Do Your Product Owners Speak A Foreign Language? Techniques for creating shared understanding

Effective interactions, between product owners and designers and team members who develop and make those products real, are key to team, product and organizational success. It's reflected in the first value of the Agile Manifesto.

Still, one of the chief complaints, from both the product side and the dev side, is poor communication. The list of irritants includes: lack of clarity, lack of understanding, lack of time, lack of access, too many meetings, too much jargon, too many badly written user stories and too many people involved.

Communication isn''t the only obstacle, but it’s a big one - and it can be overcome with no cost or organizational disruption.

Regardless of the role we play on the team, part of everyone’s job is to create shared understanding. In this session, Marilyn, an experienced product owner and product manager, and Sue, a communication specialist and coach, will share their research about communication gaps in the product-development relationship and approaches that can close the gap.
Join them to explore tips and ideas to improve communication flow and help teams move from concept to cash.

Because we are doing some original research on this topic, I would like to include a co-presenter, Marilyn Powers, PEng, who, at the time of posting, is not yet on confengine. Info about her is available at

Here is more biographical info about Marilyn:
Marilyn has more than 10 years experience bringing products and services to market as a Product Manager. As a licensed professional engineer, she has experience working in a variety of fields, from manufacturing to operations to simulation to SAAS software. Currently, Marilyn is a Product Manager at D2L, a leading Ed-tech company, where she works closely with Product Owners, Dev teams, Designers, Senior Leaders and many other stakeholders to deliver quality software tools to educational institutions and corporations who value learning and development. Her expertise is creating shared understanding between diverse groups, be it external customer advisory groups or internal stakeholders.

Previous presentations or workshops
Marilyn has presented at a variety of conferences over the past 20 years, the career highlight of which was a live demo on the main stage keynote at the D2L Fusion 2016 conference. Other conference presentations included Online Learning Conference ( New Orleans, LA 2017), Fusion (2015, 2016), Learning Impact Leadership Institute (San Antonio, TX 2016), Industrial Engineering Student Conference (Kitchener, 2016), ModSim World Canada (Montreal, 2010), Montreal Neurological Institute Day (Montreal, 2009), McGill University invited speaker on Haptics (Montreal, 2006). Prior to these presentations, Marilyn was an Instructor of Engineering at Mount Royal University in Calgary, AB.

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Outline/structure of the Session

This is an interactive session that will cover three main areas:

  • Frequently observed communication style differences between developers and product people·
  • Common obstacles to communication - identified via surveys of devs and product people·
  • Techniques and tools to overcome the obstacles

We’ll have a worksheet/handout·

5 min - Intro and set the scene, define challenge·
10 min - share data on obstacles to communication·
15 min - ways to overcome ·
15 min - table exercise
10 min - debrief·
5 min - slack

Learning Outcome


  1. Identify the common differences in communication needs and style between development and product people
  2. Discover appropriate tools to close the communication gap.
  3. Practise some communication techniques to create mutual understanding

Target Audience

This session will be of interest to anyone who needs to communicate across functions - especially development side to business side - to reach their project and professional goals.


There is really nothing to prepare for this session, apart from bringing an open, curious mind and a willingness to try out some new skills in a safe environment. If you can recall them, please bring some examples of times when a communication gap or misunderstanding between the product side and the development side led to confusion, delay, errors or other bad news on a project.

schedule Submitted 6 days ago

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