Advice for Agile teams in organisations struggling in a post-pandemic recovery?

Or as we like to call it – THE SEVEN BE’s

Many of you are now working in companies that are struggling.

We want to give advice for Agile teams in organisations struggling in a post-pandemic recovery. Acknowledging that for many, we are still mid-pandemic.

You may be part of teams that are working through re-alignment after staff loss or re-organisation. 

You may be part of agile teams that now have the mission of re-stabilising and rebuilding a fractured work culture.

This article will give you advice on dealing with this scenario. 

We don’t have all the answers, it’s impossible.  Every organisation is different, and every person is dealing with change in their own way.

However, our experience in using Agile with teams during change will assist you during this phase.  

We’d defined this article around what we are calling “THE SEVEN BE’S”

BE HUMAN during recovery

People are hurting. Now is the time to show forgiveness to others and to yourself. Understand that most of the time people are trying to do the right thing and in some cases just get by.

With all that pressure, there are going to be moments where our interactions go wrong. When this happens, acknowledging and moving on, rather than dwelling on our less proud moments will help create a less stressful environment.

Jian Lee, a consultant in Melbourne says “Empathise with people who may be struggling with other parts of their life, thus affecting their work.”

Steve Walton, a Principal in Melbourne reminds us “This is not a free pass for inappropriate behaviour like bullying, which is never OK, this is about caring more for each other when we need it most.”

BE BRAVE WITH CREATIVITY during recovery

As companies struggle to redefine who they are, and how they get work done, it is time to open ourselves up to see where some crazy ideas lead our thinking.

“If you have some good ideas, throw them out there and see if they resonate.” Says Steve.

Benny Ko suggests “running design sprints to create rapid validated customer solutions for the problems your organisation are encountering.”

BE REALISITC with Agile teams

Be prepared to be told that has already been done, or is not suitable for consideration now, however, be brave enough to share.

Steve says “Times are tough. Being realistic will help you make better decisions in times of change.”

BE CONNECTED with your organisation

Try and stay connected with your team even when working remotely. “Have frequent check-ins outside of the routine ceremonies. Keep an open mind, ask questions when unsure.” Says Jian Lee, a consultant in Melbourne ADAPTOVATE team.  

Continue your commitment to succeed together as a team. Be supportive of others, offer encouragement, nurture relationships, and have fun while doing the work.

BE FOCUSED ON NEW GOALS with your organisation

“Using the Agile approach continuously monitor and adjust your work to suit the customer needs during the pandemic.” says Benny.

The dynamic development of Covid has proven the need for businesses to react faster than ever before. This has been a challenge even for the fast and flexible Agile teams.

The previously set goals become unachievable in the new environment, they do not drive performance and can be frustrating for the teams.

Re-setting of goals and re-focusing of work is necessary.

BE OPEN and HAVE ALIGNMENT across your organisation

Once you have reset goals and re-focused work, it’s important that there is alignment across the department or organisation. Be open and share your goals.

Benny Ko – an agile consultant in Melbourne says “Make sure you have alignment across your teams from top to bottom.”

It’s also extremely important to maintain alignment of teams working remotely.

ADAPTOVATE runs OKR sprints to help organizations identify, design and test new OKRs within a week.  We worked with a non-profit around OKR’s earlier in the year.   Listen to our podcast conversation featuring Jo McDonnell the CEO of GOMO Foundation, talking about OKR’s.

Slawek Koziol, a project lead for ADAPTOVATE in our European office explains “Our coaches help organizations review their current model, decide what still applies in the Covid-19 “new normal”, create new objectives and review them with senior stakeholders. Then they work with each team lead (or Product Owner) to set the key results and finalize the sprint with a Showcase delivering the new OKRs.”

BE NIMBLE WITH PLANNING with your Agile teams

To effectively deal with the post pandemic recovery Agile teams should adjust their planning cycle.

To improve their response some Agile organizations, shorten their planning cycles from quarterly to having Periodic Business Reviews every two months (or even shorter than that).

The adjusted planning cycles and re-set OKR should be transparent within the organization. In current times virtual Mission Control Rooms are a perfect tool for that.  (read about Mission Controls rooms here) (You can download our infographic below).

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Thank you to ADAPTOVATE team members who co-authored this article.


Steve Walton. Principal, Melbourne.


Slawomir Koziol. Project Lead, Warsaw.


Benny Ko.  Consultant, Melbourne.


Jian Lee. Consultant, Melbourne.


The Backstory – Saytina Vielot


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Our Monthly interview with one of the ADAPTOVATE team. Each month we ask one of our team from around the world to answer a few questions. While not in the same league as The Proust Questionnaire – we think it’s a great way to share our stories with you.

This month we sat down and spoke with Saytina Vielot – a consultant in our US office. 

Tina in Eygpt

1. First up – how long have you worked with us?

7 months

2. Why did you join us? Were you in the industry previously, or looking for a new career direction?

I was in the industry previously, but was looking for a company with the right fit. ADAPTOVATE was exactly what I was looking for in a company. Amazing co workers, excellent values, great culture, and work life balance.

3. How has your previous experience and career helped define where you are now? Would you have done things differently?

I would have not done things differently, my previous experience was a stepping stone to where I am now. They have made me into the professional I am today.

4. How do you balance your work life with your ‘real’ life – Do you have a good balance and how important is it to you?

Work life balance is extremely important to me! This helps me remain positive and improve my physical, mental and emotional well being.

5. With so many of our team remote working, we always like to ask how do you have your home office/desk set up? Organised or chaos? Any top tips?

I am absolutely organized! I like to think I have OCD haha. If my desk is organized, it enables my day to have increased productivity and reduced stress.

6. Do you play music during your Agile workshops with clients? What do you recommend on your latest playlist?

Due to remote working it would be pretty hard to play music during conference calls,Microsoft teams and zoom meetings. I keep my workshops engaging by having it be interactive and hands on. I like to use tools like Miro and Azure Dev Ops so everyone can get into the tool and collaborate during a workshop.

7. How do you think technology has best helped humanity and do you have any concerns about our future?

Without technology I do believe we would not have the advancements we have today in sectors like education, healthcare, communication and business. I have no concerns for the future.

8. Strategic Foresight allows companies to detect changes early and ensure action is taken quickly. Which companies have you seen able to change and adapt quickly. (and hopefully using Agile methods to do so)

Due to the world going through a pandemic, a lot of companies have the ability to adapt quickly to the consequences of COVID. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, and target are making delivery times shorter, providing curbside pickup, and even have specific times for the elderly to shop.

9. What does success mean to you personally?

Success means I am happy and I have achieved the goals I have set out to achieve.

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” – John Rohn

10. Finally – You’ve time travelled back to your 10- year old self – What advice would you give?

Stay true to yourself, and always stay motivated to strive for the best.

Special 11th Question – How have you found 2020, and working through life and work during COVID?

Although we are currently living through a pandemic, I have made it a positive experience for myself. I have become Vegan and gluten free. I also have taken up the hobby of running. I run at least a 5k every day, and I feel amazing!

4 DESIRABLE TRAITS THAT UNDERPIN A SUCCESSFUL PO

Master these – and you will be winning.

At ADAPTOVATE we are often asked what it takes to be a successful Product Owner. (Or PO as it will be referred to from here on).

Firstly a reminder of what a PO is.  As our partners at Atlassian say “Product owners are the visionaries for the product. They work with customers, stakeholders, and others to build a roadmap for their product, and they also build out a which is is the next level of detail from the roadmap.”

A successful PO must understand the business, understand the customer, work well within the organization and beyond and support their teams. In our experience, what separates the extraordinarily successful PO is that they are aware of their role as well as the roles of people around them. They proactively manage their environment to guide good decision making.

If there is something they can do to influence the outcome of a given situation, they don’t sit around waiting for things to happen.

The key is Balance.

That is, a successful PO needs to balance a few roles well.

We’ve broken it down into four elements that the “perfect” PO needs to get right.


1.    THE ART OF COMMUNICATION, IN THE BUSINESS, WITHIN THE TEAM


POs are effective communicators up, down and across the organization.

The PO work closely with sponsors and key stakeholders.  – Good POs mastered the art of stakeholder management and can instantly understand the power and interest they have in the work of the team.

It allows the POs to use the right strategy to manage the expectations and information needs within the organization.

Supporting the teams, by working with the teams, not delegating work to them.

Good POs do not command and control but take time to understand strengths and weaknesses of the team.   Then help them reach new levels of high-performance.

Slawomir Koziol – is a Project Lead in our European office.  He explains “In our experience, POs rarely start work with a new team and hit it off from day one.

In most cases transformation leaders assign experienced people to PO role. What happens in these cases follows a typical pattern: the experienced PO (who, of course, knows best) offers unsolicited advice on how to approach problems. Then gradually becomes the person who consults and approves everything and becomes the bottleneck.” Slawomir says.

“In these cases, we make sure they are aware of their roles and responsibilities, address any lack of trust there might be within the team.   We then guide the POs to step back and create more space for the teams to self-organize.

Slawomir continues “In the process, POs gain a new, wider perspective and start to understand how they fit together as a team.”

What is also extremely important, they know how proactively shield the team from requests and distractions coming their way from the rest of the organization.

Within this first COMMUNICATIONS pillars we have further broken it down into these five mini-parts.

1 Clear Priorities

Steve Walton is a Principal in our Melbourne ADAPTOVATE office. He believes explains this “Make sure people understand both what your priorities are and why. It is essential to follow up with the why as the team will be able to alert you if circumstances change.”

Benny Ko, an agile consultant in Australia, agrees.  He says “Close communication with the Scrum Master and team is important because the success of the product being created depends on it. The team needs to understand from the PO the priority in which the work needs to be done.”

Successful POs work on their role to become a part of the high-performing team. The PO will know how to explain the product development direction to the team and what important information to offer, even if the team failed to ask for it.

They proactively recognize improvement areas and openly discuss them with the team. They are involved in the work of the team to guide, inspire, and motivate them.  ,They do this without giving precise instructions on how to get things done and thus taking away the team’s autonomy.

2 Less is more

Steve explains it this way “Fewer words, clearer messages, fewer work items, greater focus.”

3 Listen

“Your team know their work, trust them to give you good advice.” Steve says.

4  Be decisive

Caitilin Studdert is a principal in the Sydney office of ADAPTOVATE. She you need to be decisive, “so that the team can act quickly based on their insights.”

Ray Freeman works in our ADAPTOVATE team in America. He says “A key trait for a successful Product Owner is confidence in decision-making. PO’s have the tremendous burden of being the voice of the customer. The decisions they make have a direct impact on the solution the customer will receive.”

5 Be Good humoured

Caitilin says “so that the team culture celebrates every win (even when they’ve failed, they understand what they have learned).

6 Be Keen to do a retro, a demo, a showcase.

Caitilin also says “so that the team constantly improves, consistent, so that the team operates in a measured and responsive manner.

Slawomir agrees with Caitlin. “PO’s must have active participation in demo/showcase sessions where sponsors and stakeholders should encourage open discussion.

Although it is common belief that demo/showcase sessions our hosted by the PO, our experience shows that sponsors and key stakeholders have a more important role to play, especially in the early stages of Agile transformations – they encourage people to speak up and openly share ideas.” Slawomir says.

7  Trust your Team

Brooke Pannell is one of consultants in ADPAOTVATE’s US team. Brooke says, “Trust is a fantastic tool to empower your teams to do their best day in and day out.”


2 & 3    UNDERSTANDING THE CUSTOMER & UNDERSTAND THE PRODUCT.



We’ve put the second and third element together, because they are intrinsically connected.

Simply put, for a PO this means often means leaving their desks and offices.  Then seeking direct contact with the customer.  Finally understanding their relationship with the product.

What does that mean in practice?

A good PO does more than just follow the market developments by reading market reports.

They appreciate the value of primary sources and work as closely with the customers as possible. They use tools for ongoing customer analytics to understand how the customers interact with the products.

The successful PO will make use of customer feedback tools as often as possible, organize customer eye tracking research to improve design and usability (and yes, that is also extremely valuable also for physical products, not just software!).

Slawomir says “An invaluable source of customer information is a regular direct conversation with customers – actually spending time with the customers talking about their experiences with the product and their needs, inviting them to feature demonstrations and actively listening.

Only then, when the time comes to make decisions on how to prioritize product features, the PO will be certain what will bring most value to the customers.” he says.

Brooke agrees.  She says that you mustKnow your product inside and out from a user’s perspective so you can accurately represent user actions, needs, and predict their future needs.

Ray explains “To do this effectively, the PO must maintain a working understanding of the customers’ needs. They must also stay aware of and anticipate changes that occur during the project.

A successful Product Owner should align those customer needs with the business goals and direction. With these insights and alignments, the PO can make more informed decisions, faster with greater positive impact.”

Which brings us to the final – possibly most important pillar:


4.    UNDERSTANDING THE BUSINESS


The final piece in the puzzle of becoming the perfect PO is ensuring that the PO is working well within the organization and beyond to proactively elicit behaviours that will help the team.

The POs must be able to navigate their way through the organization and beyond, which means they know the organizations strategic goals and understand how the product fits into that bigger picture.

They actively participate in regular discussions where strategic goals are broken down into smaller pieces of work and that work is prioritized and allocated to teams.

POs should not fight it out alone.

They should know what to expect from sponsors and stakeholders so their work is effective, i.e. clarity on strategic direction and well-defined objectives and key results that will guide them in breaking down work and prioritization.

Slawomir says “Based on our experience POs that don’t have this clarity struggle with cluttered backlogs and get stuck on prioritization as new backlog items come in left and right.

Good POs know when to expect these behaviours and actively ask for this kind of support to guide good decision making in the organization maintain a healthy workplace culture.”

As this is a role that requires high level of flexibility, working with people and good communication skills, certain individuals are better suited than others. Especially those able to handle ambiguity, more agreeable and extrovert can have a head start. This, however, does not mean that extremely successful POs are naturally born. Rather, they are made with considerable amount of hard work and willingness to learn.

And in all development journeys having a good coach helps.

Finally – Continue learning

Brook Pannell finishes off with this insightful thought.

“Continue learning- about business, product ownership, and leadership so that you are exposed to many different methods of problem solving and best practices so you can be the best PO possible.”

We trust this article has helped you or your management understand what makes a great PO.

Share this article with your Agile teams. Have them reflect if they have everything in place to set the PO up for success.

 

Thanks to:

Slawomir Koziol  https://www.linkedin.com/in/slawomirkoziol/

Steve Walton  https://www.linkedin.com/in/stevewaltonau/

Benny Ko  https://www.linkedin.com/in/bennyko8/

Brooke Pannell  https://www.linkedin.com/in/abpannell/

Caitilin Studdert https://www.linkedin.com/in/caitilinstuddert/

D Ray Freeman https://www.linkedin.com/in/drayfreeman/