Product Ownership Training. My Experience

How to choose. My experience with product ownership class.

Captured from dilbert.com

My personal development backlog is quite massive. However, my budget is not; therefore, I need to choose what I am going to visit next wisely. As the formal education is business comparing to religion by revenue, you can be trapped into tons of training, seminars, classes, etc. So it is a thing to understand what you really need and how you can help yourself with an event instead of reading another book.

A short disclaimer is — you must read books anytime, so any sort of educational events is not a panacea. Different people find different perspectives on such activities. Sometimes, they think it will help with career promotion (never seen). Some people are firmly against any official classes. For me, it is an opportunity to do the following:

  • build the single holistic view of an entire problem;

This time I am going to tell you about my experience with the Product Ownership class in Kyiv, June 1–2 2019.

The problem I have been dealing with since I changed a company is the following. As you may notice, Agile is everywhere, and all the people want to be trendy. It is not the case anymore that you need to convince your client to work with the rapid delivery cycles or the team open to changes honestly and without unnecessary bureaucracy. An issue appears in the moment between planning and executing. As clients want to be ‘agile,’ they are not going to spend much time preparing the requirements anymore (well, this is how a lot of them see Agile). Meanwhile, the team is not ready enough to perform the whole product ownership alone (and it should not). The result is a gap when a team tries to make up some work for its own, and a client who does not understand how to lead the product development and get the value out of the teamwork.

I have been trying to cover this gap on my own, providing coaching and mentorship, and found out that my expertise is not enough to do this with the highest quality. That is why I decided to gather all my knowledge in the single system and went for education in product ownership.

My goal was to improve the service I provide my clients with as a scrum master and a project manager in terms of the product ownership and product development processes.

Today, you can find a lot of training and courses on the market, both paid and free, certified-something and no-name-paper. Usually, I am looking at recognizable classes to work on the professional vocabulary and the system approach for a problem. This time I also considered visiting some private lessons from top specialists, but no success because of many reasons. So, in the end, my list went down to the following:

  • PSPO I;

PSPO I (Professional Scrum Product Owner 1) from scrum.org. As you may see from the provider name, this is one of the iconic certificates to become a recognizable specialist in the Scrum framework. And this limitation is, at the same time, good and bad. The good thing is that the class content is approved for all PSTs (Professional Scrum Trainers), which means that you can go to any trainer literally. Moreover, you can skip a class if you are confident enough in your knowledge level and go for the exam directly. But you should be ready to tie to Scrum and Scrum only. The reality is broader, so you have a risk to have some of your cases unsolved.

CSPO (Certified Scrum Product Owner) from Scrum Alliance. This certificate has at least two significant differences from PSPO I. The first one is — you must participate in the class, which makes this piece of paper more expensive. The second one — the final exam is a piece of cake as it is unlimited in time and has a low threshold. The content is dependent on the trainer ultimately and limited by learning objectives only. Altogether, it makes this certificate the most spread widely and the least valuable. You can imagine that anyone with some amount of money in a pocket and two days of spare time can get this certificate without any problem. This certificate is renewed, that is why a holder should pay regularly. And again, this training is about the Scrum framework only.

SAFe PO/PM (Certified SAFe® Product Owner / Product Manager) from Scaled Agile Inc. Under the umbrella of SAFe classes, this one is about roles that support the product development cycle within the SAFe structure. For me, the advantage of this class is in the learning objectives related to the whole product management ecosystem. In the modern world, being a product owner for more than 2–3 teams will lead to massive overload and SAFe is one of the very few approaches which suggests the model of how to survive. If you open the learning objectives and topics of this certification, you may see a lot about communication framework within the large enterprise — roles, connections between different levels, etc. However, I looked more for the product development cycle tools and techniques. My initial request was to support the decision-making process for teams and stakeholders, so I didn’t want to learn how to integrate myself into the gigantic corporation. Maybe, next time.

ICP-BVA (ICAgile Certified Professional in Business Value Analysis) from ICAgile. These guys have been creating a comprehensive overview of different Agile disciplined gathered into tracks — delivery, PO, coaching, devops, and more. ICP-BVA is the first class into the Product Ownership track focusing on value-driven software delivery, the accompanying mindset, and essential agile practices designed to emphasize customer value. So it is less about the specific structure and more about tools and techniques to support your teams with fuel to go. The classes from ICAgile do not require any formal approval process (which is a minus for me). It is also not expired. The most significant advantage of ICAgile certifications is that they are all framework-agnostic. It means no propaganda and religious talks, more about the context and common sense. Long story short, I registered for the class in Kyiv by Tim Yevgrashyn.

Following the logic, you probably expect some summary table here with advantages and disadvantages. Well, no =). I have explained my own criteria but it does not mean that you don’t need to go for CSPO, for instance. Everything is related to specific goals and environment you are going to use the knowledge. Choose your own way.

This class is for two days.

During the first day, the majority of time was spent on building a solid foundation regarding terms and principles. We started the discussion from the definition of value and different perspectives of this entity depending on the stage you are in. It was an interesting insight for the group that value is not only about money, but also includes knowledge and experience; I remember it from the concept ‘Heart of Agile’. Then we slid to refining/recalling of Value Streams as a concept and definition of roles. We used the most powerful tool of the manager — the 2x2 matrix — to define the differences in the role definition depending on the required PO focus (internal, external; tactical, strategical). It was another call that it is impossible for the single person to cover all the surface; that is why the responsibilities should be delegated. Different frameworks solve this dilemma in different ways, from introducing the new roles (SAFe) to transferring the product-related tasks to Development Teams (Nexus).

As I mentioned, this class is not about building the organizational structure around the product delivery. That is why, after the foundation part, we jumped straight to the process basis — Design Thinking and Lean Startup. As I had never read about Design Thinking in detail, it was an essential part for me to dive a bit deeper into this approach. Apart from that, if you are within the Agile-based environment, most probably none of these topics will become new. This part of the class was covered by a game when we experienced living within the discovery process as a product team. It was super insightful (and challenging for Tim to play four customers at a time). The thing is that you should always make a choice: the time is limited; however, you work with the customers more, try to validate some ideas or actually build the product. Following your choice, you can earn some loyal customer or wild guess their needs or else, which makes the possible strategies uncountable — super fun and challenging.

The final part of the first day was about Customer — who they are, how to define, manage expectations, and gather feedback. The saddest part of the day, actually, as I realized how much effort I should put more to deal with customers better. Interviews, research approaches, high-tech anthropology require a separate role in the organization due to the tremendous amount of knowledge a person should gather, in my opinion.

The whole second day was served for working with requirements. It appeared to be quite logical to build this part upon roles and processes discussed the day before. And again, the trainer introduced a great system approach as we had the go-through exercise for the day. Once we started with Customer (personas, empathy maps), we proceeded with Vision (boards, canvases, charters), then Goals (Impact Mapping) and down to the level of acceptance criteria and nonfunctional requirements. From the conceptual perspective, it was followed by important principles which help to validate yourself on the way (like INVEST or backlog colors). It was a nice mix of practical techniques and formal models to apply. Despite the fact I had already known (at least, read about) 90% of the methods, it was helpful to build the single system in my mind about their possible introduction to my daily process.

There were three topics defined as optional. One of them was discussed following the group request, so it was a great time to reflect on the first day. It was ‘Definition of Done.’ We discussed the importance of Scaled DoD for big products and how to evolve DoD. The topics ‘Product Metrics’ and ‘Enterprise Product Ownership’ were left untouched, and I covered them on my own after the event.

As a conclusion, I am delighted from visiting this class. First of all, it was my fourth class with Tim, and he proved himself as an exceptional trainer and an extremely experienced manager one more time. The big plus is the fundamental and system approach — from strategy to tactics, from basics to tiny things. A usual minus is that we were not able to cover all the topics. The size of the group was comfortable to have an explicit and honest discussion during the class. Based on my expectation, this class fit 90% to the goal I set up at the beginning.

If you may be interesting for the same class, visit the page of the provider.

The personal page of the trainer is here.