Agile Mentors Podcast

Agile Mentors Podcast

Practical advice for making agile work in the real world

The Agile Mentors podcast is for agilists of all levels. Whether you’re new to agile and Scrum or have years of experience, listen in to find answers to your questions and new ways to succeed with agile.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Overcast Listen on Pocket Casts Listen on Spotify Download RSS

#104: Mastering Product Ownership with Mike Cohn

June 26, 2024     39 minutes

Join Brian and Mike Cohn as they dissect the vital roles and responsibilities of the product owner, from story mapping to stakeholder management. This episode is a treasure trove for anyone looking to sharpen their Agile skills and understand the nuanced demands of a product owner.


In this insightful episode, Brian and Mike Cohn explore the multifaceted role of product owners in Agile development, discussing everything from market analysis and vision creation to the nuts and bolts of sprint planning and retrospectives.

Emphasizing flexibility and adaptability, Brian and Mike offer a comprehensive look at how product owners can excel by focusing on strategic planning and fostering strong team dynamics. This episode is essential for product owners seeking to enhance their impact in Agile environments and drive successful outcomes.

Listen Now to Discover:

[1:07] - Brian welcomes special guest Mountain Goat Software and Agile Alliance founder Mike Cohn. 
[1:31] - Brian introduces Mountain Goat Software’s What Happens When for a Product Owner, and Mike flips the script, setting Brian, as the creator, into the guest seat on this episode.
[3:16] - Join Brian as he explores the vital, behind-the-scenes efforts of product owners that set the stage for Scrum success, all before the first sprint begins.
[6:24] - Brian explains the dynamics of crafting a product vision, clarifying how much responsibility lies with the product owner and how much is shared with the team.
[7:46] - Brian offers expert guidance on the optimal timing for creating a story map within the Scrum process.
[9:46] - Brian and Mike explore the optimal quantity of backlog items to have ready before adding them to a sprint.
[13:45] - Join Brian as he explains the importance of setting a product goal in Scrum, detailing how it enhances functionality and guides the development process.
[17:03] - Brian invites you to download Mountain Goat Software’s What Happens When for Product Owners, a comprehensive guide designed to support your Scrum journey.
[17:43] - Brian explains how to effectively integrate road mapping into the Scrum process, ensuring it adds valuable foresight and preparation without causing shortsightedness.
[19:55] - Mike suggests a strategy for managing stakeholders who overemphasize the product roadmap, offering a creative approach to preserve the flexibility and adaptability that effective road mapping allows.
[22:48] - Brian delves into the critical role and strategies of effective sprint planning, essential for driving successful Scrum projects.
[24:20] - Brian offers his perspective on the significance and involvement of the product owner in the daily scrum, detailing their role and contributions.
[26:15] - Mike recounts a memorable story about receiving exceptionally impressive customer feedback at, highlighting the impact of genuine client interactions.
[28:30] - Brian emphasizes that the product owner is an integral part of the team and its goals, underscoring their collaborative role rather than being separate.
[29:18] - Brian explores the crucial involvement of the product owner in the backlog refinement process, detailing their responsibilities and impact.
[30:48] - Brian explains why he views the sprint review as the product owner's event and offers strategies for executing it effectively.
[32:17] - Brian delves into the product owner's essential participation in the retrospective, emphasizing that their insights and experiences are crucial for the team's growth and improvement.
[34:10] - Brian outlines ways the product owner can proactively prepare for the next sprint, ensuring a smooth transition and effective planning.
[35:27] - Brian discusses a key pitfall that product owners should avoid to ensure success in their role.
[37:35] - Brian shares a big thank you to Mike for taking over this episode of the show.
[37:57] - Do you have feedback or a great idea for an episode of the show? Great! Just send us an email.
[38:08] - We invite you to like and subscribe to the Agile Mentors Podcast and share the episode with a friend who could benefit.
[38:56] - If you’d like to continue this discussion, join the Agile Mentors Community. You get a year of free membership into that site by taking any class with Mountain Goat Software. We'd love to see you in one of Mountain Goat Software's classes, you can find the schedule here.

References and resources mentioned in the show:

Mike Cohn
What Happens When For Product Owners
Subscribe to the Agile Mentors Podcast
Mountain Goat Software Certified Scrum and Agile Training Schedule
Join the Agile Mentors Community

Want to get involved?

This show is designed for you, and we’d love your input. 

  • Enjoyed what you heard today? Please leave a rating and a review. It really helps, and we read every single one.
  • Got an Agile subject you’d like us to discuss or a question that needs an answer? Share your thoughts with us at

This episode’s presenters are:

Brian Milner is SVP of coaching and training at Mountain Goat Software. He's passionate about making a difference in people's day-to-day work, influenced by his own experience of transitioning to Scrum and seeing improvements in work/life balance, honesty, respect, and the quality of work.

Mike Cohn, CEO of Mountain Goat Software, is a passionate advocate for agile methodologies. Co-founder of Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance, he thrives on helping companies succeed with Agile and witnessing its transformative impact on individuals' careers. Mike resides in Northern Idaho with his family, two Havanese dogs, and an impressive hot sauce collection.

Auto-generated Transcript:

Brian (00:00)
Welcome in Agile Mentors, we are back. We are here for another episode of the Agile Mentors podcast. I'm here as always, Brian Milner, and today I have the big man back with me, the OG, we've got Mike Cohn in the house with us. Welcome in, Mike.

Mike (00:15)
Hey, Brian, thanks for having me back.

Brian (00:18)
Always happy to have Mike here. Always a pleasure to have him here and learn from his experience. And really, really grateful he's here. We wanted to have Mike on because we have something that we put together recently. Honestly, it's kind of been something we've been talking about we just haven't put together. We had a document that we had out there called What Happens When for Scrum Master. And we just didn't have one of those for a product owner. So I did some work there on the side on that and put it together. And we're getting that out for people so that you can find that and download it from our site. And we wanted Mike to come on to share his wisdom in that area as well, because a lot of this is stuff that I put together. But we wanted to get Mike's insights on these areas as well. Does that sound about right, Mike?

Mike (01:11)
That's what we agreed to do, but it's not what I'm going to do.

Brian (01:14)
Okay. Sounds good.

Mike (01:19)
I'm going to turn the tables on you, Brian, because it's your PDF. It's your document. You're the ideas behind this. So I kind of want to turn it around and take over. I'm going to kind of interview you, ask you things. I mean, I'll chime in with opinions here, of course. I can never shut my mouth long enough to not share an opinion. But it's your PDF. I want to ask you some questions about it, if that's OK with you. And I assume we'll have the link for this in the show notes for folks. They can get the.

Brian (01:41)
Sure, fair game. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, they'll be in the show notes. Anyone can find this. If you want to download it now and follow along, just pause, you know, go find that in the show notes and you can follow along as we talk through this.

Mike (01:55)
Great. So Brian, you separated the document out into things that a product owner does. And of course, I mean, kind of naturally you did it by timeframe, right? Do this before you even go and do this every sprint, things like that. I want to talk to you about some of the stuff that we do before the project that a good product owner should do before a project. You had in there a couple of things like do market analysis and create a vision. You tell me more about what you would expect of a great product owner in that world.

Brian (02:25)
Yeah, that first bullet point, what I was trying to capture is that there's some behind the scenes kind of product, standard product work that we don't really account for in a scrum sense. Things like market analysis and trying to understand the competitive landscape. There's a whole discipline there of activity and work that goes on behind the scenes. And I think it's important to understand, that Scrum isn't in any way saying throw that out or that that's not needed, that is something that would come, in my opinion, before you even begin this kind of work. Scrum does not include in it a process that would say, let's verify that they should fund this product. Let's do a pitch. So the CEO of, you know, here's why you should have this product. That's what I was trying to capture in that first bullet point is just understand there are some standard kind of product development work that goes on that we're not, we're kind of skipping over a little bit.

Mike (03:36)
That's one of the things I've always loved about Scrum is that Scrum is silent, deliberately so on many topics. And occasionally I will have somebody that I'll meet and they'll say, Scrum doesn't say how we should do product envisioning, right? It doesn't say how we should do that. So I guess we don't do it. It's like, well, Scrum doesn't say that you should code, right? Nowhere in the Scrum guide does it say code your software product, right? Yet if you're doing a software product, somebody's coding, right? Somebody's doing something. And so I like that Scrum is deliberately silent on a lot of things like this because you're talking about doing this market analysis. I work with plenty of companies that are doing internal software. And if we're doing internal software, we're not going to do a market analysis, just kind of internal user needs analysis perhaps, but it's going to be very different. And so I do like that flexibility there.

Brian (04:13)
Hmm, yeah. Yeah. So that's a good point, though, is depending on the product, it is sort of more as needed or as it would fit. Like you said, if it's an internal product, it's going to look very different than if you're doing a public -facing one.

Mike (04:40)
I think for any of the steps that you've outlined, I think they can vary. I'm sure some are going to be the same for everybody, but I always think of it as commercial development, right? We're making Microsoft Word, right? I think of it as in -house development, right? We're making a payroll system to pay our employees or contract development are kind of the three big branches to me. And then things get very different within those three types of development. I'm thinking more product development there specifically, but of course we can be using this for non -product things.

Brian (05:10)
Well, and I do want to say that that second bullet point, they're talking about vision. That's where I honestly, from my perspective, that's where the product owner portion of this begins, right? Because that's sort of the first thing you need to do. And in fact, when we teach our CSPO class, this is, you know, if you've been through a CSPO class with us, you will recognize this order because that's exactly how we go through it in our CSPO class, very deliberately. You know, that

Mike (05:39)
I'm sorry, I was getting off there, but I was getting interested in something you're saying there. So product owner kind of starting with the vision. I know that the team can influence the vision, right? But where would you draw the line or how much of the vision is the product owners? Is it like, you know, I'm the product owner dictator. Here's my vision, shut up and build it.

Brian (06:02)
Yeah, I don't know that there's one answer there. I mean, I have seen in certain situations where it's more of a group effort. And that might be part of that earlier genesis of the product, where we go through an effort to define the vision with other key stakeholders, with leaders in the organization. I do think that there is sort of a separate activity that I would take with the team itself. So I might spend a deal of time with key stakeholders developing a vision, but then I might also then have a separate meeting with the team once that's established to say, you know, here's kind of what we're defining it as. Let's walk through this. Tell me if you agree, disagree, or how you might improve or change this. Just so that we, you know, part of our job as a product owner is to cast that vision. and help people get caught up in the excitement for what it is we're trying to do. So that's kind of the purpose there I see of doing that.

Mike (07:04)
Yeah. Yeah, the more excited we get people about it, the better off we're going to be throughout the course of the project. You also have some things in here about things to do before the first sprint about identifying users, possibly go into the persona level, but then also story mapping. I want to ask you about the story maps for a second. What's your guideline? Because somebody asked me this recently, I'm curious on your answer. What's your guideline for when we should create a story map? Do you do always, only at the start, only in the middle? What's your advice?

Brian (07:35)
Creating it, I always created at the start. I mean, my, just, and again, this is my experience, right? But what I have found to be useful is to do it at the beginning. And it's sort of right in that order, right? I've done the vision, I've talked, I figure out who my users are. And then I wanna know what the general big picture is for my product. I wanna be able to step back from a 50 ,000 foot view and say, all right, here's kind of the step by step of what we're gonna be doing. Because, you know, kind of like a product backlog, it's a living, breathing document. It's not done, you know, we do it once at the beginning of our product and then it's done set forever. It's constantly adapting and changing as we add new feature areas, as we, you know, understand differently how our users would interact with the product. We're going to adjust and change it. I want it to always reflect reality.

Mike (08:30)
Do you, so let's talk about reality there. I mean, I agree with that, but what I see is story maps that are hard to keep up to date. Are you seeing teams that really succeed at keeping them up to date all the time? I know the living breathing thing for like a couple months and then it's like the dusty old story map, right?

Brian (08:47)
Yeah, well, this is kind of one of the things where it was kind of hard for me to put this in a time frame because there's really two time frames that I would like this to appear in. Yes, I do think we should do it before the first sprint. And by the way, again, there, I would do this in multiple rounds with different sets of stakeholders. But then once it's established, I kind of would slide that into that quarterly kind of activity to say, we may not touch it every quarter, but every quarter I would want to...

Mike (09:03)

Brian (09:16)
check in on it and just say, is this still accurate? Do we need to adjust it? Do we need to do anything different about it?

Mike (09:16)
Okay. see that. A couple of the things on the before the first spring here, you've got identify assumptions, possibly test some of those, and then create a product goal. And then the last couple of you got, you know, get enough of the backlog written to get started. And a sprinkle, how much of the backlog do you think a team should have to get going? I mean, I know it's probably not like seven and a half items, but you know, you're looking for, you know, one sprint, one or two sprints, eight sprints.

Brian (09:45)
Bye. Well, no, Mike nailed it. It's seven and a half. Seven and a half items. No, just kidding. Now we can start. No, yeah, I mean, it's, you know, that's why I use the term enough, right? What is enough? Well, you know what enough is, right? You kind of know what that is. There's a, you know, there's a goal that we have in general that we've, lots of us trainers and coaches have put out there to say,

Mike (09:52)
seven and a half backlog items. There we go. Once you've written seven and a half, we can get started.

Brian (10:14)
you want to aim for about two to three sprints worth of items that are in ready to go shape. They're ready to move into a sprint and start at any given time. I don't know that you need two to three sprints to start. Yeah, I mean, I think you need, I think there's sometimes a hesitancy in teams to get everything documented upfront. And I'm trying to help people kind of push past that to say, no, we don't need to have everything.

Mike (10:25)
That's a start.

Brian (10:42)
We just gotta have enough to start. And when I'm working with a team, I wanna get them into that first sprint as soon as possible because they're gonna learn much more from just doing it than they are from talking about it beforehand. That's why I've never been a real big fan of like a sprint zero or something like that because it just doesn't take a whole sprint to do everything that you need to do to get ready for your first sprint.

Mike (10:58)
Right. Yeah, I think you're right. I mean, to me, I always put it in terms of like, we're gambling our time, right? Is it worth gambling more of our valuable time writing more backlogs, or should we just play and get started? And if we're a company whose name is invoices are us, right? You know, should we go ahead and write some stories about the invoicing part of the system? Yeah, I bet we should. But if we're not sure that, I don't know what we're building, but if we're not sure invoice is going to be part of it, don't write anything about that on the backlog yet. Just put one big item, do invoices, right? Break it down when you get there. So.

Brian (11:36)
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, you typically know where you need to start. You know, there's a million things you could do. But when you have a big idea for a product and you're starting fresh and you're starting new with it, at least in my experience, again, I found like, I always know where I'm starting. And that's what I would encourage you to do is just get it out there, get it started. Even if you don't have all the different features and aspects of it thought through, that's OK.

Mike (11:44)

Brian (12:05)
You just want to start making progress so you learn.

Mike (12:08)
That reminds me of something I've shared with a lot of leadership teams that I've met with over the years, which is that I'll tell them that they're basically solving the wrong problem. And they're trying to answer the question of what should we build? What should the product be? And that's totally the wrong question. The right question is what should we build next? What's that next one or two steps that would tell you what the next four or five steps will be? And so simplify the question, not what are we building, but what are we building next? And I think you're right there.

Brian (12:26)
Yeah, yeah.

Mike (12:36)
one sprint worth is enough and put in the backlog if you need to write more backlog items. Go from there.

Brian (12:41)
Yeah. And I don't want anyone to hear us incorrectly here. I mean, part of the reason that we had them there to identify assumptions and try to test hypothesis is I don't want to open a, the silly example I always use in classes, I don't want to open a store that sells lip balms online and not test whether people want to buy lip balm online or not. There's some fundamental assumptions that you're going to have to test and know.

Mike (12:48)
Thank you.

Brian (13:11)
probably before you're gonna even get with a team and start getting up and running on this. And that should happen here.

Mike (13:16)
Yeah. I was with a company, this is years ago, they were in Boston, we finished the engagement, I'm walking next to my rental car, and one of the guys walks out with me, one of the like VPs, and he's like, I got a question for you. He says, how often should we cancel projects? And I said,

Brian (13:34)
Seven and a half.

Mike (13:35)
I don't know, seven and a half. I said, I don't know. So I don't know how often, but you should be canceling a fair number of projects. You get started, you find out it's going to take twice as long as you thought, or you get started, and it's not really going to deliver the value that you hoped for. So you stop. And he's like, I thought so. He said something like, I've been here, I think, eight years, we've never canceled a project. And it's like, OK, that's bad. You should get into these and find out your assumptions are wrong.

Brian (13:51)
Yeah. Wow. Yeah.

Mike (14:04)
I want to talk about your quarterly items on here. And you've got a couple, let me just kind of read some of these here. So you've got establish a product goal. That's a relatively new thing in Scrum. I mean, I still think of 2020 as relatively new, but as a old timer with Scrum, product goal is one of the newer enhancements. You've got doing the story writing workshop. So you're supporting what you said there. Talk to me about the product goal here.

Brian (14:19)
Yeah. Yeah, so I feel silly talking to Mike Cohen about what a product goal is. Product goals are just that neck, they're a milestone, right? And that's typically the way I talk about this in class is to say, especially when you're starting something new, you may not know everything that you're gonna do, but you know the next big thing that you need to accomplish. You know the next big mile marker that you're gonna hit in the life of your product.

Mike (14:56)
Mm -hmm.

Brian (14:59)
And that's what we want to establish with the product goal. Something that's going to take longer than a sprint, multiple sprints to do. I've got this in the quarterly section. And that's kind of how we tend to talk about it a lot here at Mountain Goat. But even in class, we'll even say quarterly -ish. Right, right, bigger than a sprint. And sometimes it'll be longer. Sometimes it'll be shorter. That's OK.

Mike (15:16)
It's the bigger than a sprint section, right?

Brian (15:25)
You just want to have that big thing that the team can keep their eyes on and kind of know, you know, here's, you got a sprint goal that tells us why what we're doing in this sprint is important and how my small task feeds into that. And you've got this product goal to say, how does the sprints work fit into this bigger picture of what we're trying to do? So you're making those...

Mike (15:47)

Brian (15:50)
connections consciously for the developers so that they are not just, hey, here's a laundry list of stuff to do, but here's the objective we're trying to accomplish.

Mike (16:01)
Yep. I think it's important to have something that's out there bigger than a sprint. A sprint is just, it's just kind of suboptimizing, right? I think about if you're climbing a mountain and a sprint is like, what's the highest thing I see and just always walk into the highest thing you see. Meanwhile, those are all false summits. The real summit is, you know, behind some valley, but you don't see it because you don't set out that bigger goal. And I like how you talked about it quarterly because if the goal's too big, if it's too far out there, we're not going to feel very motivated. about it. I had this the wackest example of this. I hope the guy's not listening. Actually, I hope he is. But he was told me he was on a project with the large particle collider. And he said his whole project won't be due for 40 years, right? I mean, I don't get it. But it's like they've got to run like 40 years worth of data before it's like totally done. And I just picture myself showing up for work on a 40 year project, right?

Brian (16:31)
Right. Yeah.

Mike (16:57)
I know you, you're going to be reading Dallas Cowboys news for the first 35 years, right? You know, sports news and you know.

Brian (17:04)
That's a 40 year project too.

Mike (17:07)
Well, you're not going to take it serious for 35 years. Then you're going to wake up and go, the deadline's only five years away. I better get to work on this. And then what I would do is realize, wow, I'll be retired after 40 years. So anyway, I've been silly. But I mean, you're on a project with a 40 -year deadline. How do you say motivated? And I think three months is a really good time where I can see a bigger impact than a sprint. But it's not so far.

Brian (17:15)
Right. Right, right, exactly. Yeah. Yeah.

Mike (17:34)
that that student syndrome kicks in and I feel, I don't really have to worry about it. Let's go to a long lunch. We'll get to work on it tomorrow. So I do like the quarter -ish approach there. You mentioned here a couple others here. These are probably straightforward, but manage and maintain the economics of your project, assess stakeholder relations, and road mapping. You want to talk about any of those, maybe road mapping especially?

Brian (17:46)
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, road mapping, I think, is an important aspect. I mean, it kind of goes along with that product goal. But I do get people who come through a product owner class that will say, I don't like this approach because it seems like it's all so short -sighted. And we're not really having the big picture of where we're going. And in my world, we have this year -long thing, or 10 year. I've worked with some teams that build automobiles and they're on a three -year release cycle. They're working on the model year that's three years ahead. I've worked with some teams that do aerospace kind of stuff and they're working on a space launch that's multi -years out in the future.

Mike (18:34)

Brian (18:43)
And when you ask them, how certain are you that you're really going to be working on this five years from now? Pretty darn certain, right? Because it's there. We're building toward that launch date's going to be there. So I think that that roadmap is an important step for a product owner. Now, I just want to be clear about this. When I say a roadmap, I'm not talking about setting hard and fast dates and saying, we're going to be here by this date. We're going to be there by this date.

Mike (18:50)

Brian (19:12)
It's okay for us to say, here's kind of where we feel things are gonna fall, but I really am a strong proponent of the forecasting method, like kind of looking ahead and seeing, you know, kind of based on yesterday's weather kind of thing, right? Here's what the weather was like at this time last year. So it's probably a good indicator of where we're gonna be at this season this year, that sort of thing. So I'm a proponent of the forecasting forward. And I think a roadmap can fall very well in line with that because we can slot things and say, here's kind of this quarter's, here's the next quarter kind of things that we're thinking that are gonna take place. And if one thing moves forward or backwards, one of those sections, that's not a big deal. It's not gonna change earth shatteringly the course of our product, but it does allow for preparation. And that's what I think is the most important thing that people lose sight of in sort of forecasting and projecting forward is why do we do this in the first place? Well, we do it most of the time because there's someone else who needs to get ready. They need to be prepared. They need to be ready when this is delivered to do XYZ. And that's what we're trying to accomplish with this. We can do that with forecasting.

Mike (20:32)
Yeah, I think you talk about taking those things seriously. And if we miss one, it's not the end of the world. Except there's always somebody in an organization who's going to say it is the end of the world. The danger for me with roadmaps is how serious people take them. They'll look at it and go, we got a roadmap. It says we're going to come out with this in 12 months. I bet we're going to do exactly these 12 things. And so that literalness to a roadmap.

Brian (20:50)

Mike (20:59)
is scary. I've only done this a couple of times, but I like the result is I put together roadmaps for with teams in a couple of organizations. And we kind of modeled them on the idea of the old, I don't know, 200 or 300 year ago, 400 year ago maps, right? And you would have like, you know, the. horrible map of what the world looked like, right? And there'd be Darby Dragons right on the edge of the map. And we actually did that on a roadmap, right? It had stacks of items are going to be delivered. You know, this, this six months, this six months. And then below there, we had just put a few things in kind of an unreadable font at Darby Dragons below there. Trying to reiterate that you can't take this that literally, but there often is somebody who's like, my annual bonus is tied to that box on the roadmap.

Brian (21:24)
I'm going to go ahead and close the video. Right. Well, you can see this in, you know, I'm not going to get on a tangent here on safe, but you even see this in safe when people do things like PI planning and they plan out the next quarter. One of the pitfalls that I think a lot of organizations fall into when they do that is that they see it as a commitment. That the team is making a commitment to getting all that work done in that PI, in that program increment. And that's not the way it's intended. It's intended as here's our loose plan. We know what we're going to do in the next sprint, but the other sprints are

Mike (21:48)
Right. Yep.

Brian (22:17)
more fluid and we'll adjust as we need to.

Mike (22:20)
Yeah, I've written so many times about a plan is not a commitment or commitment is not a guarantee, right? You know, I can make a commitment to this. I'm going to commit to do my best. We're going to commit to try to achieve these. But I love a Clint Eastwood quote, one of his movies. He said, if you want a guarantee, buy a toaster. Right. So. Those are the days when supposedly banks used to give you a toaster when you open a new account, right? That.

Brian (22:25)
Yeah, yeah. you can guarantee a toaster in today's world. Well, we joke in our family because my wife's grandparents have a, well, they're no longer with us, but they had a refrigerator that was from the 1950s that was sitting out in their barn that still worked perfectly. But we had, you know, our refrigerator is, you know, five years old and it's already breaking down and you have to consider replacing it. So, yeah, yeah.

Mike (22:49)
precede my day, but I... Wow. It's all the electronics in them, I think, right? So I want to move on to the sprint planning. So from the quarterly planning. So in sprint planning, you've got this broken out by what people do in the planning meeting daily during the sprint. So I want to start in the planning meeting. You're proposing a goal and work with developers to kind of improve that, answer questions about backlog items, and talk about your schedule as the product owner share your schedule. You want to elaborate on what you're thinking about with these sprint planning activities?

Brian (23:15)
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean, so I think a goal is important for the sprint. I think that gets us all on the same page and it's kind of one of the teaming aspects of it. We want to all have our eyes on the prize of what it is we're trying to accomplish together so that we're not all just in different places working on different things. I think it's important that we're there in sprint planning to answering questions because that's when they come up. We're making our plan for when we're going to do something. So I think it's important that we're there to kind of help them plan how they're going to accomplish stuff.

Mike (23:59)

Brian (24:08)
We're not telling them how to, but we're giving them the information they need to determine how. And then, you know, as far as our schedule is concerned, I think it's a great idea for a product owner in sprint planning to say, you know, here's the next two weeks of my calendar. Here's where I'm going to be out of the office these days. I'm going to be at a client site on these days, just so that people can prepare. If I'm a developer and I know I need to get approval from my product owner and I know they're going to be out for the next two days at a conference or something, well, that might... guide me in how I'm going to plan and arrange my work.

Mike (24:38)
Yep. Some of my favorite POs have been ones that have done something like said, look, between one and two o 'clock every day is total team time. I will never schedule a meeting. I'll always be available if you need me from one to two or one to three or eight to nine, whatever it is, but they'll have some sort of window there that is basically guaranteed access. Doesn't mean that's the only time they're available, but it's a guaranteed time, which is nice. I think it's nice.

Brian (25:04)
Yeah, I love that too.

Mike (25:06)
Talk to me about the daily scrums and what you'd expect out of a product owner during the daily standups.

Brian (25:08)
Ha ha ha. Yeah, daily scrums are kind of a controversial thing here for lots of reasons, but I mean, there's some who would say a product owner doesn't need to be at a daily scrum. I disagree. I think product owners do need to be there. I don't think they're required. Actually, if you want to ask me my opinion, the only people I think are required are the developers, because it's for them, it's by them. You can't have it if they're not there. If anyone else is not there, you can still have the meeting.

Mike (25:14)
Thank you.

Brian (25:38)
But the product owner, I think, is important to try to be at as many of these as they possibly can. Because just like in sprint planning, they're making a plan for what they're doing, here it's immediately before they're going to be doing this work. So it's the time when the rubber meets the road. And here's where they're going to have some real practical questions. And if you're not there to answer them, you could hold them up. You could delay them.

Mike (26:04)

Brian (26:05) I also, like you said, I like to use this as an opportunity to say, here's when I'm available today.

Mike (26:10)
I wake that product owners attend because of the message it helps sends as well. If the PO never goes, is this project important, right? Or team members start to think, we have to show up daily and say what we did yesterday, that that person never has to do this, you know? And we started to get some resentment towards them. So I strongly encourage product owners to attend. I'm like you, that don't require, but my requirement test is always, would I cancel the meeting if this person had a dentist appointment, right?

Brian (26:16)

Mike (26:41)
If the product owner had a dentist appointment in the morning of planning, I'd probably say, can we do it in the afternoon? My product owner can't make the daily scrum because I've got a dentist appointment? well. We're still doing the daily scrum. But you're right. If all of the teams, this will be silly, but if all of the team members were all having dentist appointments, yeah, we'd cancel the meeting. There'd be no point. So.

Brian (26:53)
Right. Yeah, the Scrum Master and Product Owner can't have a daily scrum, just the two of them.

Mike (27:07)
What should we make them do? Let's talk about what to do during the sprint. You talked about kind of ongoing research. So you don't want to do all the research upfront on this.

Brian (27:09)
Right, exactly. Right, no, it's a continual thing, right? I mean, if I'm working on my product and my competitor comes out with a killer feature that's starting to gain traction, I can't do that research upfront. That's something that becomes apparent as the product kind of goes along. So I think it's important that we keep in touch with what's going on in the real world with our product and the competitors.

Mike (27:43)
Mm -hmm. through the marketing, through the market. The thing you had next here was about connecting with customers to hear feedback. I want to share a story on this one because it literally just happened. I told you I was out of the office. I got back like 15 minutes before we wanted to do this recording. And I'd been gone all morning, so I talked to my wife for about five minutes. And she and I had come across some software recently that we're using that looks kind of interesting. It's things like, you know, when you die, who gets access to your Facebook?

Brian (27:57)

Mike (28:18)
password, right? And most of my friends are pretty shifty. So I don't want to give my Facebook password now because they'd probably go post weird things. But I want you know, when I die, I want that to happen, right? And so we're looking at various software that does those things like who do you notify when after you died?

Brian (28:19)

Mike (28:35)
And we signed up with this company. I'm actually going to share the name because I like them so much here in a minute, but let me say why I like them. My wife and I both had interactions with them by email about totally different things. One was a little bug that I came across and then something that I think she was asking about how does the future work. But here's what I love. They contacted her today and said, can we get on the phone with you and hear what you think about our product? They're a fairly new company, I believe. what you think about our product and what you think about how we've, in particular, have like the three tiers of service that we offer, right? You know, this feature, this feature. And I just love that they're doing that, right? Because not as many companies do that as they should, right? As they should. Because I love that company, so I'm gonna mention their name, trustworthy .com. Probably nobody listening needs them, but they are just this kind of like, you know, I don't wanna say like death planning, because they're not like playing your funeral, but it's like.

Brian (29:23)

Mike (29:28)
Who gets your Facebook account? What bank accounts do you have? So your heirs can figure it out. Right. So, so.

Brian (29:34)
Yeah, yeah, that's great. No, I love having that mission if they're, they have good customer service. Yeah, definitely. Let's, let's mention them.

Mike (29:40)
Yeah, and my wife and I favorably disposed of them, and that just put me over the top with them literally a half hour ago. You talk about checking in with the Scrum Master, about how you as a product owner are doing, but also staying in touch with devs.

Brian (29:46)
That's awesome. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I think that it's important for us to understand that we are not somehow separate from the team. We are part of the team. So we have the same goal as everyone else, and that's to deliver as much value as we can to our customers. We have a specific role, a responsibility to play in that. But I think checking in, partly I put that on there because. checking with a scrum master. That's something that we have on our scrum master sheet is to check in with a product owner. And I do think that those two need to kind of work hand in hand over the course of a sprint. And on an ongoing basis, kind of touch base to see how are things on your end? How are things on my end? And how can we help each other to kind of achieve our goals here?

Mike (30:24)
Yeah. Yeah, you often notice something about somebody else before they may notice it themselves, right? We've got a couple other meetings that I'll move on to. So let's talk about refinement. Can you share what your thoughts are for a product owner's responsibilities during refinement?

Brian (30:43)
Mmm. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, refinement, I always hesitate to even think about it as a meeting because it's kind of more of a series of activities. And you might have multiple meetings that would need to take place here. But yeah, I think that there's a lot of prep work that goes into. If I'm going to have the stakeholders come in and help me prioritize, I've got to prep a lot of that work. I've got to have the stuff that's ready to go prior to that meeting. I can't just show up and go, let's see what we got in our backlog. And we'll just kind of wing it.

Mike (31:02)
Good point. if What do you think about this product owner? I don't know. Let me think now. Yeah. Did I write that one?

Brian (31:21)
Right. Right. I don't even know what that is. I don't know. Let me read it. Right. That's just going to waste everyone's time and frustrate people. So I think there's a lot of prep that goes into that and prepping to go into anything like estimation. Do we have the right sort of things that are going to be estimated? I don't want to waste my team's time estimating stuff that's maybe really a long way in the future. And I'm not going to look at it for a while. So, you know, I think there's a lot of prep time that goes into that. And I think that, you know, we're at the center, at the focal point of any kind of refinement activity. as a product owner. So that's going to be, I don't really know exactly how those meetings are going to play out for you, but I think that there is some configuration there that you got to plan for.

Mike (32:02)
I'm hearing your message. There is the old boy scout motto, be prepared, right? It's a new product owner motto, right? We'll, we'll steal it from the boy scouts. you have any, that's true. Just don't take away my Girl Scout cookies. So let's talk about the, the sprint review. what do you think a great product owner does then?

Brian (32:06)
Yes, yes. Yeah. Well, that's okay, because there's no more Boy Scouts. So you don't have to worry about that. Right. wow. So this is our event. I really think of this as the product owners event. Yeah, exactly. I think you're the emcee. I think you show up, you host it, you send out the invites for it. What I typically tell product owners is kick it off with kind of a look back at some things that have been done recently by the team. Here's some features that we developed in the past three to six sprints and maybe even show some statistics about the impact those things are making.

Mike (32:30)
you Showtime!

Brian (32:56)
on the product and the market, on the customers. Our customer satisfaction has gone from here to there as a result of releasing these features, those kinds of things. So I think that the meeting opens that way. Then we move into the demonstration of the work and what we've done in that sprint. And yes, I would turn that over in large part to the developers so that they can demonstrate. But then I think it circles back at the end to come back to the product owner to say, all right, let's take a peek ahead. Let's look ahead what's coming up in our product backlog. Here's what our... looking at as candidates for the next sprint. And I think that's really important. It gives the stakeholders a chance to speak up and say, hey, what about this thing that I had that was really important? I don't see that prioritized. I really need that in the next sprint. I want to have those conversations in advance, not after sprint planning, when it's sort of locked in. Yeah.

Mike (33:45)
Tell me about the retrospective. One of the things I noticed you had in there was that you want product owners to attend every retrospective. There's going to be pushback on that from some teams. What's your thought there?

Brian (33:59)
Yeah, my thought there is, again, kind of reiterating that point that we are on the team, we are a team member like anyone else. And again, we have different responsibilities. We have a named kind of set of accountabilities that we have that may differ from others. But I kind of consider it like this. If I'm on a, in the US, we'd say soccer team, but if I'm anywhere else in the world, I'd say football team. If I'm on that kind of a team and I'm the keeper, the goalkeeper. I've got a very unique role, right? I mean, there's a set of things I do that no one else does. I'm allowed to do things that nobody else is allowed to. I'm allowed to touch the ball with my hands. Nobody else is, right? But if there's a team meeting, you're not gonna have a team meeting without your goalkeeper. They're an important vital part of your team. And that's what this is. It's the team meeting to get together to say, how can we get better? How can we improve? What's going on? What's wrong? What's right? And what do we wanna focus on?

Mike (34:36)
Right. Yeah.

Brian (34:58)
So I think it's vital for a product owner to be at every one just because like I said, we're a team member.

Mike (35:04)
I agree. To me, it's always like, if you don't feel comfortable having your product owner at the retrospective, that's the first thing I want to talk about at the retrospective. Right? It would figure out why we're not comfortable with that so we can move past that. I do like here in the retrospective, you talked about having the product owner commit to making progress on the improvement items, which I think is important because sometimes it is product owners who have to improve. Right? So.

Brian (35:31) Yeah. Yeah, I mean, one of the things we'll talk about in class is how the product owner is a vital communication relay point. They are the, I call them kind of the, it slipped my mind. What's the stone that had the different languages on it from Rosetta Stone, sorry. They're kind of the Rosetta Stone, right? Because they speak tech with the developers. They speak. Mike (35:36) Mm -hmm. Rosetta.

Brian (35:57)
business with the stakeholders and they translate across those two groups. So I think, yeah, I think it's important that we're there to try to, if there's communication issues with us and the developers, this is the place to work it out, right? This is the place to say, what do you need from me so that it's more clear the next time I write stories.

Mike (36:02)
Yep. Yeah, that's a good point. What about for the next sprint? What should product owners do this sprint to be ready for the next one?

Brian (36:24)
Yeah, excuse me. Yeah, I think it's important that we really get a handle on what should be prioritized, that we have a good understanding of what's going to be coming up, that we have that idea of what our next proposed sprint goal might be, where we're focused on stuff. And as I said, I want to check in with my stakeholders, especially my key stakeholders, on that prioritization so that it's not a surprise to anyone. I don't want to. I don't want anything to be a surprise when it gets to sprint planning. By the time we circle back around in sprint planning, I want my developers to have looked at these things multiple times before they see it in sprint planning. We've had estimations. We've had discussions about these. So there could have been multiple times we've had conversations about these. So by the time we get to sprint planning, it's not the first time we're looking at these things.

Mike (37:00)
Yeah. Yeah, it should be a surprise.

Brian (37:15)
And that's kind of what I'm trying to allude to here is that there's a series of activities that just are kind of the glue between one sprint to the next sprint. And if we kind of drop that ball in any way, like I said, I can't show up at sprint planning and sort of just say, well, let's see what we got, guys. I have no idea what we're going to do, but let's just take a look. Yeah, I can't wing it.

Mike (37:30)
Right. Yeah, wing it. Yeah, that's not a good approach for things. Brian, you told me a lot of things that product owners should do. I want to twist it a little bit and ask you for one thing product owners should not do before the sprint, during the sprint, before the project, whatever. What's one thing, the one thing you would tell product owners to not do?

Brian (37:57)
Wow, that's such a great question. I think probably the number one thing that I would say is to understand the boundary between the what and the how, and really to try to stay out of the how. What I mean by that is we're in charge as product owners of the what side of the equation. What is it that we're going to be doing? What are we focused on? The developers are in charge of the how. How do we accomplish this? What's the best way to deliver this? And I... I know as a product owner in my past, I've always struggled with that balance of, yeah, but I've got a vision in my head of exactly the way I want it to play out. And I have to kind of rein myself back in a little bit and say, yeah, but kind of remind yourself that that's not really my role here. My role is not to explain exactly how the page is going to need to look and exactly how this feature plays out. If I have no really discernible reason that I have to have it one way over another, right? If there's not like a legal reason or compliance that I've got to do it one way, then I want to as much as possible stay out of the house so that the developers really get to exert their expertise.

Mike (38:59)
Right. Yeah, that's where they're going to be, they're going to be best at. I was describing it as that there's, there is a fine line between what and how, which is why people often will struggle with it. the way I think about it is like every time we dip into that, how at all product owners dip into that at all, they start to kind of take away degrees of freedom from the team. The team has less maneuvering room on how they're going to solve the problem. And great, take away one degree of freedom here and there. It's not going to be the end of the world. Take away too many, and you over -constrained the solution. The team doesn't engage as fully. All sorts of negative things, as you've touched on.

Brian (39:39)

Mike (39:40)
Brian, I want to thank you for letting me take over and turn the tables on you and ask you the question. Since you had made the PDF, I wanted to be the one asking you what your thoughts were on your great PDF that we have for folks. So I'll turn it back over to you. Let it be back to your show now.

Brian (39:41)
Hahaha I... Yeah, no, well, thank you very much. This has been a pleasure. It's been really fun to have to see what it's like on the other side of the table a little bit. So thanks for being willing to do it, Mike, and thanks for being willing to share your insights as we walked through this.