BONUS: Collaboration between Product Owners and Developers with the Digital Product School

Every 4 months, about 8 teams comprised of University students, other students, and partner-company employees start working on a new product idea at the Digital Product School (DPS).

These teams become their own mini-startups, and work to develop, and sell their products in a 3-month accelerated program. They experience hands-on what it is to work in a start-up and to go from a fuzzy idea (the problem space) to a product they can sell in a very short period of time. 

This learn-by-doing program helps companies educate their employees in rapid product development methods, and helps students get hands-on experience with product development in a very short period of time. 

The most common problems teams face in DPS

The teams that join and complete DPS usually have the same problems all other teams face, but because of the accelerated time-frame, and because the DPS team has seen more than 10 batches already, the problems are obvious! And we can learn a lot from those problems when it comes to the more normal product development we participate in. 

The first challenge teams face is that they have a hard time locking down the problem they want to solve. As it happens, they want to solve too many problems, which is a common affliction of many teams and leads to confused and confusing products. 

The DPS team expected that it would be hard to convince developers to work with users and do user research. However, it turns out developers actually embrace that work, and the biggest problem is getting the Product Managers (PMs) to make decisions. PMs tend to expect that the “process” will ensure they have a good outcome, and that leads to having a hard time making decisions. 

In this segment, we talk about how to help PMs make decisions and the transformation that happens when PMs are faced with the need to make decisions. 

The biggest problem in the Developer-PM collaboration

In such an accelerated program (3 months from idea to product), it is natural that the pressure is high at some point. PM’s work needs to include facilitating and motivating the teamwork. Why are we doing certain decisions? What’s the goal of a certain user test? And many more questions come up during the work. 

This brings one of the biggest problems in the Developer-PM collaboration: the motivation of the team when under pressure. In this segment, we also talk about the most common anti-patterns developers and PMs fall into when under pressure. There are also some great insights for Scrum Masters about team building and coping with pressure!

Enabling good Developer-PM collaboration

One of the usual sticking points in the Developer-PM collaboration is the fact that these people speak different languages. Many Scrum Masters also experience that when they see PMs and developers fight about estimations, for example. 

At DPS, special attention is put into helping PMs understand what developers do and vice-versa. From explaining and using tools that developers use, to helping developers understand Story Maps and other PM tools, the way the DPS team helps developers and PM’s collaborate is especially about helping each other and learning each other’s job and responsibilities.

Why Product Manager and not Product Owner?

At DPS, the team decided early on to call the role of the product person the Product Manager, and not the Product Owner. Why did they do that? 

In this segment, we explore a question that most companies adopting Scrum will need to struggle with: what to call the product roles. 

The DPS team shares how the idea of “product” is owned by the whole team, and that the product manager role is much more than looking at the backlog or defining priorities, it’s about being responsible for user experience, business, and technology!

This emphasizes the idea of the DPS program: product development is a team sport! 

Resources for rapid product development

At the end of the episode, we talk about what resources DPS suggests teams to study, and we list the following books: 

About Digital Product School

DPS is an accelerated product development program in Munich that helps students from University and employees in partner companies experience hands-on what it is to work in a startup. In 3 months they go from idea to a product, and some ideas are brought back to the companies for further development. 

About the DPS team

Michi / Michael Stockerl is director of DPS and has worked as a software engineer with several teams in different setups. Before that, he gathered experience in smaller Startups in Munich and Germany’s biggest Q&A platform.

 

Steffen is a trained journalist, who slipped into product management through Content Management and e-commerce. He worked with Amazon and Haymarket media, did several hundred user interviews and tests, witnessed dozens of teams at DPS, a Digital Product School of the Technical University of Munich in Germany.

Bela is a Software Engineer at DPS. She helps teams with various software and hardware engineering tasks. She was previously also a participant at DPS. 

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