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What can Product Owners do to prepare better for planning?

Product Owners Planning

Having prepared Product Owners can make the difference between an amazing planning session and a meeting that is a waste of time.

Planning is a working session. Everyone should be engaged, talking and thinking. When this meeting runs well, everyone has a shared understanding about what they are working on, why it is important, what has been agreed, and what still needs to be explored.

Have you worked with these Product Owners?

There is the Product Owner that prepares too much. They think through everything. Write it all down, and share the documents with the team, expecting the team to read the documents before planning. In this case, planning is often very one directional, with the Product Owner dictating requirements.

There is the absent Product Owner. They are too busy with other things to attend the team’s planning session. Usually they have another role as well as being a Product Owner. This can lead to the team doing planning in isolation, and making lots of assumptions because they don’t have access to their Product Owner.

Then, there is the Product Owner who does no preparation. They arrive to the meeting not having thought through the work, and talking vaguely about requests they remember. In this case, planning is chaotic and requirements are not well researched. Answers from the Product Owner are based on their best guess at the time, rather than real data or customer feedback.

What can you do as Product Owners to have amazing planning meetings?

Undoubtedly it’s a fine art to balance the right amount of preparation. To help you with this, we have created 10 tips to help you strike the right balance. Remember agile is an continuous improvement journey, so don’t worry about adopting all of them at once. Start small with the easiest tips from below, and continue to improve based on how it’s working for you and your team.

Summary of preparation tips for Product Owners

Top 10 planning tips for Product Owners.

1. Know your top 10 features.

You need to guide the team on priority, so it’s important to understand what your top 10 features/or problem spaces are. Understand why they are important and to whom. Explain the features and what problems they solve for your users.

2. Be open to different ways of solving the problem.

Often Product Owners present a solution to the team, instead of the problem they are trying to solve. Often the solution the Product Owner has come up with is not the simplest way to solve the problem. If you discuss the problem space with the team, you may uncover a much better, simpler solution.

3. Talk through requirements with the team in order of importance.

This means if you run out of time at least you covered the most important requirements. You can always schedule another planning session to talk through the others.

4. Write down all the assumptions and questions that need clarifying.

Team will often ask questions or make assumptions when discussing requirements. These are all things you can clarify before they actually start working on a feature. Write them down, and add getting the answers to your to do list. As soon as you get those answers you can just email the team with what you have learned.

5. Talk about testing.

Don’t just talk about requirements, also consider how you will test a feature. This helps the team and you understand the requirement from a users point of view. It also prevents a hosts of bugs and misunderstandings. Often teams need data for testing, this is something you can source for the team before the work gets started.

6. Ask powerful questions

Don’t think of your role as just telling the team what to do. Try asking powerful questions instead. This helps the team explore the requirement and understand it better, it also helps surface any confusion or assumptions and unknowns. Some examples are:
– Can you explain that to me?
– Is there another way?
– How will we test this?
– What will the user experience be?
– What happens if…
– How will we know when this is done?
– What might trip us up?
– I wonder …

7. Use mindmapping

Mind mapping is a great technique to explore requirements with your team, and break them down into small stories. If you’d like to know more about this, we have a new ready to use workshop on this topic.

8. Share being the scribe.

Let the whole team be involved in taking notes. If you’re all in the same room – use a whiteboard, or a piece of flip chart paper on the table. If you are remote, use a mind map in Miro or Mural that anyone in the team can add to. It’s important for everyone to see, hear and talk through the requirements. This helps with understanding and with memory retention.

9. Be brutal when simplifying scope.

We often want all the bells and whistle of a feature, however for the first version of a feature or requirement, you want to to be as small as possible. This helps get the important parts of the requirement out quicker so that you can get feedback sooner. You can always add scope back in later.

10. Give feedback.

In each planning session, reserve some time to give the team feedback. This might be from a recently released feature or from some quick hallway testing with people. It might even be from a roughly hand drawn mockup. If you are using mind maps, its helps to pull up the mind map and write the feedback on the map. Sharing feedback helps the team hear what is valuable and what isn’t.

Try out these tips for yourself and let us know in the comments how they worked for you and your team.

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