in Agile

Why You Should Take Jeff Patton’s Passionate Product Owner Workshop

Last week, I sat in on a dry-run of Jeff Patton’s Passionate Product Owner workshop. I was lucky to be part of this particular group, since Jeff had invited a lot of smart people to provide feedback on his updated workshop, including a Certified Scrum Trainer and other veterans of Agile.  And just as importantly, there were several who were completely new to Agile, to bring a fresh perspective and ask a lot of not-stupid questions.

Jeff Patton leading a workshop

If you want to kick-start your Agile practice or just enrich your current practice, you should definitely consider taking one of his upcoming workshops.  Here are a few reasons why:

The Workshop Itself is Agile

I’ve been to all too many workshops where someone basically drones their way through a big Powerpoint deck for several hours, all while attendees do their best to not fall asleep.  In contrast, Jeff’s workshops are not only highly participatory, but also apply numerous Agile methods, such as discussion timeboxing, using the Pomodoro technique with little Pomodoro timers used both by Jeff while discussing concepts (in 25-minute Pomodoros) and by groups when completing activities (e.g. we’d get 5-minutes to do some Storystorming and then be asked to start our little timers)…

Pomodoro Timers used for personal timeboxing in Agile

…as well as lots of lots of low-cost/high-visibility artifacts that we, the attendees, participate in creating, such as these Agile Personas…

Agile Persona created as part of Jeff's workshop

Another Agile Persona created as part of Jeff's workshop

There are few better ways of learning and understanding new concepts than actually engaging in them, and I think this is particularly true for Traditionalists journeying to an Agile practice, since many Agile methods can appear completely alien to a traditionalist, so the best way understand their power is to actually experience them.

Perhaps the most interesting or unexpected application of Agile thinking is how attendees are introduced. Instead of the vanilla round robin of introductions, which at best tends to be a ho-hum when-will-the-actual-workshop-start activity, Jeff instead had us briefly interview the person sitting next to us, and then share with the rest of the group what we learned about the attendee we interviewed.

This was a perfect segway into a discussion about how Conversation lies at the core of an Agile practice.  Instead of passively listening to others talk about themselves, we have been engaged, and have now already connected with at least one other person in the group, the first step in the mini-teams that emerge as the workshop progresses.  Maybe more importantly, we are required to listen, to be attentive to the person we are speaking with, since we know that we will soon need to deliver a working version, as it were, of what we’ve heard, to the team.  To paraphrase Ward Cunningham, one of the fundamental goals of Agile was to get developers to talk to (and by implication also listen to) their customers.  This interview activity, I think is a great way of manifesting that thinking.

Jeff can probably explain Stories better than anyone else on the planet

Yes, Mike Cohn may have written the book on stories, but at least for me, even after having read that book many years back, I credit Jeff with really helping me see the light in understanding what is an essential aspect of Agile. And by that I mean not only the physical manifestation of stories, such as 3×5 cards, but the thinking that underlies their use.

For someone coming from a traditional requirements management practice, with rigorous requirements and change management systems, the idea of jotting down what you need the application to be able to do on small pieces of paper will likely seem awfully  strange.  Jeff does a fantastic job of conveying how stories in fact are incredibly powerful little pieces in that cooperative game we call software development. In the workshop, he used several techniques, from silent and conversational story-storming (like brainstorming, but you write down every feature you can think of onto a story card), to how those stories are transformed into a model of the application with story mapping, and how we can use the story maps to create holistic groups of stories that span a user flow, rather than being divided into entities, as is more common in traditional unit-based software development.

These are some pictures of workshop participants in the midst of a story mapping activity, which organically integrates stories into the design process, and serves as a powerful technique for inter-relating, prioritizing, and dividing stories into sprints.

Workshop participants in the middle of a story mapping activity

The floor can be the perfect location for story mapping

Maybe the strongest testament to the power of this workshop was a shift in mindset by one of the members in my group.  She said she came to the workshop highly skeptical about Agile, but left feeling that she actually understood it and was looking forward to start applying Agile techniques with her team.

Bonus Reason: If you’re lucky, you’ll get to go out for drinks with Alistair Cockburn afterwards

Since the workshop is held in Salt Lake City, which sort of is ground zero for Agile, you might also get a chance to hang out with some of the originators of a lot of the ideas that Jeff presents.  After the workshop, some of us went out for drinks, and we met up with Alistair Cockburn, who also lives in the area, and aside from being a leading Agile thinker, Alistair is also a beer connoisseur, and provided extensive advice on which beer to select from the The Bayou’s ginormous beer selection.

AXD 032

Hey, every great workshop deserves a great beer!

  1. Nice post. The pictures give a good feel for the session. I want to take at least one of Jeff’s sessions in Orlando. I’m particularly interested in user-centric stories and story mapping.

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