From Product Owner to Agile Coach: a Powerful Journey

From_PO2AC

This may sound biased because I have two passions: align people to build something meaningful for a customer and be an engaged agent of change helping teams react fast to the unknown.

So please bear with me in why I think they complement themselves so beautifully and why the journey from a Product Owner into an Agile Coach is so powerful!

12 years ago I was exposed to the Agile world for the first time. I remember seeing a group of unproductive people discussing ways to improve the way they were working — I remember being completely exhilarated!

Since then I was always gravitated to the Agile-thing, fully embracing the exciting role of Product Owner in the last years!

I started noticing that I was becoming increasingly frustrated because Scrum/Agile was not working, and while I was busy doing my Product Owner stuff (context, decision-making, alignments) I just couldn’t avoid stepping into the team dynamics, and by consequence creating a an Agile ecosystem around me. How can I help them do the things more efficiently effective?

This manifested itself in many ways, for example:

  • Promoting a fixed cadence and outcome-oriented Sprint Reviews
  • Promoting the team growth, by focusing on the individual first. Pinpointing their individual strengths and skills and putting them to use for the team — we don’t all have to be creative or top-notch developers and that’s OK.
  • Spreading the Ask Why-mindset with things like asking everyone, before a meeting starts, what their expectations were for that meeting and how they planned to to achieve that goal.
  • Make them accountable for what they were delivering.

During this time, I was facilitating whenever I felt I could make a difference because, in the end, the “right” product had to be delivered, no matter what. In the long term, it completely paid off, and eventually, I started having more time to focus on the job I was being paid to do.

Now, as an Agile Coaching serving an organization, I noticed that a lot of the skills I enhanced while being a Product Owner are leveraging greatly the way I do my job. And that is what I want to describe. The similarities between some typical Product Owner tasks applied to Agile Coaching.

It starts with a vision

Everything starts with a vision! I must have an opinion on where I want to take the organization, and how I can help to pave the road to get us there.

I consider myself a agent of change that coaches Agile to the organization so they are faster and smarter when dealing with change (until a point when the organization is mature enough and I become redundant).

I have my product Area

Instead of having a delimited set of assets who’s development I influence to satisfy the customers, I coach individuals, teams, and management. I may be stretching it a little here, as I don’t want to look at people as mere resources that need to be managed. But instead, I envision a complex and delimited system that is composed of individuals and processes that are the heavily influence by the organizational culture.

I have my stakeholders

There are always stakeholders and as a coach, it changes nothing. C-level Managers want to see results and somehow change needs to start becoming visible. At the end of the day, I’m not working to make people happier just because. Happiness, fun, and commitment, better processes, and empowering people are all means to help the business be more efficient and effective. Period!

Making choices and Prioritizing

Time is a limited resource, and as such decisions need to happen so on what’s more important! What are the changes and improvements that leverage the most? What can have a bigger impact, working at the individual or the team level? Train competences for faster results or work on behaviors for long and lasting results? Short or long-term effect? People-oriented, processes or techniques? Decisions everywhere.

Promoting Alignment and Engagement

Everyone is engaged with what they are responsible for — either meeting a delivery date or assuring quality. A coach is emotionally less attached to these technicalities of the daily work and this is a tremendous advantage in finding patterns and pitfalls that arise from the daily activities and interactions. Everything revolves around people and processes and for that I need to ensure they know some fundamental principles, are engaged and aligned with the vision.

What are the drawbacks?

I don’t want to seem pretentious or claim this transition is the best and that there are no challenges. Being a Product Owner is rewarding and valuable for many reasons; decision-making, value proposition creation, industry standards and terminologies in practice, customers and partners relationship, business model understanding, applying innovation and open, and the list goes on.

This is perhaps the hardest part of converting from Product Owner to Agile Coach: your brain has to mind-shift and move away from the old habits and responsibilities of being actively concentrated on influencing the product.

Last thoughts

Many of us have transitioned from different roles, and all of them have their traits and some challenges. If one is passionate about enabling people, watching them grow, finding problems and waste, questioning and challenging the status-quo and, last but obviously not the least embodies Agile, these all are sufficient ground to become an Agile Coach.

But the skills that Product Owners develop, such as pragmatism, decision-making, the Ask Why mindset, and focusing on what is a priority in reaching a certain vision, are an excellent foundation into the journey to becoming an Agile coach.

What do you think? Do you also see a powerful a journey this career path from Product Owner to Agile Coach?