The premise of this question, which has been raised as part of my Product Owner Q&A-Series, is the following situation: A company has a small number of teams, and the Product Owners find it increasingly difficult to understand what other Product Owners of the company are working on. Sure, they know about the big picture, but this picture is usually incomplete, as it focusses only on the product or portfolio dimension of what any team is working on.
This produces two main problems: As soon as there is a topic that requires coordination between teams, things start to get messy. Product Owners of both teams have to exchange a lot of information to figure out what the problem is, how to solve this and how this relates with their other, current plans.
The other issue is that Product Owners lose the opportunity of synergy effects. For example, if Team A starts to experiment with something Team B has already done in the past, Team A will then re-learn knowledge that is already present in Team B.
Don’t be Afraid of Meetings
Interestingly, while we discussed this question as part of the Q&A Series, many people shied away from the idea of having yet another meeting. The calendar of any PO is already so full, that another meeting would not fit.
An alternative strategy that has been proposed was that there was some kind of information radiator, where people could just look at and understand what is going on. This idea comes with three drawbacks:
- You have to remember to read it
- You have to remember to update it
- The responsibility for including everything that is relevant for any reader lies with the author
That sounds like a lot of work!
The next best alternative was to invite to a meeting only when it’s necessary. This, in turn, creates the problem that you need to know in advance which topic will be interesting or important for others - and the aforementioned synergy effects are usually discovered by accident. If you already knew about the possibility to synergize, no sync meeting would be needed, you need one to uncover the hidden opportunities to collaborate.
OK, so if we need a meeting, when and how long should it be? The typical reflex here is to make as little meetings as possible, e.g. once every four weeks for half an hour. While this is understandable, this creates a few other problems:
- The less frequent the meetings are, the longer they will be, which increases the likelihood of time running out.
- This also increases the likelihood of “less important items” not being brought up because the agenda is already so full
- And, if the meeting is held remotely, there is a good chance that people will be side tracked while the meeting is ongoing.
The easiest way to synch is to create frequent, very short meetings, for example twice per week for 15 minutes. Separate the discussions from the updates, and focus the updates given only on the time since the last meeting. This keeps the meeting small and on point. You can borrow the idea of a Standup from Scrum and make the meeting standing up, no electrical devices allowed, to keep people focussed. Talk about what each PO and their team has worked on since the last meeting, and what is on the respective agendas (besides the backlogs) until the next meeting. Any need to discuss things in greater detail should result in follow up meetings if necessary.
Alternatively, you can make this a Lean Coffee: Everyone can add things to the agenda, the topics are voted on and every discussion is time boxed.
This, in a nutshell, should be enough to create a baseline of communication and collaboration between Product Owners in a company.
This post is part of the Product Owner Q&A series.