, talking about their new book practical product management for product owners. This was a great talk. I actually have got a list of things I wanted to talk about next. So maybe there'll be follow on conversations. But this was just one podcast. There's a series of podcasts as of your first podcast, feel free to listen to others and there'll be more coming. Thank you for taking the time to listen today to the community podcast. I'm your host, Dave West saying goodbye and Scrum on


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