By Roberto | Dec 19, 2019 | 12 min read

A little organization of the product owner

One problem I had when starting as a product owner was believing that I could have absolutely everything under control. Said like this, it sounds quite obvious that it is not possible, but the reality is that in the speed that a work day takes, we go from one meeting to another, to plan, to prepare, to study, to analyze, and we come back and go, emails appear , chats, consultations, doubts, more meetings, etc, etc and more etceteras. And suddenly we were left without an internet connection and that is so super important that we had to close it can no longer be and in our heads everything falls apart because the planning for the next few weeks is lost.

I had that problem when starting, because the unforeseen always appear. So we begin to understand that projects just ... flow. The interesting thing about this idea is that it allows us to guide that flow to where we want. But guiding does not mean controlling, because we go back to the thread of handling all the details and contingencies as if it were possible to do it and we are going to go crazy without achieving what we want. What we actually do is to base ourselves on the client's needs to guide the project so that it advances to a final goal or simply continues indefinitely.
Being agile helps us adapt to these unforeseen events without despair. If we maintain clear communication with the client and the team, we can make these unforeseen events become part of the day to day as new tasks that arise and not as inopportune problems to solve. If our client understands our way of working, then it is easier to show them that unforeseen events naturally cause us to deviate, change estimates, change scope, introduce new tasks, new corrections, etc. But above all it is easier to show that an unforeseen event does not have a culprit, but rather those responsible. Those responsible for an unforeseen event, however small, can reach the entire team and the client himself; because what we do, again, is not to blame but to respond sensibly and adapt to the new realities of each day, of each moment, looking for the best way to continue forward.
For a moment I imagined this job as that of a street sweeper in the middle of autumn, putting together a mountain of leaves in the middle of the square. My boss asks me that the mountain is always in the center of the square and that the leaves are not scattered around me as if they were free to fall from any tree. But the truth is that they are free to fall wherever they want, and that is what will happen. Then I imagined running from one end of the square to the other to collect each leaf over and over, over and over, over and over ... and it was terrible! And at that moment I start to think and say: it is impossible to avoid this. My boss has to know, he has to know, he cannot ask me for the impossible because this relationship is not going to come to fruition otherwise.

The good thing about working in a very solid team is that we are not alone in this madness.

In general, the job of a product owner is not to pile leaves in the center of a square, but rather to indicate the direction where the cattle should be herded (it sounds strange now that I reread it), and this is not done alone. Each team member knows very well what to do and when to do it, so the work of a product owner is significantly alleviated when the entire team is aligned.

Team

It may not reach a Zen state, but it is undoubtedly a practice that has been yielding me very well. First of all I owe my calm to concentration on current tasks, and not on future, possible and impossible ones that may occur. When we are able to focus on what we are doing right now, everything else becomes clear and it is much easier (and effective) to deal with problems. In short, we become a calmer, more efficient and more profitable product owner than if we wanted to cover everything.
Now, all very nice with this magic of the mystical product owner and his esotericism but the truth is that we keep going crazy with work and we find no solution ... right? Well, here I leave a practical point that could be useful.

Personal organization

As product owners we should know that prioritization is a tool that we use at all times. In general it may seem that others are the ones who need to prioritize, because we are product owners and that is what we do, helping others to get organized, right? But the truth is that if we are not organized we can become a disaster.
However, here what I want to focus on is not the organization itself of all our work with its boards, pieces of paper, cards, emails, folders, etc. I want to focus on our own tasks, just ours.
For this it is important that we have a list of pending tasks, another of tasks in process and another of blocked ones. Clearly everyone can add, modify or remove listings, but in essence those are the three listings that we need to keep up to date.

Organization

Pendings

This list are the tasks that we must carry out at some point. I like that this list does not go beyond the five or six tasks because I begin to feel that I am not doing something right. Maybe I need to prioritize, delegate, ask for help or just focus better on what I'm doing now. We will build this list and prioritize ourselves based on the information we have around us. For example when a new mail arrives. We took a quick look at it without solving it and deciding at the same time what we have to do with it. Maybe it's skipping it, answering something instantly, quizzes analyzing it, maybe reading it with more maintenance or passing it on to someone else. Any of these actions (or any other you can think of) is a task in itself and the moment we reason it we must decide what we will do with that task: will we do it right now or will we pass it on to pending? in case of passing it to slopes, it must be prioritized so as not to unbalance all other tasks. Anyway, I like to prioritize again when I'm about to take on a new task, because of what changes and the same goes for them.
What causes this continuous prioritization of tasks is that we do not take the focus too long from the most important task: the one we are doing right now.

In Progress

This list are the tasks that we must carry out at some point. I like that this list does not go beyond the five or six tasks because I begin to feel that I am not doing something right. Maybe I need to prioritize, delegate, ask for help or just focus better on what I'm doing now. We will build this list and prioritize ourselves based on the information we have around us. For example when a new mail arrives. We took a quick look at it without solving it and deciding at the same time what we have to do with it. Maybe it's skipping it, answering something instantly, quizzes analyzing it, maybe reading it with more maintenance or passing it on to someone else. Any of these actions (or any other you can think of) is a task in itself and the moment we reason it we must decide what we will do with that task: will we do it right now or will we pass it on to pending? in case of passing it to slopes, it must be prioritized so as not to unbalance all other tasks. Anyway, I like to prioritize again when I'm about to take on a new task, because of what changes and the same goes for them.
Despite calling it a list, I have a rule of thumb to limit it to one homework. It's a bit of a strict rule maybe, but it's the one who's going to save our mental health. We really need to be aware of this so as not to freak out. We can, for example, if you don't give us the capacity, delegate part of our tasks to the team so that we ease the way, and keep such tasks in a state different, but at no time should they be attacked by us at the same time. Of course, while we're working on something appears chatting, emails, calls, various contingencies, problems, etc. but everything is handled in the same way: you go by the filter of the pending tasks, it is prioritized and decided what it is followed with; perhaps we should in some case abandon our task to pass it to pending and continue with another one important.

Locked

This list contains all those tasks from which we expect something. In general I use it for client-side locks, but it might be useful to write down the tasks blocked by the team, by dates or for whatever reason. The important thing about this is to have written down everything that we cannot advance, both to keep track of it and to be able to consult and try to unlock it.

Mind blank

It is an idealization perhaps (and I do not know if it is completely correct) but I like to believe that we can point to that. Regardless of what the listings we manage or how we organize ourselves, the crucial thing is not to keep all this information in our heads for a very simple reason: we are going to burst.

We are not machines; we cannot answer or attend to everything, we cannot plug a usb and extend our memory, change our chips or improve our ram or the speed of our cpu. It's simple, if we push ourselves too hard, we burst. But we don't want to go to that extreme, do we? So what we are looking for with a good organization is not only to be well standing, but to be able to detach ourselves (mentally speaking) from the issues that surround us. Not only concentrating on the current task, but also erasing everything else from our minds, as if nothing else existed; forget about the email that we have not yet answered, about that proposal that we did not send, about that document that we did not analyze, about all the problems that overwhelm us.
If what we are doing right now is really a priority, then all the rest can wait. A chat can wait one more minute, a problem can wait one more minute, that person who has stopped looking at you with a bad face can also do it. Let's imagine for a moment that you took a minute more during your lunch, that the traffic delayed you a minute on the street, or the elevator stopped a few more times on the way: that is precisely the minute that all the rest can wait of the problems. Problems don't know if you're stuck in traffic or ready to work, they just show up. So there is no need to despair. It seems important to me to try to erase everything else as if it did not exist and continue on. Nothing else.

There is always something else

18:00 arrive and we are about to leave the office. We look at our to-do list and we have only two things left. The truth is that we do not need to attack them today but we have a fatal anxiety that eats our heads and we decided to start them right away. So we put superhuman effort into those last minutes of the day as if the world is going to end today. We do it with that energy that we no longer have, with that we should use to return home, to continue with our lives. We do it as if we could empty that list completely and above all as if nothing else would appear.
The truth is that something else always appears. And if there is not, then we are doing something wrong, because it is part of our work that there are things to do. But ignoring this, that fierce anxiety is most likely going to turn into giant frustration. At any moment, a message will come down asking us for something, or it will simply be time to leave the office without completely emptying our to-do list and there we will have to eat all the energy that we have been accumulating.
It is not for being negative, it is for being realistic. There really are things that happen and we cannot control them. And if I think about it, I'm not better or worse for leaving one or two tasks pending for tomorrow. It is good at times to feel that we managed to beat the world and finish what we had, but if we reach it, it is still a temporary and unnecessary illusion. It is an illusion that, even if we don't want to, leaves a seed of anxiety inside us that will begin to sprout when we get home.

Do not update after hours

I would tell you to turn off the cell phone, to uninstall the mail, to disconnect from the world so as not to fall into temptation ... but it would not make sense. Instead, it would be best to try to keep your mind blank, as we saw above. Once at home we shouldn't ask ourselves, will I have any new email? With that evil little voice that lies to us, that convinces us of how great we are, because we managed to empty the list of pending and the longer it lasts empty the better we are. And then what happens if we look at the mail? easy: we run the risk of finding something evil that destroys our heads. That "something" makes us mentally go back to the office and prevents us from making our lives today, because the truth is that we are just going to attack him tomorrow, and by then we are going to have stress through the clouds, because the day is just going to start but we are going to be plugged in from the day before.
And the truth is that if we group everything we saw: it is very difficult to empty our earrings because there is always something else, and the truth is that everything can wait a minute, and much more if we are at home trying to unplug ourselves. So ... why not unplug seriously and leave for tomorrow what is not for today?

The client gives us work

This phrase may be ambiguous ... or not. Sometimes we do not want to hear what that punctual and annoying character has to say on the other end of the phone (what I am saying sounds ugly but we are human beings and it is natural that this happens to us). This person is difficult to understand, he speaks badly to us, he does not explain himself, he does not understand us, he asks us for meaningless things, he wants them for yesterday, what we did is not what he asked for (although there is an email signed and confirmed by him ), etc. etc. etc. Then the phone rings, we see your name on the incoming call and think: ufff. We breathe, smile and exclaim Hello! How are you?
It is not hypocrisy, it is professionalism. But I don't want to go to that, I really want to go to all your changes in attitude and requirements. Whenever he calls he leaves something new to do and that is not really a bad thing. On the contrary, it is good, it is very good. No matter how bad an idea we have, that awkward character gives us work and we should thank him. Perhaps he is the same unbearable person and says the same inconsistencies as always, but it is we who must adapt to him and not the other way around. Of course, it is best to talk about it and try to polish rough edges, but if it is not possible to do so, it is on our side to know how to cope with it, because if not how long could we bear that situation? So we look at the name on the incoming call and think: what's new today? We press the notebook, breathe, smile and attend with energy: Hello! How are you?

Send us a message!
Let's build great software together!