Four core beliefs

The Backlog is a bi-weekly newsletter about the undervalued and overlooked in modern product development. It covers product development, self organization, and productivity. I include methods, books, and write about my own experience. The target audience are Product Owners, Scrum Masters, Developers, and project leaders. The Backlog is about getting the most out of product development.
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Generally, I try to live a principle centered life. Many have certainly talked about guiding one´s actions with principles or values. For me, though, the introduction to this way of thinking came through the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people” by Stephen Covey, a book with many ideas that have been very influential on my life. It is somewhat natural for me to act according to the below principles. However, I do have to sometimes remind myself of them, particularly in stressfull situations. Whenever I do that in those situation, it gives me a great sense of calm and more generally helps me navigate life.

I have four core principles that shape my professional life:

  • Pragmatism beats Dogma
  • Honest communication is key
  • Deliver value fast through decisive action
  • Have fun

What do I mean by these? Well, let me explain…

Pragmatism beats Dogma
I believe using pragmatic approaches can be extremely valuable compared to excessive reliance on strict rules and dogma. Of course, rules and processes are usually there for good reason and one cannot just ignore them and descend into chaos. I have, however, experienced many instances where an overreliance on them leads to very strange behavior.

In those cases, I generally try to mentally take a step back, understand the situation and goal that is to be achieved, and see how the rules or processes can be adapted to the specific situation. A good example of this is my current role as a product owner Vehicle Data Service. I am working as PO within the Scrum framework and the team is not supported by a Scrum Master. I have had many discussions with Scrum experts telling me that this kind of set-up does not work. I agree that the situation is not ideal. However, after realizing that the situation will not change, the team and I found a solution after a short trial period.

I am now taking on both roles and consciously switching between them depending on the circumstance. This is sometimes challenging, but it works for us.Thus, we are keeping the spirit and most of the rules of the Scrum framework while adapting it to our specific situation. We have had great success with this set-up.

Honest communication is key
I believe honest and open communication is a huge driver to business success. Especially in fast paced environments effective communication skills and empathy are key. Particularly as a product owner, when one´s main job sometimes seems to be saying “no” to stakeholders, it is extremely important to be very clear in delivering the “no” but also to be able to give context and to explain the reasoning behind the decisions.

I have found it very helpful to create a standard channel through which progress, next steps and general topics are shared with stakeholders, in addition to regularly talking to them individually. This can be the reviews if one is working within the Scrum framework, product demos, some sort of regular exchange meeting, or a simple E-Mail that is regularly sent out (an internal newsletter, if you will). Simply informing about what is going on greatly helps in creating understanding for sometimes tough decisions.

Many agree that effective communication is important. Generally, I don´t think that enough emphasis is placed on the “effective” part of that sentence. A good example of that is the saying that “one cannot communicate enough”. While I generally agree with the sentiment that it is far too often assumed others know and understand what is going on without explaining it to them (again), I do think that not saying something when there is no need to do so is an undervalued skill. I often feel that people add words to a discussion without actually adding to the discussion, so that the others do not forget about them. Striking the balance between saying what needs to be said and saying something to satisfy one’s ego can be extremely challenging.

Deliver value fast through decisive action
I actually stole this one from Jeff Bezos’ 1997 letter to shareholders. I will let him explain:

Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.

This spoke to me immediately when I first read it. I have made the experience that only few are able to make quick decisions even if not all data is available instead of waiting for perfect information. If one is able to do so, it leads to fast delivery of value.

Have Fun
Most importantly, I believe in having fun while working. In my experience being able to stay calm and having a sense of humor especially in times of high-pressure lead to great team spirit, motivation, and exceptional results.

I feel many project managers tend to be terribly serious at all times and solely focus on deliverables. This is understandable, as they are usually under tremendous pressure to produce results. This sometimes leads to the fallacy that every second in the day needs to be “productive”, which small talk and joking around with the team surely is not.

I have witnessed many project managers and POs come into a meeting and right away start discussing open topics and to dos, basically without saying hello to anybody. Investing some time into talking about a team member´s plans for the weekend, making a joke, or sharing something interesting that happened – generally, creating a light hearted positive atmosphere – pays dividends in the form of better team chemistry. Down the road, especially when the going gets tough, shared moments then lead to greater motivation and in the end higher overall productivity of the team.