Beyond Product Features: Chapter I - Stepping Back

David Pereira
David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker
Posted on
May 27, 2022
Updated on
Apr 27, 2023
Table of Content

Stepping Back

After a hundred Sprints, team Jorvik was done with Scrum. Their motivation sank after Björn challenged their achievements. They delivered many features but had no idea whether that created any value whatsoever, and they didn’t know how to escape this trap. Morale was down, and they were hopeless. But another surprise was about to happen.

Ecbert, the CEO, was frustrated with the results. Without consulting the team, he decided to hire an experienced Agile Coach; that’s when Lagertha joined Odin Enterprises. Ecbert asked Lagertha to identify what blocked the company from creating value faster. He wanted her to name the anti-patterns. He promised to do everything needed to transform to empower teams to be value maximizers. Lagertha barely knew what awaited her.

Will Lagertha be able to help team Jorvik become a value maximizer?

Lagertha is highly experienced; she worked with different Agile frameworks and knows that delivering value goes beyond any framework. She is confident, wise and understands that helping dysfunctional teams is demanding and exhausting, yet this kind of challenge is what gets her out of bed every morning.

Getting to Know Team Jorvik

Nobody knew Ecbert was searching for an Agile Coach, but everyone in team Jorvik longed for change, and they needed help with that. Ecbert was aware of the team’s frustration because Ivar, the Product Owner, desperately asked for his support. Odin Enterprises had no more time to waste, their cash flow became unsustainable, and bankruptcy was just months up the road if nothing changed, soon.

A dramatic change had to happen immediately. Ecbert got team Jorvik together and told them:

We have a serious problem in our organization. Our current cash flow gives us six months to live. If nothing changes, we will be bankrupt in half a year. However, I believe we can turn the ship around if we tackle this together. I’m aware of your frustrations, and I share them. We invested a lot into implementing Scrum and training our people, but we haven’t produced any valuable results. I decided to bring someone else on board to help us identify what is limiting our potential. Let me introduce you to Lagertha, our new Agile Coach. I expect all of you to collaborate as closely as possible with her and help us avoid a catastrophe.

Everyone on the team was at the very least surprised. They had no idea that a new team member would join, and they didn’t know Odin Enterprises was in such a terrible financial situation. Almost everyone was speechless except Björn. It didn’t take long until he broke the silence and challenged Ecbert.

Björn: “I’m astonished! You, Ecbert, brought a new person to the team without talking to us. What makes you think this time will be different? Two years ago, you told us we had to become Agile to thrive in our business. And here we are, trapped. Fighting for survival.

Ecbert: “Björn, I realized we could not solve our dysfunctions without a fresh perspective. We are biased. I am biased. As a desperate measure, I brought Lagertha to our team. And this time, I will do what has to be done. Odin Enterprises won’t fail!

As momentum develops, team Jorvik becomes hopeful for a better future. And Lagertha feels the pressure to quickly identify the bottlenecks and encourage everyone to change.

Lagertha: “Let me share a couple of words with you. I’m not here to save the company, but I’m here to take you on a journey beyond any Agile framework. The only thing that matters is to create value at a stable pace. If you allow me to help you, I am sure that together we can transform our reality for the better. Ecbert promised me we would make any change that we would need to create value faster.

Ecbert: “Yes. I will empower you to deliver value. You can expect us to work closer than ever. Let’s win this battle together. I ask you for one more chance.

After this exchange, everyone from Team Jorvik nodded. They seemed open to this challenge. Still, Björn looked skeptical and didn’t hold it back.

Björn: “Ecbert. I will remind you of your words. Whenever I realize you’re unsupportive with necessary changes, I will make sure you don’t forget what you promised us.

Ecbert: “Please do it, Björn.

As actions become clearer, team Jorvik becomes hopeful for a better future. And Lagertha is quick to identify the bottlenecks or the momentum’s cool down.

Identifying Anti-Patterns

Lagertha knew time wasn’t on her side; she had to hurry up and uncover the anti-patterns as quickly as possible. However, her greatest advantage was the fresh perspective she brought along with her experience. To benefit from that, she took her first two weeks to observe as much as possible. She attended many meetings. Here are some of them:

  • Executive weekly action planning
  • Every team Jorvik Scrum event
  • Weekly action planning in different business departments

She took many notes, 37 pages of observations. Countless thoughts occupied her mind. Lagertha needed to organize her thoughts before sharing them with Ecbert and team Jorvik. She was puzzled. She wondered, “How can they work together like this? It’s a miracle they are still alive.

After a couple of days, Lagertha identified several patterns and felt ready to share them. She knew that would hurt everyone. In her experience, the best way of sharing the patterns is with a story that connects the dots. She organized a workshop with team Jorvik, executives, and key business stakeholders. Before the workshop, she wrote the following items on the board:

  • Business Model: By asking five different executives, I got five distinct answers
  • Customer Profile: The people present in this workshop have an unclear understanding of who their target audience is
  • Value: Neither the executives nor the senior managers agree on what value for the company is
  • Prioritization: The higher the hierarchy, the more output you get from Jorvik’s Sprints. It’s a pattern called HiPPO (Highest Paid Person Opinion)
  • Focus: Team Jorvik has no direction, the backlog has hundreds of items, and most of them are unrelated to each other
  • Scrum: You chose to use this Agile framework, but it’s used as a rigid process Empiricism isn’t lived, and the pillars (inspection, adaptation, and transparency) are ignored
  • Measuring results: Once a feature goes live, business pushes for the next, developers implement, and nobody measures the impact of their work
  • Decisions: You all make decisions based on different aspects. You lack an overarching goal to guide your decisions
  • Blame game: Nobody takes responsibility for the situation you’re in. Business people blame team Jorvik, and the team blames the business people

As the participants arrived at the workshop, Lagertha told them, “Please read carefully what’s on the board.” After several minutes, everyone was settled. They read what was on the board, and nobody dared to speak, so Lagertha started.

Lagertha: “Over the last two weeks, I observed many of your exchanges. In short, I am shocked at how you function as a company. As you can read, I identified many anti-patterns. Each of them contributes to the situation you’re in. Now, let me give you a choice: you can either take action and overcome these anti-patterns, or continue to complain in your meetings. My question to you is, do you want to go bankrupt?

It seemed everyone was hit with a mallet over their heads. Executives were still digesting what they just read on the board. It was so obvious; how did they not identify that themselves? Ecbert had to speak up.

Ecbert: “No, Lagertha! We don’t want to go bankrupt. We want to overcome this situation. But we’ve got only six months to do it? By looking at your list, I see a lot of work. So where do we start?

Lagertha: “Where do you think we should start?

Ecbert: “Well, this point of not taking responsibility is killing us.

Björn stood up and interrupted Ecbert. “We don’t take responsibility because we don’t make any decisions on what to create. We need a product strategy and empowerment. That’s where we should start.

Ecbert: “Björn, you’re telling me that if we develop a product strategy and empower your team, you will take responsibility. Is that right?

Björn: “Precisely. We won’t only take responsibility, but create value faster because we are closer to the product and users.

Lagertha: “What if we agree to use this workshop to shape our strategy? Let’s set our product vision and draft the business model. Clarity will help with the next steps.

Ecbert: “Ok. Let’s do it.” 

They regained momentum, and everyone in the room started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. They believed a vision and a business model would help them see the world from the same lenses. 

Although Lagertha shocked everyone with her massive list of anti-patterns, they learned an important lesson:

Sometimes, all you need is to look at a situation with a fresh perspective. You’ve got to step back and reflect on reality.

The journey beyond features will continue. Odin Enterprises faces severe financial challenges, time isn’t their ally, but Lagertha brings hope. She will help them craft an inspiring Product Vision and establish a Business Model Canvas

Will they figure out how to move from a dysfunctional organization to a value-driven one? 

You will find out more in the next chapter.

About the author

David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker

Product Leader with 15+ years of experience. Currently located in Munich, Germany and striving to help companies create value faster. I'm a Partner at Value Rebels and Interim Chief Product Officer at omoqo. My passion is helping product teams overcome their challenges and deliver REAL value faster. Almost every product team is trapped somehow, untrapping them is what drives me.

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