Product Owner Certification: An Interview with Sanjiv Augustine on Agile, Lean, and Scrum


In this interview, Agile Leadership Network cofounder Sanjiv Augustine discusses his upcoming product owner certification class at the Mobile Dev + Test Conference. He talks about who should go, detailing how he'll be incorporating agile, lean, and Scrum into the lecture.

Josiah Renaudin: Today I am joined by Sanjiv Augustine, cofounder of the Agile Leadership Network and a speaker at our upcoming Mobile Dev + Test Conference. Sanjiv, thank you very much for speaking with us today.

Sanjiv Augustine: You're very welcome, Josiah, glad to join you today.

Josiah Renaudin: No problem at all. First, could you tell us just a bit about your experience in the industry?

Sanjiv Augustine: Sure thing. So, I have been in the industry for quite some time, over two decades, and about half of the time has been working in the space of lean; lean process improvement, lean six sigma, and more recently, lean start-up, and a little over half of that time has been working with agile methods. About fifteen years ago, I was one of the early adopters of agile methods, and since then have become a champion and evangelist for agile.

Josiah Renaudin: Now, you have a two-day product owner certification class at our upcoming Mobile Dev + Test event. Can you briefly talk about what it covers? Why did you choose to develop this specific class?

Sanjiv Augustine: That is a great question. As you might know, there are two major certifications in Scrum, which is the leading agile methodology. One of those that has been around for a lot longer is called a certified ScrumMaster, and that is a little more straight-forward. That has to do with team dynamics and learning how to lead these high performance agile teams.

There is this other newer certification, which is called a certified Scrum product owner, and this one is a lot more interesting, because it sits at the junction between delivery and discovery. What we call discovery or more specifically, at the junction between agile delivery that is, teams delivering products using agile methods and other so-called product owner teams working with users and customers to discover and progressively elaborate a product.

So, this particular class is one that pulls those two disciplines together, where we talk about product owners, which is a role in Scrum that works with customers, becomes kind of the single channel to define a product, prioritize the requirements of the product, and then work with the delivery teams to develop the product.

Josiah Renaudin: And who do you suggest should actually go to this class? Is it for beginners or do you have more information for seasoned members of the industry?

Sanjiv Augustine: Well, seasoned members of the industry, beginners, anybody in between, all of these are good. What I would recommend, though, is that folks who have some prior experience of agile would probably get the most of the class. If they do not, then they should probably contact me before the class and I can give them some pre-reads and such, it will just help the class go faster, but in terms of experience, anybody who is in product development, who is in product delivery, project delivery, application development, all of these folks should be able to benefit from the class.

Josiah Renaudin: Can you talk about some of the different barriers that hold people back from development success?

Sanjiv Augustine: All right. That's a big one (laughs). Can we narrow it down a little bit?

Josiah Renaudin: Just maybe one or two that really stick out that you'll be discussing during this class.

Sanjiv Augustine: All right, so that narrows it down quite a bit. So, one of the things that helps Scrum get a lot of proponents and adopters, if you will, when we first started getting traction about a decade and a half ago was the fact that Scrum asked for a single person to be the conduit of business requirements between a typical business side, if you will, and a technical side, and no delivery method that I know of, at least, before that had specifically called for somebody from the business to be that conduit, right?

So, we are familiar with IT, writing requirements, we are similarly familiar with project managers being folks who lock those requirements in and define scope and manage to that scope, but in Scrum there is a particular role for this person called a product owner. So, some of the barriers that have held people back from success, product development or just application development success in the past has been the lack of this role. So, the fact that Scrum has introduced this role has been one of the prime movers, if you will, a driver for Scrum's success.

Now, all that said, let me tell you another barrier. Once you do have that role, it is very critical and very important for us to make sure that we have the right person in that role. If not, it becomes a highly risky situation because Scrum identifies it as one of the three primary roles, and if the person that you have filling the most important of those three primary roles is not somebody who is qualified, then everyone is in danger.

Josiah Renaudin: Now you don't have to go into great detail about each of the tools right here, but which agile project ownership tools and techniques will you be teaching at your class?

Sanjiv Augustine: So, we will definitely cover some of the basic Scrum tools like a product backlog, a sprint backlog, some metrics in terms of tools to manage all of these things. I will be making reference to tools like inversion one or what they call so-called agile lifecycle management tools to manage this work. I will also be talking about some other tools and techniques. There is something called a lean canvas, which helps us put an initial business plan together, and then drive that business plan in a very collaborative fashion, and progressively elaborate the business plan. So, the lean canvas, agile lifecycle management tools, and any other thing that people come to a class with, we will be fairly flexible in taking questions from students and covering any other lean or agile tools that they might need covered.

Josiah Renaudin: And why do you see being a product owner as the hardest role in Scrum?

Sanjiv Augustine: Well, there is a nice video out there and it's on YouTube. It's called Agile Product Ownership In A Nutshell, and Henrik Kniberg, a very talented gentleman who is the author of that video, he describes the role of the product owner in a really catchy phrase. He says it is to make sure that the team is building the right thing. The team will make sure that they build it right, but it is ultimately the job for product owner to make sure that the product that is being developed meets the needs of the end users, not just internal business stakeholders, but end users.

So, this means that the product owner is the person who becomes the conduit of the information about the end user, sort of a person who can collaborate with internal stakeholders and help manage those internal stakeholders, but ultimately make sure that the product that is being built is one with the right features that will deliver the maximum value to the end user. And that's pretty hard.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely, and we'll close on this question, I very much appreciate your time, and this actually is a little bit of a loaded question. What's the main reason people should attend this class? If possible, I kind of want you to sell us on this event.

Sanjiv Augustine: Well, if you're at the conference, the conference is going to be a lot of mobile development, a lot of lean, agile, and this is the coolest role in lean and agile, and as I said, you're at that sort of junction between lean and agile, and this is a place to learn a lot about that cool role and also be a valued asset in your company to your organization.

Josiah Renaudin: All right, fantastic. Once again, I appreciate your time. I am looking forward to hearing more about it at Mobile Dev + Test.

Sanjiv Augustine: Thank you very much, Josiah, and I appreciate the time the you spent interviewing me today.

Sanjiv AugustineSanjiv Augustine is an industry-leading agile and lean expert, author, speaker, management consultant, trainer, and founder of the Agile Leadership Network. He is the president of LitheSpeed, an agile consulting, training, and product development company. For more than fifteen years, Sanjiv has managed agile projects from five to more than 100 people, trained thousands of agile practitioners through workshops and conference presentations, and coached numerous project teams. He is the author of Managing Agile Projects, Transitioning to Agile Project Management: A Roadmap for the Perplexed, and The Lean-Agile PMO: Using Lean Thinking to Accelerate Agile Project Delivery.

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