What is a Collaborator?
We all know them; Tiger Woods, Christiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal, and LeBron James. Some of the best sports players in the world and they are all recognized for their great individual performance as an athlete. They have all won games, matches, rounds, championships, cups, and awards for their contributions and performance and so they must be amazing players in their own fields. That being though, are these great individuals also the best team players you could possibly work within a team? Are these people the collaborators who would put their own interests aside for the benefit of the team and the organization? We don’t know about the athletes mentioned earlier, but as a Product Owner, you want to avoid being the next Mike Tyson, Mario Balotelli or John McEnroe for sure…
In the context of a Scrum Product Owner as a Collaborator, what we typically see them doing is engaging with, and closely working together with the various stakeholders and Development Team(s). A collaborative Product Owner tends to support people in their own discovery process, whether it’s about defining goals, clarifying PBIs or analyzing customer needs. Want to learn more about what it is that great Collaborator Product Owners do? Well, then continue this read to find out! So what is a collaborator or team player exactly? Let’s look at some definitions:
Collaboration is the process of two or more people or organizations working together to complete a task or achieve a goal.
— Wikipedia, October 2019 —
A team player is someone who places the well being of the team ahead of the well being of him-/herself. A team with members who act cooperatively and seek to achive the common goal functions better than a team with members that only focus on their own individual goals. A team player will sometimes act in a way that might not be optimal for him as individual in the short term (in fact it might even be determental) in order to . This is called ‘taking one for the team’. Sometimes small individual sacrifice can drastically help other team members.
— Wikipedia, October 2019 —
Teamwork is the collaborative effort of a group to achieve a common goal or to complete a task in the most effective and efficient way. This concept is seen within the greater framework of a team, which is a group of interdependent individuals who work together towards a common goal.
— Wikipedia, October 2019 —
The Collaborator is also referred to as the Team Player and Team Worker.
The Collaborator Product Owner and Agile
Looking at the Agile Manifesto principles, being a Collaborator or Team Player is pretty important in Agile teams it seems since three of the Agile Manifesto principles are basically about teamwork:
4. “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”
5. “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
12. “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
Looking at other sources, such as the book The Professional Product Owner or the contents of a Professional Scrum Product Owner training, Product Owners do have a great deal to do with collaboration. They collaborate with the Development Team in order to find what value to deliver in the next Sprint(s). They collaborate with the Scrum Master, in order to increase the Agility (time to market, ability to innovate, current value and unrealized value) of the Scrum Team and the organization. And Product Owners collaborate with the stakeholders a lot, in order to obtain feedback, discover new ideas, gain insights into customer and organizational needs, etc.
From a Product Management, Agile and a Professional Scrum perspective, we can only say that taking the Collaborator stance regularly is key to being a successful Product Owner. The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product after all and how can you possibly deliver any value alone? You have to work together to deliver any value at all, right?
What great Collaborators do
With the many Product Owners and Product Managers we have trained and coached in their daily practice, we’ve observed the following patterns in the way that Product Owners act as Collaborators:
- Great collaborators are open and transparent; Telling your stakeholders and team(s) the truth is something else than being open and transparent. Telling somebody the truth is something that tends to happen after someone asked you a question. Being open and transparent is something that you proactively do. It’s about openly sharing information that may or may not be relevant to your stakeholders and development team. Transparency builds trust because people will never feel as though you’re keeping something from them.
- They say what you do and they do what you say; Nobody likes to work with people who drop the ball, even if it just happens on occasion. Beware: dropping the ball isn’t the same as making a mistake. In complex environments, people will make mistakes and that’s part of the complex work that we typically do. Strong collaborators though are effective at judging how long it will take them to get something done and then manage their schedule to deliver on time. People can count on them to do what they said and because of that, people love working with these great collaborators.
- They allow for a little give and take; Working in a team, with teams and collaborating with people isn’t all about getting what you want all the time. Collaboration is about us all. A question great Collaborator Product Owners ask themselves is, “What am I contributing to this relationship and how am I supporting the greater good?” Your stakeholders and teams will be more likely to help you if you collaborate when they need help as well.
- They listen to understand, not to respond; Great collaborators know that people like to be heard and to know that their ideas and thoughts are being taken into consideration. Actually, listening to each other and exchanging ideas and opinions is a key element of collaboration. If you want to be an effective collaborator, you need to listen (truly listen) to those you collaborate with and be prepared to make changes when it makes sense based on their input and feedback.
- They understand the difference between being right and being right; Collaborators understand that life isn’t about being right all the time or about winning every single fight. Good collaborators have learned to choose their battles. They know that just because they prefer option A over option B, it doesn’t mean that they should always fight for option A. Collaborators are open to other options and areas about which other people are passionate and they are willing to make a compromise if needed.
- They know to stick to their authentic selves; People who are pretending to be different than they really are can be smelled from a mile away. To put it differently; people expect you to be your real authentic self. In order to be an effective collaborator, you have to know who you are, what you stand for, and how your talents, beliefs, values, etc. will benefit the team.
- Collaborators understand this old saying that “Honey catches more flies than vinegar”; We know that there must be a lot of pressure on your shoulders as a Product Owner. There is tons of work to be done. There are too many deadlines to deliver on and it seems like it’s just never enough… However, remind yourself that there is a way to get things done without making enemies along the way. People work harder, smarter and faster when they like the people who are working with. So, if you want to maximize the value of your product, be kind to those you want to (and need to) collaborate with.
- They understand that they need to step up; Great collaborators understand that collaboration is a two-way thing. When collaborating with others, you don’t do the bare minimum. You need to be able to step up your game and occasionally go above and beyond in unexpected ways. It will bring you a lot of goodwill and buy-in when people know that you will step up your game when it’s needed, which makes collaborating with them a lot easier.
The Product Owner as a Collaborator
Obviously, not all (Product Owner) Collaborators are the same. That being said, some positive outcomes and benefits that we observe when Product Owners take the Collaborator stance more often are:
- Improved flexibility of the organization; When collaboration improves, so too does the organization’s ability to handle change. Strong teamwork and collaboration make it easier to pivot when the customer needs change or when disruptive technologies or competitors enter the marketplace.
- More engaged employees; “Unfortunately, only 33% of employees in the US are engaged.” says Nick Sanchez, Chief People Officer at Namely. This is a big risk for many organizations, however, it seems that one of the best ways to get workers more engaged, is to improve teamwork.
- More productive meetings; Meeting efficiency and effectiveness increase when people and teams are collaborating more effectively. With proactive teamwork enriching the corporate culture, workers need fewer meetings as they accomplish their tasks and use tools to document work progress or delegate work yet to be done. And when meetings must be held, there is more proactive information sharing, more engagement, more support for each other’s efforts.
- Accelerated business velocity; With a collaborative culture, you gain the ability to bring products to the market faster. Teamwork and communication speed up the entire process and make it easier to produce anything. The entire organization’s ability to create value accelerates as a result.
- Innovative Ideas; Sure, collaboration is never easy. It generates as much friction as it does productive output. But the silver lining of all that friction between conflicting personalities and work styles? It generates dynamic, innovative ideas. And without those new and vibrant ideas, your organization dies a mediocre death.
- Better Alignment with Stakeholders; When you talk about collaboration, it’s a good idea to especially focus on external collaboration with your customers, partners, and vendors — the stakeholders whom your product directly affects. If you are able to leverage their feedback into your product development process, then there will be better alignment between the customer’s actual needs and your product’s features. Win-win.
- Increased Profitability; And then, of course, there’s the bottom line. Collaboration improves it. Because after recruiting all the superstar geniuses, and building a culture worthy of their skills, they get to work generating the innovative ideas that will propel you forward and that bring home the bacon. Everyone is happy.
- And although there may be other benefits as well, regularly taking a Collaborator stance as a Product Owner will hopefully lead to improved team performance, more effective Collaboration, a happier and more engaged Development Team and increased customer and stakeholder satisfaction.
- The Professional Scrum Product Owner Book