Secret Confessions of a New Product Owner

My 2017 Fail: Input vs. Feedback

Next week I celebrate my one-year anniversary at Collaborative Leadership Team (CoLeadTeam). I was given the tremendous opportunity to be their Product Owner. It has been a hectic year filled with success, arguments, tears, and growing together as a team.

In December, we took a few days to reflect on 2017 and plan for 2018. Our Scrum Master, @Dee Rhoda facilitated a conversation that had us share what we want to do differently in 2018. My one good change (kaizen) that I offered up was “To get better feedback from the team while refining the backlog”. This would help me make sure that I was putting CoLeadTeam in the best possible position to succeed. I felt very comfortable that I was planning to work on the highest value item for CoLeadTeam.

Wow, was I wrong.

Let me preface this with sharing two of our team working agreements:

  • Be radically honest
  • Be uncomfortable

After sharing my kaizen, one of my colleagues said to me “You are good at asking for feedback, but you are not good at asking for input. There have been many times this year that you have gone off and done something and then brought it back for us to react to with feedback.”

“But isn’t that the same thing -  feedback and input?” I asked.

My colleagues educated me by saying:

  • Input is proactive – You are seeking input before you act or make a decision
  • Feedback is reactive – Something has been done or decided upon and now our feedback may be limited because of some of the previously made decisions.

Nobody was mad or disappointed in me. I am still employed. We assume positive intent so whenever one of us gets a bit rambunctious with a task we all know it is with the best intentions for the organization. My colleagues gave me this feedback because they care about me. For that, I am forever grateful.

To conclude the conversation, I committed to the team to use more precise language when talking to them. That way they could give me the best input or feedback based on the need. Our product backlog will benefit from this which should guide us to a successful 2018.

Let me also clarify that asking for input is NOT the same as asking for permission.  As the Product Owner, I am empowered in every sense of the word.  Asking for input is not a promise that I will act upon the input. My job is to take all of the input, weigh those items against one another or put them together into something I bring to the team to deliver. 

Calling all Product Owners: How are you doing with this? Are you seeking input or asking for feedback? How does the team feel you are doing? If you don't know, ask them! You are on the same Scrum Team. You all have the same goals: A successful product, happy customers, and a thriving organization.

Leave a comment on what you are going to focus on as a Product Owner in 2018.

Yes, this was a fail, but my colleague @ChristianAntoine has a great video to help remind us what F.A.I.L. really stands for. Spoiler alert: It is not a fail. It is learning!

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About the Author:  Tom Auld is the Product Owner, COO, and Agile Coach and Trainer for the Collaborative Leadership Team (CoLeadTeam). CoLeadTeam is the premier Agile Consultancy providing certified and customized training classes, enterprise coaching, and individual mentoring that will set up your organization to reap the benefits of Agile and Scrum. Connect with Tom on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @CoLeadTeam & @tcauld.