6

I am the scrum master, proxy product owner here - what is the best way to deal with an impatient stakeholder? At first I was able to tolerate it, but it is becoming stressful.

To give a few examples:

  • The team have committed to delivering work based on a product roadmap that the Product Owner and I have agreed on.

  • I have then planned the resources to deliver work based on that roadmap by organising my upcoming sprints accordingly.

We've used a Gaant chart in this case, just to visualise upcoming sprints - although this is not set in stone and the PO is aware.

  • The team have delivered everything requested often ahead of schedule.

As sprints are undertaken, and work has been delivered based on what has been agreed, I have then been faced the following issues:

  • It is difficult to please him with the quantity of work delivered on a weekly bases.

This is irrespective on the amount of work that has been delivered, he keeps wanting more and more to the point that I keep having slightly heated conversations with him, telling him that without the team working unpaid overtime (which they have told me that they do not want to do), it is not possible to deliver 60 hours work in a 40 hour week.

  • The stress of him having a go at me is starting to affect me, since I often find it hard to relax at work, not knowing if what we have done on a weekly bases is good enough.

  • I have members of staff in the scrum team working their butts off, to the point one developer right now is coming into work sick, so that he can help the rest of the scrum team meet their sprints.

  • Product owner seems to take no interest in learning low level of agile. I often break high level functionality into very small pieces i.e. user stories so that it is manageable for the team. This has created some tension with the PO, since he thinks stories should not be broken into slices but be one story that contains sub features.

So to give one example, the team were asked to implement a report. The report has a search feature, a table which contains data and a filter to view report by date range.

I would break that one feature down into 3:

Story 1: Table

Story 2: Search

Story 3: filter

Since they are all features in themselves.

I have told him that it is important that features are properly broken down otherwise I can't make forecasts on when they will be delivered and at what quality.

  • PO tells me in private that I am doing a good job despite his bitching.

Finally, after introducing my project management approach, the product is much better than what he had before since my team rewrote the old product from it being badly written - previously he was managing that. He knows this and has acknowledged this, but the stress and constant bitching is getting to me. How do you guys handle this?

Thanks

  • Did you tell him all of this? – TTKDroid Jun 15 '16 at 12:00
  • Yes, he knows, sometimes he comes across as understanding but then reverts back to old ways very quickly. – bobo2000 Jun 15 '16 at 13:48
  • 4
    @bobo2000 I've seen a dozen or so questions of yours here now. I'm begging you, please start looking for a different job. The environment you're working in is stressful at best, but more likely, it's simply unhealthy (as evidenced by developers coming to work sick). Please. You seem to be very competent. Take more value in yourself than this. Find someplace better. I'm a stranger on the Internet and it hurts me to watch this unfold. – RubberDuck Jun 17 '16 at 1:16
  • @RubberDuck this has been crossing my mind. I do enjoy being a scrum master, but I am concerned that a) I do not have enough months worth of experience yet (only been here for 10 months) and b) if other companies are any better? - what has your experience been working elseware? – bobo2000 Jun 17 '16 at 8:25
  • 1
    I wouldn't compare my experience to yours @bobo2000. I'm a developer who manages his own projects. What I do know is that you need buy in on all levels (including management) on the Philosophy of Agile Software Development in order for it to succeed. It's clear that your CEO wants command and control. It's likely because the money is running out and he needs to get to market yesterday. Which is sad, because if he just prioritized correctly, your team may be able to get a minimum viable product to market yesterday. Speaking of, you may want to research Lean Startup. – RubberDuck Jun 17 '16 at 10:51
3

Honestly, this sounds like the Product Owner is a typical type-A personality that has learned to get better results from relentlessly pushing his teams to always do more and better. (Think Elon Musk.) There's nothing inherently wrong with this because it's his style. As the Project Manager, it's your job to bridge communications between the Product Owner and the Dev Team.

While it can be more stress to you (and hopefully not), my recommended approach is to insulate the dev team from the CEO/PO. This way you calmly listen, discuss, and negotiate with the PO without stressing the dev team. Then you can "translate" the PO's needs and directions to the dev team and remove the stressful/pushing aspects of the PO's directions.

Much of "good agile" practices call for the PO to have access to the dev team for immediate feedback on their work and the functionality in development. But, a good PM needs to evaluate and balance the level of interaction with the PO to the disruption it can cause. A PM's job is often little more than being a communicator/bridge/translator/explainer between the dev team and the POs. And a significant part of the PM's job is to manage the environment for the dev team as well as the environment the "project" has with the PO. Manage to the strengths of both sides. (And in this case, since the PO is the CEO, you definitely have to manage "up"!)

Going toe-to-toe with the PO will never work, especially since it's his company. So manage, insulate, communicate, translate.

  • Funnily enough, that is how the organisation is run - exactly how you have described is what I do day in and day out in my current role. I am like the bridge for the dev team and PO to make his life easier, so that he can focus on sales as opposed to managing. I can confirm that it is more stress for me when 'negotiating'. – bobo2000 Jun 15 '16 at 16:21
3

You probably heard of Brooks law "nine women can't make a baby in one month". It sounds like your PO wants one woman to have a baby in 3 and not 9 months. I've had relatively similar case lately and my personal instinct was and is to resist inflicting more pressure on the team - squeezing more velocity out of them is acceptable if you have an important release coming soon or smth., but not as a regular "process optimization"; it will produce a false positive result - your PO won't be encouraged to change, seeing his seagull management is working, and your resources are becoming vulnerable (quitting, loss of motivation, productivity etc.). Easier said than done, I know - as to PO - I'd stick with a broken record of "which would you prefer - adjusting scope or deadline?".

  • The mythical man-month. – Danny Schoemann Jun 19 '16 at 7:20
  • Sigh, thought my boss has changed, he has gone quiet over the last couple of weeks since taking over from me for account management so that I can focus on pure PM. Turns out he has made a total mess with one client, and has promised them work without consulting me first - totally disrupted my sprint. – bobo2000 Jun 21 '16 at 15:24
2

The proxy Product Owner role is very difficult to do well. Combine being a proxy Product Owner with being a Scrum Master and it is hard to see how it will ever work.

In Scrum we make a pact. The Product Owner focuses on generating requirements and prioritising them. The development team focuses on delivery and on improvements.

The Scrum Master role is there to make sure this all works smoothly. Typically this means removing impediments and coaching both the development team and the Product Owner to ensure they are doing Scrum properly.

Let's be clear here. There is nothing in the Scrum Master role that says you tell the team to work harder. In fact the opposite is true. The Scrum Master usually coaches the team to work at a sustainable pace as overloading is a common impediment.

I would suggest you sit with the CEO and discuss what your role is and whether as an organisation they are committed to using Scrum. If they do want to do Scrum then your role needs to change so that there is no conflict of interest (combining proxy Product Owner with Scrum Master). Your CEO also needs to stop using you as a manager for the development team.

  • If I am honest, I am probably more of a Scrum master in my current role than PO. The CEO has the final say about what goes into the backlog. The hard bit is the coaching aspect. CEO can see that Scrum is working, but he like all CEO's wants as much as possible in the least amount of time. He also wants a middle man (me), so that he is not involved in the day to day activities of management but can focus on sales. – bobo2000 Jun 15 '16 at 16:23
  • 2
    The best thing to do in these situations is make the pain visible. By that I mean emphasize the impact of working longer hours: reduced quality, more technical debt and loss of morale. This doesn't have to be confrontational, just make sure that the CEO understands the consequences of his actions. e.g. "We pushed for more work in this sprint and unfortunately that means quality suffered. Bug count is up and the team is worried that the code base has suffered". Also highlight that the team has less time to spend on improvements as they are pushing through so much functionality. – Barnaby Golden Jun 15 '16 at 18:43
  • 2
    Agree w/ Barnaby. I wonder if, in a startup environment, it's also worth talking to CEO about what he wants the company culture to be: sustainable development, or "Full speed ahead, damn the toll it takes on the team"? – Vicki Laidler Jun 16 '16 at 3:59
1

Overcommunicate. Give the stakeholder information on what will be done, when it will be done, who will do it. Give the stakeholder daily or twice daily progress of the progress. Once the tasks are finished, give the stakeholder information on the same. Information indicators, progress charts with great visuals are some of the ways to achieve this

0

Sometimes you have to say, "Unless my boss tells me to do it, I'm not doing it." And the PO is not your boss. Your job is to be a servant-leader to both the devs and PO, not just a servant to the PO and leader to the devs. You need to stand up for your team, too, even if that occasionally means saying in a Captain Picard voice, "The line has to be drawn heah!"

At this point, unfortunately, you may have set too much precedent for the PO to take you seriously about changing the process or his expectations, so I would escalate to management (having someone come in to work sick is dangerous to both the employee and the rest of the team, and can get your employer in legal trouble) and explain the situation.

If the PO is not going to adjust his expectations regardless of who talks to him about it, then scrum is not the right way to manage this project and you should talk to your boss about changing to a different style that is not as adversarial to the PO's (arguably unreasonable) attitude. A waterfall approach could provide the rigidity you need to keep the customer in check; just make sure you understand the restraints it will place on your team as well, and how it will affect quality and delivery speed of the product.

  • Just to clarify, the PO is the CEO, it is a start up environment that hasn't got many layers. I am the proxy PO/Scrum master since I sometimes contribute to the backlog, however he has more say when it comes to it. – bobo2000 Jun 15 '16 at 13:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.