When fifty shades of grey isn't enough
Angela Senior
Product Owner and Agile Consultant

When fifty shades of grey isn't enough



As a product owner you’ve created a vision. You have consulted your stakeholders. You are ready! Development team, do your thing!

Let's get started!

The team commits to their first user stories and you eagerly await the tangible and potentially shippable results. The next moment of joy is the product review. This is the first time you can share your enthusiasm with your stakeholders. You imagine they will be so happy with the results! And that's when the bubble bursts… The development team proudly shares their results and a slight frown appears on the faces of your stakeholders. This was not exactly what they had expected... Where did it go wrong?

Product Owner  Stakeholder

And one step back…

The stakeholders understand what you have done. And yes, it aligns with what they need, but they envisioned it differently. Different form, different font, different colours. It doesn’t matter which part did not match their expectations. Somewhere in the process you forgot to involve them and effectively manage their expectations. You figured you understood the information they had given you about what they wanted. You managed to fill in the grey areas and form your own opinion about it, which you translated into user stories. Your development team created working functionality based on those stories. It's great to have an opinion, but it's even better to take your stakeholders along for the ride. Involving the right people at the right time is everything. 

Sharing is caring

Once you have digested all the feedback, you decide to change your approach. Instead of assuming your specifications match their expectations, you share them with your stakeholders. You present them back before your team starts building. Obviously you cannot do this for every small detail. So, at feature level you summarise:

  • Findings
  • Assumptions
  • The consequences of the stated assumptions
  • Questions

You can even share some mock-ups to involve your stakeholders in what the product will roughly look like. This feedback loop ensures a mutual understanding of what will be built and why. It provides an opportunity to:

  • Check whether you understood what your stakeholders meant
  • Tweak your findings if and where necessary
  • Involve your stakeholders in any residual decisions that need to be made 

The bigger picture

This feedback loop does not only help to manage the expectations of your stakeholders. It also gives your development team an overview of the bigger picture at feature level. Refinement at user story level is extremely important. Subsequently, understanding the big picture helps when making (technical) decisions. This practice presents you with the opportunity to eliminate the grey areas and make everything black and white.

So, make it black and white

Instead of assuming you understood what your stakeholders meant, present it back to them, and involve them. Even if it seems you don’t want to waste time on this seemingly meaningless extra step. Keep in mind it can save so much time on rework and frustration. Eliminate the tempting fifty shades of grey for a steady reliable black and white. This will lead to a happy scrum team and happy stakeholders. Everybody wins!

Happy scrum team and stakeholder