Peter Cohn is the Product Owner(PO) for the maintenance and enhancement of a CRM platform in a large product development organization. The CRM platform is an industry leader unifying case management, business process management, robotics and AI-based decision making. Peter is located in New York City (NYC) working with the company’s product management locally and the engineering team located in Pune, India.

Peter Cohn was an engineering manager earlier in the same organization and had moved to being a PO a few months back. He knew some parts of the product suite in depth but did not have a breadth view. Peter often feels that he is the “meat in the sandwich”. He gets caught between the product management folks wanting a feature change for an important customer in the middle of an iteration and the engineering team in Pune who were missing planned iteration goals as a result. The engineering team in Pune and their managers were quite unhappy that Peter was not putting his foot down enough with the product managers and violating basic Agile principles. And the product managers in NYC were complaining that Peter did not understand the urgency behind some of the changes they were asking for and conveying that effectively to the Pune team.

Nazreen Ali is the Agile coach working with the team in Pune and Peter Cohn. Nazreen is an employee of an external consulting organization and had been selected as an embedded team coach a few weeks back. Nazreen had become an Agile coach after working for over five years as a product manager in a large in-house product development organization. She understood many of the root causes of Peter’s problems and very much wished to help Peter deal with them. As Nazreen, how would you take forward your aspiration to help Peter and the product management team in NYC – a high-level outline of your next steps?

 

Suggested Solution:

Here is one possible approach for Nazreen’s next steps:

Firstly, just because Nazreen Ali aspires to do something, it does not mean that her ideas would be accepted straight away. So, there are some preparatory steps that she must take:

  • Being a coach from an external consulting organization, she must ensure with them whether she can take her proposal forward with the customer. An assessment needs to be made about its impact on already-committed coaching hours and engagement duration, given that there is likely to be additional effort and may be additional elapsed time also
  • The next step would be to check the above with her sponsor/manager in the customer organization on whether she can take this up. This perhaps entails some re-prioritization of her work and additional time if required. Any such change needs to be agreed with the sponsor/manager and an OK in principle for the proposal
  • If the above steps indicate a green signal, then comes the step of engaging with the product management team and co-creating an intervention plan. For that, she needs to do the following:
    • Establish contacts in the product management organization in New York City (NYC) and bring to their attention her prior background in product management and potential value-add in terms of ideas on what can be done in the present circumstance
    • Conduct workshops for the NYC team on some of the newer trends in the area of product management that has a bearing on the present issues
    • Establish a champion for her initiative in the product management team; work with him to jointly develop an intervention plan (covering a joint assessment, training, coaching and consulting specific to the situation at hand) that can be socialized and accepted. The intervention plan would enable all stakeholders in Pune and NYC to see the full elephant in terms of the problem domain and assess the efficacy of the intervention plan

Once the above preparatory steps are taken, Nazreen should take the agreed intervention plan to execution. Some of the things she needs to cover in execution are:

  • Keep the NYC champion fully informed of the progress and any issues. She must also do that with stakeholders in the Pune engineering organization especially her sponsor/manager
  • Maintain a sharp look-out for potential “turf” clashes between the Pune organization and the NYC team which may scuttle the initiative
  • Improve visibility of the team’s challenges through
    • Creating more opportunities for the team to interact with the product management team – and not just through the Product Owner (PO)
    • Use techniques like value stream mapping to make bottlenecks more visible all around especially to the NYC team
  • Promote collaboration between the Pune team and NYC team; for example, through more product management participation in product backlog refinement
  • Use the interaction opportunities with the NYC team to educate/reinforce the role of the PO especially in finalizing priorities well in time and not changing during sprint

 

The execution part of the initiative (as above) would also bring out the need for tweaking the team capacity, allocation of engineers for planned work and unplanned work and governance aspects (Scrum. Kanban et al)