I knew I wasn’t signing up for an easy gig. Moving from Business Analyst to Product Ownership meant a significant shift in my roles and responsibilities anyway. Being a Product Owner for 3 products and four remote teams right from the get go, without any real domain experience to help, was always going to be a challenge. It’s a good thing I’m too stubborn to be scared of anything like that!
This isn’t the story of a miracle or the happy ending of a movie. Things haven’t fallen into place like magic. I’m still learning, I’m still struggling, but I know I’m going in the right direction. Here are the three biggest things I’ve learned, though.
Working with remote teams is HARD
I always knew this one was going to be problematic. It’s difficult not being a part of impromptu conversations and questions, and communicating by Skype chat or video with a large team means you miss a lot of non-verbal communication. I do travel to do important stuff like Release Planning face to face, but that is once every 2 months, and it’s not really enough to build strong bonds with teams.
I’m still working out how to get better at this but one thing I have learnt is that the teams where the team leads are proactive and will always be thinking about when they need to loop me in produce much better outcomes than teams where they don’t. If you figure out how to do this better, please help me!
Standardize Processes as much as possible
Make sure everyone understands roles and responsibilities clearly, and who to involve when. This goes a long way towards helping people decide when to reach out vs when to solve the problem themselves. And try to ensure that your processes are similar for each team and product – because the difficulties arise when you’re trying to do things differently for each – the stress of remembering to do the ‘right’ thing for that team or product is more.
Don’t be afraid to ask for Help
Change is hard, and people resist it. With no direct authority, not being co-located, and without the deep domain knowledge that the team can turn to you for, it’s difficult for them to see the value in the Product Owner role. The Product Managers and Development Managers have been fantastic in impressing on the teams that this is an essential ingredient of creating good software and they have stepped in and reinforced this. When I can’t be there, the team leads have been fantastic ‘eyes and ears’ for me and have given me so much valuable advice on how their teams work, how to achieve a particular outcome or what to watch out for. I’m lucky to have some great people helping me – and all I had to do was ask!
I know that we’re past the forming stage, and I’m wondering if/ how storming will happen – and hoping to get to norming ASAP… watch this space 🙂