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I’m Martin, writer of Product Prompts. I’ve co-founded multiple startups (fintechs) and led product teams and built corporate ventures, and now offer product strategy consultancy services, including helping forward-thinking clients with the knowledge, tools and training to figure out their AI strategy for their products and internal workflows. Get in touch to learn more about how I could help.
💬 Prompt Deep-dive: Use ChatGPT as your Agile coach
Most product teams work using Agile practices (or some interpretation thereof), but in my experience few practice it well. Many of the hiccups and blockers could be ironed out with a good Agile coach, but in my experience few companies go down this route. Certainly not earlier stage ones. They typically rely on other members of the product team to handle this, usually the product manager or project manager.
The primary role of an Agile coach (or Scrum Master) is to facilitate the adoption and continuous improvement of Agile practices. They work with teams to help them become more Agile, and coach them on how to effectively deliver value to their customers through the use of Agile methodologies.
Let’s show you how you can use ChatGPT to act as a coach, exploring how it handles a couple of different scenarios.
You are a world class Agile coach. I'm a project manager handling two scrum teams that work on the same product. Both teams have average velocity in the range of 30–40 points. Each sprint is two weeks long. A new change request arrives, and the initial estimate is about 200 points. A key customer expects it will be done by Thanksgiving, which is two sprints away. The executive to whom I report has set a meeting for tomorrow. How can I prepare for this meeting?
Great question! As an Agile coach, here are some steps that I suggest you take to prepare for this meeting:
Review the Change Request: Take a look at the details of the change request, including the requirements and the estimated points. Understand the scope of the work and the dependencies involved.
Assess the Impact: Evaluate the potential impact of the change request on the existing work of both teams. Identify any risks, dependencies, and potential bottlenecks that could impact the teams' velocity.
Analyze the Capacity: Check the capacity of the teams in terms of their availability during the two sprints. Take into consideration any upcoming vacations, public holidays, and other team members' commitments.
Collaborate with the Product Owner: Discuss the change request with the product owner and understand the customer's expectations. Identify the high priority items within the change request that are necessary for the customer's needs and can be delivered within the timeline.
Plan for Execution: Collaborate with both teams and create a plan for executing the change request. Break down the work into smaller, manageable tasks and estimate each task's effort. Ensure that the team's velocity is taken into consideration and the capacity is optimized.
Discuss the Plan: Present the plan to the executive and provide a realistic timeline for delivery. Explain how the teams will execute the change request while ensuring that the existing work's quality and delivery are not compromised. Discuss any potential risks and dependencies and how they will be mitigated.
Communicate the Expectations: Set clear expectations with the executive and the customer. Discuss the possibility of delivering the entire change request by Thanksgiving or if it is feasible to deliver a part of it by then. Ensure that the customer understands the impact of the change request on the teams' velocity and the overall project delivery.
In summary, preparation is key for any meeting, and in this case, it is crucial to have a well-thought-out plan that considers the teams' capacity, velocity, and existing work. With effective collaboration and communication, you can help the teams deliver the change request while maintaining quality and project delivery timelines.
This is great advice, and we could easily get additional help on any of the steps mentioned. For example, say we need help setting those expectations with the CEO and the customer… easier said than done! Our coach can assist here too:
How could I go about setting clear expectations with the CEO and customer? Can you suggest how I structure this in an email to the customer, and how I might discuss it in person with the CEO?
Sure! Here's how you could set clear expectations with both the CEO and customer:
Be transparent: Be transparent about the teams' current workload and their capacity to take on additional work. Explain to both the CEO and customer that you are committed to delivering high-quality work, but you need to manage expectations around timelines and scope.
Set realistic timelines: Explain that the change request is estimated to be around 200 points, and based on the teams' current velocity, it may not be feasible to deliver the entire request by Thanksgiving. However, you can commit to delivering the highest priority items within the request, which will meet the customer's needs.
Discuss dependencies: Discuss any dependencies that may impact the teams' ability to deliver the change request within the desired timeline. Explain that there may be dependencies that are outside of your control, but you will do your best to mitigate them.
Offer alternative solutions: If delivering the entire change request by Thanksgiving is not feasible, offer alternative solutions that meet the customer's needs. For example, you could deliver a part of the request by Thanksgiving and the rest at a later date.
Here's an example email you could send to the customer:
I wanted to reach out regarding the change request you submitted, estimated at around 200 points. We are committed to delivering high-quality work that meets your needs, but I wanted to be transparent about the timelines and scope.
Based on our teams' current velocity, it may not be feasible to deliver the entire change request by Thanksgiving. However, we can commit to delivering the highest priority items within the request, which will meet your needs.
There may be dependencies that impact our ability to deliver the change request within the desired timeline, but we will do our best to mitigate them. If delivering the entire change request by Thanksgiving is not feasible, we are happy to explore alternative solutions that meet your needs.
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.
When discussing this with the CEO in person, you could structure your conversation in a similar way. Start by being transparent about the teams' capacity and velocity, and set realistic timelines based on their current workload. Discuss any potential dependencies and offer alternative solutions that meet the customer's needs. Remember to stay positive and solution-focused in your conversation, and be open to feedback and suggestions from the CEO.
Our product team is always in fire fighting mode. Eventually we meet commitments but after a struggle. You're an agile coach and after digging deeper you find that the lead architect — Tom - does not believe in a structured daily stand-up. The retrospective is also a mere formality. I've chatted with Mark, but he responds, “The team sits around me the whole day so why do I even need a stand-up?”. Mark is the senior most technical expert in the team and he knows all the problems and their solutions. Is there a problem here? If no, why not? And if yes, why - and what could be the solution?
There is a problem here. The daily stand-up and retrospective are fundamental parts of the Agile framework and are designed to help teams to work together more efficiently and to improve continuously. By not following these practices, the team is missing out on important opportunities to collaborate, identify and address issues, and continuously improve their work.
Tom's belief that a structured daily stand-up is unnecessary is incorrect. The daily stand-up is a key part of Agile and helps team members to stay aligned and aware of each other's work. It also provides an opportunity for team members to identify and address any obstacles or challenges that they may be facing.
Similarly, the retrospective is not just a formality. It's an opportunity for the team to reflect on their work, identify areas for improvement, and make adjustments. Without a proper retrospective, the team is missing out on an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and to continuously improve their work.
Mark's belief that he knows all the problems and solutions is also problematic. While he may have a lot of technical expertise, he cannot be expected to have all the answers. By not participating in the daily stand-up and retrospective, he is missing out on opportunities to share his knowledge and to learn from others.
The solution here is to educate Tom and Mark on the importance of the daily stand-up and retrospective in Agile. They need to understand that these practices are not just formalities but are essential to the success of the team. It may also be necessary to involve other team members in the conversation to help them see the value of these practices.
It's also important to create a safe space where team members can share their thoughts and ideas freely without fear of being criticized. This will help to foster a culture of continuous improvement, where everyone is encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas to help the team improve.
Again, this is high quality advice. And let’s say I need help with “creating a safe space”, as per the suggestion:
How could I create a safe space? What are some practical steps I could take?
Creating a safe space for team members to share their thoughts and ideas freely is crucial for fostering a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement. Here are some practical steps you can take to create a safe space within your team:
Establish clear communication guidelines: Ensure that team members understand the expectations for communication, including respect for each other's opinions, active listening, and the importance of constructive feedback.
Encourage open dialogue: Encourage team members to speak up and share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. This can be achieved by creating opportunities for open discussion during meetings, setting aside time for brainstorming sessions, or even just scheduling one-on-one sessions with team members to check in on how they are doing.
Foster a culture of trust: Building trust among team members is crucial for creating a safe space. This can be achieved by leading by example, being transparent and honest in your communication, and following through on commitments.
Create a no-blame culture: Make it clear that mistakes and failures are opportunities for learning and growth, rather than occasions for blame and punishment. This will encourage team members to take risks and be open about their mistakes, leading to a more collaborative and innovative team.
Provide training and support: Provide team members with training and support to help them improve their communication skills, including active listening, effective feedback, and conflict resolution.
Overall, creating a safe space requires a conscious effort to foster a culture of trust, open communication, and continuous improvement. By taking practical steps to create a safe space, you can help your team to work together more effectively, improve continuously, and ultimately achieve their goals.
Bang on. And you can just keep going: get it to suggest the structure of training materials, or routines to build trust among the team, and so on.
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Thanks for reading, and happy prompting,