Beyond Features: Chapter VII - Conflicts are inevitable. Dealing with them is an art

David Pereira
David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker
Posted on
Jul 13, 2022
Updated on
Jul 21, 2022
Table of Content

Painfully, Ivar learned the importance of collaboration during the last Sprint. It’s the first time Odin Enterprises has had teams focused on specific audiences, and Ivar’s overconfidence contributed to the chaos. Also, Björn already feels the pressure from stakeholders as they didn’t deliver any features in the last Sprint.

Want to read the full Series? See here for the link to: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6

A key lesson learned by Björn and Ivar is the importance of releasing changes gradually to their audience. Otherwise, everyone will be affected when things derail. An optimal way is to release to a limited audience, compare the results, and incrementally increase the reach. Björn committed to following this approach with team Kattegat.

Team Jorvik must regain trust, while team Kattegat must overcome the skepticism from stakeholders. How will Ivar and Björn handle their upcoming Sprints? Let’s find out.

Working Backwards

Björn learned that satisfied customers are willing to recommend Odin Enterprises to their friends. Team Kattegat created a couple of prototypes, and with Olaf’s help, they tested them with satisfied customers. These were the responses:

  • Customers who wrote a review expressed interest in learning about the advantages of a referral program
  • Vouchers didn’t resonate with satisfied customers to refer Odin Enterprises because they are often back in their hometown by the time they write a review
  • VIP virtual tours increased interest in recommendations
  • Customers were rating Odin Enterprises high but not writing a review and seemed curiously uninterested in giving a recommendation

With these lessons in hand, Björn sat down with Haraldson to elaborate a recommendation program and run a real test with clients. Haraldson shared that the current acquisition cost was €50. They brainstormed and came up with an idea. 

If customers love VIP experiences, Odin Enterprises would give them a virtual VIP tour for every successful customer activation. Such a tour wouldn’t be sold in the shop, to increase exclusivity, and a different one would be offered monthly. To make the math work, they would need to get a minimum of 10 customers into each tour, which would lead to 20% of the general customer lifetime value.

Björn and Haraldson got excited about their idea. Yet, Haraldson raised his concern, “Björn, can you deliver it to our customers during the next Sprint? We need to reduce our customer acquisition costs immediately.” At this point, Björn forgot he’s a Product Owner and made a commitment on behalf of team Kattegat: “Well, it shouldn’t be a big deal. Of course, we need to align with Ivar because his team will need to adapt some things, but technically we can do it.” Haraldson didn’t seem to trust Björn, but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

After this exchange, Björn had about an hour before the Sprint Planning. He took this time to adapt the Product Backlog and drop a message to Ivar to ensure he would also support team Kattegat on it. 

Internal Conflict

Björn felt he hit the nail on the head. He agreed with Haraldson on a strategy and was clear on what the team should work on to get closer to their goal. Now it was time to do a Sprint Planning meeting with the team. As team members joined the call, Björn prepared to share his decisions.

Björn: “Guys! I’ve got to tell you. We will rock this company. I’ve just talked to Haraldson; we’ve developed a terrific recommendation program, and that’s the goal I’d like to reach this Sprint.

Torvi: “That sounds good, Björn. But what about A/B Testing? I guess you’re aware we don’t have any tool that enables us to do it, and after what happened with Ivar last Sprint, we better be sure to release gradually, right?

Björn: “Oh! Damn it! I totally forgot we have to prepare our application for that, and I already told Haraldson we could deliver the recommendation program this Sprint. By now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ecbert already knows it, too.

Torvi: “Whaaaaat? Did you commit to delivering something without talking to us? You must be joking! You’re doing exactly what you complained about with Ivar every Sprint! I cannot believe that.

Björn: “Torvi, don’t be dramatic. I know how to code, and I trust you can deliver. We just need —

Ubbe got quite annoyed and didn’t let Björn finish the sentence. He aggressively interrupted Björn: “This is unacceptable! You cannot speak for us. On top of that, we don’t even have any refined items related to the goal you agreed to. What’s worse, we need to figure out how to do the A/B tests. It seems like two different goals.

Lagertha noticed the tension in the room and had to intervene before it escalated. “Everyone, let’s step back for a minute. We all want to succeed. Björn may have put the horses before the carriage, but that doesn’t change the fact we’re all in the same boat. What’s the most valuable outcome we can get from this Sprint?

Ubbe: “First, we better set our application to do A/B testing, and then we can start releasing incrementally. Otherwise, we may face the same situation team Jorvik did last time.

Björn: “Hmmm… I agree, but how am I supposed to tell our impatient stakeholders we won’t get any feature available live this Sprint?

Torvi: “Sorry, Björn, but that’s your business. You made promises without consulting us. At best, I could imagine working some of the recommendations in, but I don’t think we will get it done by the end of Sprint; maybe in the middle of the next one.” 

Björn: “I dislike this situation. I’m afraid we’re not pushing to our limits, and I trust that we can do both. But stepping back, let’s commit to being ready for incremental releases and go as far as can with the recommendation engine. I will figure out what to tell Haraldson and Ecbert.

Team Kattegat agreed to that, and Björn knew he was in trouble. The next step would be to communicate with stakeholders about the Sprint Commitment.

Top-down

Björn was clueless about how to inform Haraldson and Ecbert that team Kattegat would not deliver any feature for another Sprint. He was sure the reaction would anger the stakeholders and potentially trigger Ecbert for a top-down. He decided to write an email and share the Sprint Backlog and his reasoning behind it. 

It took only three minutes to get a reply from Ecbert. Furiously, he wrote: “Björn, do you understand the state of our business? We don’t have time to play R&D. I expect output from this Sprint, not another future preparation. Get shit done! No excuses!

Björn took a deep breath and started writing a reply to Ecbert. He knew he was in trouble, and now he had a problem with the CEO. Before Björn could finish the email, Lagertha entered the room and asked Björn, “How are you going to solve this conflict? I hope you’re not planning to reply to this email and start an endless thread.

Björn: “Well, I wanted Ecbert to understand that without investing in our future, we will face the same issues again. I think he’s busy, so writing an email might be the easiest way.

Lagertha: “He’s busy, but he knows his priorities, and you became one. You’ve got a conflict, and a key part of your responsibility is to solve it mindfully and not impulsively. Do what is right instead of what is easy.

Björn: “You’re right. An email will create misunderstandings and more confusion. Let’s go to his room right now. Come with me, please.

Solving Conflicts

Conflicts are inevitable. It’s vital to learn how to address conflicts adequately, and now Björn had the chance to learn how to do it. He went with Lagherta to Ecbert’s room. As they entered, Ecbert looked surprised.

Ecbert: “Hum. Look who it is… I don’t want excuses – I want the value you promised. You already got one Sprint to go over, don’t bullshit me.

Björn: “Sorry for upsetting you. I understand our situation, and I’m aware we don’t have time to waste. That’s exactly why we can no longer afford mistakes with our customers.

Ecbert: “Excuses, more excuses. Do you know who just left this room? Ivar. He came here to tell me that he must also prepare the systems for this stupid A/B testing. Did you align on the same bollocks together, or what?

Björn: “I assume you know the tremendous issue we had last time. Right?

Ecbert: “Yeah, I know, and I also assume you will take action to avoid that in the future. We have no room for such mistakes any longer.

Björn: “Now we’re coming together. Ivar and I want to avoid this situation, so we must increase our capabilities. A/B tests will enable us to validate our releases with a smaller audience and not impact all users at once.

Ecbert: “You’re telling me that without this A/B test, we may face the same situation we had last Sprint?

Björn: “Yes, I am.

Ecbert took a deep breath, stood up, went up to Björn, looked him in the eyes, and said: “Don’t let me down. I will trust you on this being the right thing to do, but please don’t prove me wrong.” Björn shook his hand and walked away.

Björn and Ivar have just avoided a top-down from Ecbert, but now they must prove their ability to deliver value. The clock is ticking, and pressure is increasing.

Björn learned some powerful lessons. It turned out he was not as ready to be a Product Owner as he thought he was. He learned the importance of getting buy-in from the team instead of making commitments on their behalf. Also, he understood that solving conflicts is an art that requires empathy and not something you do through emails or text messages.

Teams Kattegat and Jorvik are still preparing the foundations to create value. Stakeholders are getting more and more impatient with them. If they cannot deliver value in the next Sprint, Ecbert might blow everything up and force them to become a feature factory team again. 

Will Björn and Ivar finally create value for end-users and Odin Enterprises? They know what they need to achieve. The question is whether they can do it under all the pressure and time constraints. Find out how this story unfolds in the next chapter.

About the author

David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker

Product Leader with 10+ years of everything. Currently located in Munich, Germany and leading a Product Management team at Virtual Identify 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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