#41 How product owners in Agile can learn from sales to improve product success, with Vasco Duarte.

Proudly brought to you in association with S A Partners, a world-leading business transformation consultancy.


Welcome to Episode 41 of the Enterprise Excellence Podcast. It is such a pleasure to have Mr Vasco Duarte on the show with us today. Vasco helps small and medium-sized companies generate customer-centric products and get their processes to a level of performance they thought was impossible. Vasco does this by focusing product development teams on the end-to-end life-cycle of their products. From Concept to Cash and Back!

Vasco is the Author of the book "No Estimates" and daily podcast host at the Scrum Master Toolbox. Vaso gives back to the community every day to improve the IT and product industry worldwide. Let's get into the episode, Vasco thank you for joining us today.


From sceptic to convert

Vasco started as a software engineer and quickly realised that most of the problems in product development were actually due to process and people's problems rather than technology problems. So he tried to help by becoming a project manager. The way Vasco discovered Scrum is a funny story. His company was doing a pilot, and Vasco wanted to prove that young kids don't understand product development and that project management works. So don't mess around with this Scrum thing! Vasco led the pilot by the book. Then, a few months into that, he discovered that not only did it work, but it worked much better than the mental models of his project management times. And he never looked back. From sceptic to convert.

Vasco had been reading a lot about Lean and began to put everything together once he had seen it in action. Lean, and specifically repeatable processes, are the core of improvement. Lean is also a people-centric approach to manufacturing. Scrum is a small kernel of a much bigger system: the agile method, which is about continuous improvement and focusing on how people interact. Vasco began to transpose lean improvement ideas via Scrum into product and software development.

Vasco's career evolved. He worked for many years to produce or develop ID products, software products, typically, and sometimes hardware. And after a while, he saw the same problems occurring over and over again. He was fed up with making other people's mistakes and became a consultant to make his own mistakes and learn from them. Fast forward almost ten years after that decision. Vasco realised that many things that he was applying to other people's products he could also apply to his own.

Creating his own products

For example, the 'Scrum Master Toolbox' podcast, run by Vasco. He started with the idea of creating a very simple, very focused, but daily production of content for Scrum masters to help them. He began by applying the Lean principles he already knew, and after a while, the process became a part of his regular work. Consulting followed, and Vasco took the lead from Mike Rother and Toyota Kata, helping others learn. What he did for others, he made a conscious change to do for himself, to control his own time and actions. It is all inter-connected for Vasco. He believes that Scrum, when poorly applied, deviates from Toyota Kata, but when correctly used, it merges with the process of the Toyota Kata. Toyota Kata also builds on the work by Short and Deming, through the PDCA or PDSA cycle: plan, do, check or study, act.

Importance of a goal

Ideally, actions occur in small increments within the context of the goal. First, learning happens, and then small improvements arise as you continue to reach that goal. Vasco believes that Toyota Kata forces us to clarify the theory that drives our actions and that learning is driven by the end state (the goal).

Unfortunately, many Scrum masters today still forget about that critical tool: to set a sprint goal, and sadly, lead their teams astray. They turn their teams into a ticket handling machine. How many tickets do we need to handle this week? And the ticket number becomes the goal. This detracts from the ability to learn because there's no possibility of learning if there's no end state. Teams should have a goal, and importantly, they should also have a theory of how the world works to improve how they work. Not having a goal stops learning. The team becomes a machine tackling the backlog items rather than collaborating on improving the company's outcomes or product they are trying to develop.

So, what is the right work to produce? And even if it is right, is it still the right one to do now? If there's no understanding of where we're going, any work is good, right? As Yogi Bear used to say, if you don't know where you're going, anyway will take you there!

Product owners can get better outcomes by engaging with sales.

Vasco is training product owners to start with their customer's vision for the product, rather than their own or their company's vision. One of the advantages that product owners get from engaging with sales teams is hearing their customers language.

The wrong type of interaction - sales led development without the why

Vasco talks about interactions between salespeople and product owners. The wrong type of interaction is when a salesperson says, "Here's the list of features you need to develop for my customers".

The right type of interaction - collaboration and engagement

The salesperson could be a great source of insight for the product owner. Great product owners will engage the salesperson to understand the context around that list of features: why are they being requested?

Salespeople have an incredible mindset in intuitively understanding the customer's business model. Vasco believes that when a product owner can tap into this mindset,