Help, I’m a proxy product owner!

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Skrevet av: Jens Kr Tøraasen

Some years ago, I was working as a facilitator or coach, if you like, for a team of product owner. It was a complex organisation and the product we were working on had many stakeholders from different parts of the organisation. All with different needs and priorities. It is often difficult to do propper, customer centric product development in this situations as it often end up in a discussion about who should get their way and the features they want.

The challenge:

  • Different needs and priority between stakeholders
  • Great business understanding, but not much experience with analysing insight and breaking it down into product requirements
  • High expectations from the rest of the organisation towards what the stakeholders will “deliver” for their team or department
  • Difficult to move forward as a PO as the same discussions are being repeated

All of this resulted in us not being able to move forward and no-one getting what they wanted. We came up with a workshop concept to takle this challenges and be able to continue with everyone more or less on board

Where can this workshop be helpful?

  • A lot of stakeholders with different needs and opinions
  • Different seniority between stakeholders
  • Stakeholders not focusing on problems and insight and more on gut feeling
  • Stakeholders with a strong opinion on solution, but not necessarily the solution to the problem
  • You find yourself as a proxy PO without mandate

The works

For a group of about 12 ppl, you probably need two days to allow for discussion. The agenda will look something like this

  • Homework — Participants need to prepare an “opportunity statement/description” . You will have to send this out a bit in advance.
  • Opportunity workshop — Work with the opportunities provided by participants and stakeholders
  • Ideation workshop based on opportunities
  • Detailing — Work with selected ideas and start to detail in groups
  • Afterwork — Still a lot of work to do, but you hopefully have direction and priority

To run a smooth workshop, you might also want to add a bit of motivation and warmup before you kick off the opportunity part. Personally I have had good results talking about the overall product development process and product lifecycle and I can also recommend running a short brainstorming about expectations from all participants.

Homework

I find it very helpful to give the participants some homework. It helps to get the right focus going into the workshop and also to control the scope a bit. The workshop itself can also be done in shorter time.

We ask all participants to fill in as many “Opportunity statements” as possible. You will probably get one or two from each. The name “opportunity” is chosen because it’s not related to the solution at all. We don’t commit to anything, but it’s rather a positive upside we can address. The solution will come later to address the opportunity.

Download the template

The template also encourage the writer to think about insight and reasons for why this opportunity is valid. E.g “X% of our user base spend on average 30 minutes for each task. By making this easier, we can save them 8 hours of work each day”. “This and that competitor have this feature and X% of the market. We also got this feature, but our customers doesn’t use it”

Opportunity statement template

Title and description — Describe the opportunity. Be as detailed as possible. Remember that the one reading this don’t know what you know.

  • What is occurring? What is the observations made and what is the insight from this?
  • The objective. What are we going to accomplish?
  • Who does it affect and where are they affected?

Background - Use this section to document your findings and insight

Who is involved - We need to involve them in the verification stage later.

  • Who is involved at your company?
  • What customer/customer segments are affected?

Impact - How big is this opportunity or the problem behind the opportunity?

  • How big market size will it affect?
  • How many customers are affected?

Risk — Challenge your own observations and the opportunity you see

  • Have you made any assumptions?
  • Why could you might be wrong about the opportunity?

Opportunity workshop

The day is finally here. It’s workshop time.

Our main purpose for this section is for everyone to get an understanding of the different opportunities from all stakeholders and a priority for what to cover in the next sections

Agenda

  1. Make sure you have printed out the opportunities before start
  2. The opportunity owner presents the opportunity in front of everyone
  3. Feedback, questions and discussion
  4. Repeat 2–3 until your are done or spent the time you have timeboxed
  5. Grouping of similar opportunities. This step is important as you hopefully start seeing synergy across the organisation. Things that might have been lost because everyone have been so busy focusing on their own problems.
  6. Prioritization vote — Use red dots. Give each participant 3 dots each, they can place all on one opportunity (group) or spread the votes between different ones.
  7. You now have a prioritised list of the biggest opportunities for your company

Rephrase

I didn’t mention this earlier, but you actually have some more work to do. Before starting the ideation part of the workshop, you need to rephrase the opportunity as a challenge. By doing this you frame it as a question it is easier to answer and and you will get more precise suggestions.

Rephrase the opportunity into a challenge before going into ideation

Example

Say that you have a Saas solution. Your opportunity could be something like: “70% of revenue comes from customers upgrading their licenses. By improving the software license upgrading process, we should be able to see 15% increase and reduce churn by X%. Customer feedback indicate that they don’t know what licence model they should use and they find it hard to find the upgrade section in the Saas dashboard”

Rephrasing:
“How might we improve the licence upgrade process by making it more understandable and easier to find”

Do this with every opportunity or grouped opportunity. Write it out on a piece of paper and mention what opportunity it addresses as bullet points on the same paper.

Ideation workshop part 1 — Brainstorming

Back to workshopping!

Ideation come in many forms. Some will probably think that this approach is too rigid and doesn’t foster creativity. You are probably right as the purpose of the following activities is to gather as much input as possible from stakeholders. PO and product designers still need to spend time iterating to further improve the suggested solutions.

First we want to do an activity with all participants. We do this because we need buy-in and consensus about the priority going into detailing. We also get to hear everyones voice about all issues before continuing in groups.

Agenda

  1. Kick everything off with a walkthrough of the opportunities and the rephrased version. Place them on the wall in prioritised order.
  2. Start with the first on. Brainstorm individually for 5 minutes. “What ca we do to address this opportunity”. It should be very high level as we will go into details later. If we go back to the SaaS licensing case it could be “Create a tutorial video explaining the licensing modell” or “Redesign the licensing tier packages”
  3. Everyone presents their suggestion one by one
  4. Group similar suggestions together.
  5. Prioritization vote — Use red dots. Give each participant 2 dots each. They can place all on one suggestion or spread the votes between different ones.
  6. Repeat step 2–5 until you have 1–3 top ideas for each opportunity. Don’t do too many opportunities as you will get too much ideas to detail. Its better to run the workshop more often than to cover too much during each workshop

Ideation workshop part 2— Detailing

This next and last part of the workshop is detailing, and it is done in groups. I suggest to split into groups of three. PO or product designer and maybe a tech-lead or architect can move between groups and help out if needed

The output of this section should be different concept drafts we can further develop and verify.

A concept draft in this case is a piece of A3 paper split into 4 sections

Description: Describe the concept/solution. For our SaaS example it could be: “Redesign the license upgrade page so the user sees what licence they are currently on and how many free seats they have. All levels should be shown and the diff in cost and functionality should be clearly stated. We should also give a small discount if the user pay annually and not monthly to nudge them into making a bigger commitment”

Drawings and wireframes: A picture say more than a thousand words. It’s always easier to communicate your thinking with some visuals. It also help you better understand your own suggestion and identify any pitfalls or issues. This section can also be used to sketch out a simple data model, or flow diagram for the more tech savvy participants

Technical aspects: This sections is for writing down all technical aspect that you need to consider or verify as part of the concept. If our concept is a brand new licensing model where users pay for each feature, we might need to consider a complete redesign of our software architecture to encapsulate features and toggle on or off on a user level. Capabilities the system might not have today.

Verification and validation: What to we do to verify the concept, what is the criteria, market, segment etc. This should go all the way back to the opportunity and it is key for the success of this workshop. If we don’t do propper verification and agree on the criteria we might as well just follow the anti-pattern of key stakeholders having their ideas implemented, not focusing on customer value

Afterwork

This is your time to shine PO or product designer. You hopefully have the mandate, anchored in some insight and data, to further develop the concept drafts into propper concepts, verify them, build the MVP and iterate with many version after that. Good luck..


Help, I’m a proxy product owner! was originally published in Dfind Consulting on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.