Archives For Product Management

Back in February last year I spoke at Startup Product Summit 2013. I’ve been remiss in not posting this sooner.

Some call this drinking your own champaign. At Atlassian we called it eating your own dogfood – trying the product, using the product, before sending that release out to the customers. Higher quality, empathy for the customer, all that great stuff.

Here it is…

Yesterday I had the great privilege to facilitate the San Jose Budget Games. Luke, April and Tami of Conteneo organised a fantastic event with the help of the San Jose local government and I was so excited to be involved.

What is Budget Games?

Nothing like Hunger Games! The San Jose local government has been in a spot of bother over the past 10 – 15 years with rising costs and a stagnant revenue base. That has meant a reduction in various services across the city – they are back at 1984 staffing levels despite a 30% larger population than 30 years ago.

Budget Games leverages Innovation Games for serious results. As a Product Manager at Atlassian we used one of the games – Buy a Feature – to understand what customers valued and where we should devote our energy on the product roadmap. While it wasn’t the only input into our decision making process it was the best at capturing what customers valued.

Budget Games applies the same approach from product management to the city budget – where do residents most value the resources of the city. Luke Hohmann who wrote Innovation Games, his crew from Conteneo, and a bunch of facilitators (myself included) ran Buy a Feature for the residents of San Jose. There were about 20 tables of 7 – 10 people on each, and the “features” that the residents were buying included things like “40 Sworn Police Officers” and “Extend Library Opening Hours”.

How do Budget Games help?

The city had feedback from over 100 residents at the end of the day – where they would spend their money to improve and impact the city. The exciting part is that the in person game was just the start. Throughout the next week the crew from Conteneo and facilitators from around the world will put 10,000 more residents through Budget Games online.

All of this data will go directly to the Mayor and the Executives of San Jose and they will use it as one of their inputs into the budget for the next fiscal year. This is a fantastic way for the government to capture feedback from residents at scale.

Redirect Funding

Table 8 – the table I was facilitating with Masa Maeda – had selected “80 Sworn Police Officers”. There was a great discussion around the table as to whether they should instead aim for “120 Sworn Police Officers”. We raised the flag to get someone to provide more input on the initiative and help the table decide 80 vs 120.

Who should show up to provide more information on the initiative? The Captain from the San Jose police department came over! Talk about participatory culture, the table got the answers they needed directly from the person in charge!

The Captain explained that while the initiatives were super he couldn’t make use of the extra police officers today. At present there are 150 unallocated spots on his force. He can’t fill those spots as the police officers can move to another city in the vicinity and get a 30% pay bump – his key problem is retention.

The Captain explained that instead of adding more headcount to the police force the most pressing need was to first address the remuneration and benefits of the existing officers. That would enable him to retain his existing people and attract new people.

Table 8 then proceeded to reshuffle money to other initiatives. They ended up focusing heavily on community services, the fire department, gang prevention, and libraries. Very very very cool!

Thanks to San Jose local government, thanks to Conteneo for organising, and thanks to Masa who I got the opportunity to work with on the day. Splendid.


Wow! You must watch this talk from Agile 2013: Enterprise Product Owner’s Challenge: Managing Networks of Backlogs by Alan Goerner of Valtech. This is a talk that I missed while in Nashville and I’m so glad that I went back to watch it. Below are a few nuggets that I took from the talk.

Enterprise Product Owner's Challenge: Managing Networks of Backlogs by Alan Goerner

What is large scale agile?

Complex requirements and a high volume of requirements. As the volume gets larger the product owner and team needs more and more resources, and more and more discipline.

Turns out I’ve been looking for large scale teams along the wrong metric (size). Time to reset that search.


Don’t be afraid of them.

Doesn’t mean you’re not agile if you have committed dates.

Customers may want commitments, and they may need to know dates to align with other aspects of their business. There is synchronisation with marketing, manufacturing, etc.

Backlog Hierarchy

The thrust of the talk, leveraging thinking behind SAFe. While you don’t need to have each of these levels they may be useful in a large scale agile implementation (ie, a complex system).

  • Portfolio
  • Release
  • Product
  • Sprint

Each backlog level deals with a specific set of risks. If you don’t have those risks then you won’t need that level of backlog. Further, different kinds of backlogs can be defined by their content.

Another key takeaway – don’t have a backlog for each teams. Add a team field to allow you to filter the one backlog by a team later on. I’m happy to see this aligns with the approach I cover in JIRA for Agile Teams.

Don’t mix team structure with time structure.

Each stakeholder can have their own backlog – this covers multiple sources of demand yet you’ve got to have standards around the level of definition for something to go into that backlog. If the stakeholder doesn’t have the discipline to meet those standards then that stakeholders backlog is not valuable and it will not make the communication visible.

Look, honestly, you’ve got to watch this. I’ve only scratched the surface in my notes above. Great talk, go and watch it for the full deal, now.