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Product Owners forum

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It is so great to have some slack time, as you can let your mind get off a bit from your own coaching activities and learn from others. It is also great as sooner or later you will connect the dots back to implement those insights and even write a post on it 🙂

At AgileSparks we allocate some of this slack for a Gemba walk. Today, for example, I was lucky to join my colleague in a kickoff meeting of a distributed PO forum. Leading a remote session is a challenging situation by itself, as well as working with a wide range of audiences or with distributed coaches. But let’s tackle them one by one. I promise that at the end you will also get the how to run your first distributed PO forum tips as well.

What I would like to start with is the Why. Why initiate a PO forum? What are the benefits? Many times there are POs that are working on different products, maybe on different release trains, with different competencies or expertise, so why bother?

Well, if you set it once or participated already, you probably know the answer – It is so enlightening to have a peer group that gets together as a community and shares knowledge across POs, supports each other in their PO role, gets alignments on the organization way of work and raises questions, concerns, challenges, and brainstorm together.  You don’t need to wait till your organization gets stabilized with its Agile implementation before you kick off your PO forum. It is much better to get started from the beginning. The topics will most likely change as also the frequency, but as soon as you start with this routine in your journey the sooner you’ll get the fruits that will result from this collaboration.

The topics can vary from roles and responsibilities, POs role within the Agile ceremonies and the product lifecycle, Planning and pre-planning, the DoD, product and team backlog, user stories and splitting patterns, and can continue with dipper dilemmas resulting from the organizational structure, interface with other stakeholders, short vs long term decisions, understanding the MVP and story mapping, working with tools and other working routines and so forth. The best part is that you discuss it together, get a shared understanding of it, get exposed to others’ experiences and best practices, and keep this routine also when your Agile coach stepped out.

So, what are the tips to facilitate it? and how to run your first distributed PO forum?

Let’s start with the preparations:

  • For a remote session, you need a good video conference setup. First, ensure you have a good-quality of video and audio and a good and stable network to support it. Get enough time before the meeting to ensure all is set. As obvious as it sounds, this is the one step so many repeatedly fail into.
  • Ensure you know how to host the meeting and share your slides, digital board, or any other application you will use.
  • Get familiar with a virtual board. This board can be used to park topics that the team raised during the meeting but will be discussed later on, so you’d like to visualize these. It can also be used when you’d like everyone to bring their dilemmas and current challenges/gaps and then classify them together, prioritize and discuss them. This is a great way to bring everyone on board, get everyone’s ideas, visualize them and work on them as a team.
  • If you have an Agile coach also on the remote site, ensure you are aligned on the agenda and the facilitation. Enable shared facilitation to encourage collaboration, respect, and trust.

At a kickoff of a forum, you would like first to:

  • Get everyone to get introduced. There are many practices on how to run a short intro and how to share expectations and it will depend also on the time you have. Remember to timebox your agenda items.
  • Have a good working agreement for the forum, an agreement that everyone will own and follow and will stop the line when the team crossed it.
  • Present the agenda.
  • Agile product ownership in a nutshell provides a good baseline to start a discussion. Identify what you would like to do more, what you are currently missing, what you don’t understand, and what you don’t want to adopt. It provides a good platform from which you can collect on the virtual board the team dilemmas and gaps.
  • Collect the topics, review and classify them together, and prioritize them. Now you have an initial backlog of the PO forum to start with.
  • Address the high-rated topics and continue tracking and refining your PO forum backlog as you continue.
  • Summarize and track any decisions and/or experiments resulting from the forum and follow up on them at the next meeting of the forum. One of the activities we encourage is that POs will join other team’s ceremonies and see how their PO walk through a sprint planning or a review meeting or any other activity, so they can get exposed to other practices and provide feedback to each other.

In the end, this forum is a great supporting team when one can understand that his/her challenges may be common and get tips and best practices from others to experiment and implement, as well as a great platform for long-term discussions, improvements, and continuance learning.

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