Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pearls of Wisdom from Stacey Weber

Are you an executive who has recently adopted Scrum or another agile approach to product management and development?

If so, Pragmatic Marketing's Stacey Weber has some important observations that will help you understand the roles and skills you'll need on your team. (See my concise description of Scrum first.)

First, your product manager (often equated, unfortunately, with the product owner in Scrum) should focus on the problems to be solved, not features:
How often have you already envisioned the solution before you’ve stated the problem? Begin with the problem-oriented requirement: “Every [frequency], [persona] has [problem] with [result].” Then work with a user interaction designer or business analyst to define the solution.
and
Take a look at your team’s backlog. Is it features? Or, even finer-grained tasks than that?

A Product Manager’s primary responsibility is to know the market – to discover urgent, pervasive problems that people are willing to pay to have solved.

We are generally not trained or necessarily skilled in the area of design.
Second, you need an interaction designer on your team:
The designer should be in charge of the translation of market requirements into features. In an agile environment, that means that the designer must work with the Product Manager to understand the market requirements and their priority –and then lead the team to turning the problems into features and sprints that make sense. This must be done in close conjunction with the project manager, to ensure that the product that comes out the back-end makes sense, and provides maximum impact in the target market segment.
Third, be careful with your product backlog. If the backlog contains requirements (i.e. problems to be solved), the product manager prioritizes them. If the backlog contains features, a designer works with the product manager to prioritize them. If it contains development tasks, then perhaps the project manager should help prioritize them.
In an agile environment, that means that the designer must work with the Product Manager to understand the market requirements and their priority –and then lead the team to turning the problems into features and sprints that make sense. This must be done in close conjunction with the project manager.
Bottom line: don't let process obscure the focus on delivering real user benefit, and make sure you have the right skill sets on your team.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an agile approach to product development that is centered around brief, informal stand-up meetings.

The term "scrum" originated in the game of rugby. A rugby scrum is a way of resuming a game that has paused due to an accidental foul or the ball having gone out of play. Opposing players engage head-to-head and compete for possession of the ball, which is thrown into the fray.

A "media scrum" is an impromptu press conference in which the media gather around a political figure and bombard her with questions.

Thus "scrum" has come to refer more generally to a short, informal gathering.

In the Scrum approach to product development, scrums are frequent (often daily) stand-up meetings in which each member of the product team states his immediate goal and any risks or obstacles he is facing. The scrums typically start at precisely the same time every day and are often time-boxed to 15-20 minutes.

Other Scrum practices include:
  • Iterations ("sprints") with a maximum duration of thirty days.
  • No changes during a sprint to the planned set of deliverables within it.
  • Demo to external stakeholders at the end of each iteration.
  • On-going measurement of progress and re-estimation of remaining scope.
Roles in Scrum include:
  • Product owner is the voice of the customer and determines and prioritizes what will go in the product.
  • Scrum master facilitates the planning, sprint, and meeting processes. The emphasis is on removing obstacles rather than dictating how individuals achieve goals.
  • Team is composed of the designers, developers, and testers that build the product.
  • Users sometimes attend meetings and give feedback on demos.
  • Stakeholders are not users but may be buyers or vendors.
  • Managers set up the environment for the team.
Artifacts in Scrum include:
  • Product backlog is a prioritized list of requirements or features planned for the product.
  • Sprint backlog is a prioritized, detailed list of requirements, features, or tasks planned for a sprint.
  • Burn down chart depicts the number of backlog items (or the estimated task hours) remaining in a sprint or for the product as a whole.
Executives and product managers are concerned mostly with product backlogs and high-level visibility into the team's progress.