How product managers can benefit from Scrum for joyful, prosperous, and sustainable work
The name of this podcast is changing to Product Mastery Now, to better reflect our purpose of helping product managers becoming product masters, gaining practical knowledge, influence and confidence so you’ll create products customers love.
The 2020 State of Agile Report found that only 5% of organizations have never used Agile practices. Scrum is the most popular Agile methodology and there is a good chance you are using it. The move to remote work last year impacted how teams work, including their use of Scrum. To learn about these impacts and other tips for improving the use of Scrum, Howard Sublett, the CEO of the Scrum Alliance, joins us.
The Scrum Alliance is a member-driven nonprofit trade association that supports the Agile movement. They have trained and certified over a million people and provide a vast community for Agile practitioners to interact.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[1:55] What is the Scrum Alliance and what does your role as Chief Product Owner involve?
The Scrum Alliance is a non-profit organization, or as I like to think about it, a “for-impact” organization. We’re a certifying body and training organization with trainers in every country and about 1.38 million certifications. We have a mission to empower our members and guide individuals and organizations into Agile practices, principles, and values in order to make the world of work more joyful, prosperous, and sustainable. Scrum gives teams the context, autonomy, mastery, and purpose to be able to solve complex problems and delight customers. Scrum teams have joy in their work because they understand the work they’re doing, the problems they’re solving, and their impact.
[5:56] At the Scrum Alliance, how do you “eat your own dogfood”—how do you use the practices you promote?
Our staff is organized as cross-departmental Scrum teams. Each team includes people from marketing, education, customer support, and software development, as well as a product owner and Scrum master. In the past, we had a separate team from each department, but we found that there were deep dependencies between departments, so we began to work in cross-departmental teams. Unlike many Scrum teams, our teams work in two-week cadences, and every two weeks they do a sprint review to an advisory team of real customers. Interaction with customers is huge for creating joyful work. It’s important for product managers to see the people who are going to use the products they’re creating.
[12:05] How is Scrum being applied in a remote work environment?
Many organizational leaders were afraid Scrum wouldn’t work in a remote environment, but they found out it does. Individual remote work can be lonely, but Scrum team members don’t do individual work; they work together. When a Scrum team works on a problem, the need to work together helps them collaborate. Many teams now have open Zoom calls that they use to see each other on video while they’re working on problems. Because it’s based on collaboration, Scrum makes remote work a little easier on people. New technology and tools are also helping make remote work easier and more connected.
[18:27] The most common struggle I’ve seen when organizations adopt Scrum is that leaders feel helpless since the natural rhythm of information flow is disrupted. What can leaders and organizations do about this struggle?
I think the key word is feel. Leaders feel helpless. In a traditional environment, leaders feel like they know exactly when a project is going to be done and what it’s going to be like, but in reality it never happens exactly like they expected. Leaders need to acknowledge what they don’t know. Distributing some decision-making to people closer to the customer may feel uncomfortable, but the leaders were already uncomfortable—they just pretended they weren’t. It made them feel comfortable to have a chart that said a project was going to be done on October 3rd, but the product wasn’t finished then, and their expectations still weren’t fulfilled. Some organization are building Agile-enablement teams, which include leaders of different areas in the organization and function as information centers of how teams are progressing. Most importantly, leaders need to acknowledge they don’t have all the answers.
In Agile work, the bets are short and the risks are small. Each sprint is only a week or two, and you can make a new bet next week. The pace of change is fast, and you get customer feedback frequently. By working in small increments, we reduce risk and can deliver a better product to the customer.
[25:31] What is the role of the product owner?
Some organizations try to change the role of product owner to make Scrum fit with their current organizational design rather than changing the organization to fit the Scrum framework. In the process, they may lose the external-facing role of the product owner. The product owner (sometimes called a product manager) should be external-facing and the voice of the customer, understanding the customer’s problem deeply and guiding the team. Some organizations fulfill this role with an external-facing product owner and an internal-facing technical product owner or a project manager. Other organizations use a product owner team.
[28:54] Where is Scrum used other than for software projects?
Scrum, although originally designed for software projects, is now being used for hardware projects and in other unexpected places. For example, some schools are learning to use Scrum. Kids work in Scrum teams and are empowered to take charge of their learning. They learn faster and develop collaboration and communication. Families can even use Scrum in their homes to help their kids do homework or chores.
Action Guide: Put the information Howard shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Learn more about Scrum and take a free Scrum foundations course at ScrumAlliance.org
- Listen to TEI 224 with Mike Cohn, co-founder of Scrum Alliance
“Everyone has a great plan until you get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.