Learning Product Management From… Fruit Salad?

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Last week, the Centresource Strategy team went to Braintrust’s CSPO (Certified Scrum Product Owner) Training. Braintrust describes Scrum as a “way to get work done” and most simply put, this is exactly what we went to learn. For two days, we froze under A/C vents in a conference room carefully reviewing what it takes to be a successful Product Owner.

Building software is never simple, but by using simple methods to manage the workflow and prioritization of work, one can greatly impact the quality of the final product. Additionally, embracing the values (commitment, focus, openness, respect and courage) internally and with our clients means better products and happier teams.

To most easily illustrate how Scrum works, I’ll share a story about an exercise we went through that hit me pretty clearly over the head.

The Fruit Salad Experiment

During the training, we were grouped into teams and asked to make fruit salad. Yes, this is a real thing that happened. We were given a table full of fruit and asked to plan, develop and launch a salad, together as a team. Metaphors to software development were more apparent than you might think.

As a group we assigned roles, tasks and responsibilities. Our first cause for discussion was that we noticed, among the strawberries, blueberries and kiwis, sat a raw potato and garlic. What role can these two items play in a fruit salad? We quickly came to the consensus that they were, indeed, not necessary. The imaginary lightbulbs flashed over our heads – these represented unnecessary product features. We set them to the side.

We only had two knives, one cutting board and a whole table full of fruit, so we had to plan what we could accomplish with the items available to us. Again, noting the similarities to software development, as resources and tools can be limited.

Knowing we had three sprint cycles of development to work with, we planned our time against the first, and began washing, preparing and slicing our fruit. After, our instructor (the decision maker) stopped by, provided feedback on the progress, and sent us off to our second sprint.

About halfway through the second sprint, we got our next curveball – a pineapple. Our decision maker tossed the new fruit on our table and exclaimed “get this into your fruit salad now!” We all knew what this metaphor was – a new feature we had to process that we hadn’t planned for. We set it aside for later discussion and eventually built it into our third sprint.

We wrapped by focusing on the new feature (pineapple) and ended up with a fruit salad that was beautiful, functional, delicious and free of unnecessary ingredients. In this 20 minute exercise, we had figured out the Scrum process: Plan the what & the how, do the work, review the progress, rinse and repeat until done.

The metaphors may have hit us over the head a little bit but I walked away from this exercise knowing that each step of the process was equally as important, and remaining true to your planning and trusting your group are keys for success.

Now that we’re officially certified (along with several other Centresource team members that were Scrum Master certified last year) we’ll be continuing to exercise these methods in order to develop the strongest and most viable products for our clients.

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