Product Owner coaching challenges for Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches

As part of our “Coach Your Product Owner” course, we’ve been hard at work creating simple and actionable tools you can use to help your Product Owner progress. But that coaching cannot happen unless we tackle the biggest problems we have when coaching Product Owners. So, last week I asked people who receive my Newsletter to help me answer this question:

When it comes to Coaching and Supporting your Product Owner(s), what is the single Biggest Challenge that you are facing right now?

The reason for this question is my belief that, as Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches, we must help the Product Owners as part of our duties. Sometimes those duties may be just about helping them manage/facilitate a particular session, but often we need to help the Product Owner grow their skills, knowledge, and experience with Agile product development. All aspects of it.

So what are the key challenges we face, when coaching and supporting our Product Owners?

Read on to find out…

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The 3 top problems we face when coaching and supporting Product Owners

After reviewing the answers we got during the last 7 days, I’ve grouped most to the answers into the top 3 problems we face when supporting Product Owners:

At #3 of the top 3 problems we had…

3- The Product Owner has no time for (extra) coaching

The lack of time of Product Owners was already featured as the #1 in the Product Owner anti-pattern lists published here. When it comes to giving the PO support and helping them through a coaching engagement this lack of time is still among the biggest challenges we need to tackle.

We have a free module from our Coaching your Product Owner course, where you can learn to start by defining the minimum expected engagement with the team is a good way to help the Product Owner immediately and help the PO understand where the team needs more support from the product perspective.

Click here to sign-up and download a practical checklist, and Sprint calendar that you can use with your Product Owner to have a conversation about their minimum engagement with the team.

How about the reason #2 of the top 3 most common challenges whenc coaching product owners? 

2- Coaching a specialist in a field we don’t have experience in

The #2 problem Scrum Masters point out is that they (Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches) don’t have as much experience in Product Management or Product Owner roles that would help them feel comfortable coaching the Product Owner. In other words, we feel the pressure of coaching someone that is an expert in a field we don’t (yet) have experience in.

Coaching a more senior person is not easy. It starts with the fact that a more senior person might already have played many different roles, and therefore feel they have all the experience they need. But there’s also the prejudice, because PO’s may feel they should know everything and have enough experience in the field since they are responsible for the product. This prejudice can lead to a defensive stance that makes coaching very difficult.

Coaching a senior person (who might, on top of everything, be your manager), is never easy. But there’s a set of techniques and approaches to tackle that problem. We’ll explore those in a later post, for now, a simple tactic you can use is: don’t coach, just ask: “what could I do to help you, even if I have to learn something new to do that?” Gain their trust. You will need it later. Start with trust building.

And, at number #1, of the most common challenges, we face when coaching Product Owners was….

1- The collaboration between PO and team is not yet developed, making our work much harder

The lack of collaboration between PO and teams is the most common Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches face. This challenge can take several forms. A common form is the eternal “lack of time” that leads to any work which consumes precious time from the PO – story maps, roadmaps, or training – being regarded as low priority, and left undone.

Another way this problem shows up, is when the PO leaves the team “lost” or with little guidance by focusing only on the long-term topics, and leaving the team confused as to what should be the priorities in the short term.

Yet another symptom of this problem is when the PO tries to dictate the solution to the team, specifying very detailed deliverables, and leaving the team very little latitude or the possibility to contribute to the product with their skills and experience.

As Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches, this situation can take all of our attention, leaving us very little time to prepare and execute any coaching or further support for the PO. When facing this challenge, we are tied up with lots of small collaboration problems (meetings that don’t go well, digging out the “why” for the already written detailed specifications, etc.), and can’t focus on working with the Product Owner to improve their skills.

How about you? What is your biggest challenge when coaching the Product Owner?
There’s still time to fill in the PO Coaching Survey here.

I hope this has triggered some thinking and helped you decide to take action to help your Product Owner. If you feel this would help your colleagues and friends, why don’t you help them by sharing this article? Remember, sharing is caring!

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