Why Did I Decide to Become a Producer?

by Corina Gheorghe - 17 Nov 2016

It may sound like a cliche, but I love working with people – especially engineers. The energy, creativity, and innovation that comes out of the software development process is like a never ending tank of fuel.

Producers at Zalando are the organizational engines of their teams. We’re responsible for managing product releases, external project dependencies and deliverables, as well as refining requirements, features, and user stories. Producers play a key role in facilitating end-to-end delivery tasks and integration plans, and work closely with every member of the team.

But what else do I do as a Producer? I motivate people, help them identify pain points, strengths, weaknesses, help them figure out what they actually want and what works for them. I am there to empower my teams to build and deliver awesome software products. I currently work with the engineering team behind Collabary, the new platform connecting brands to content creators. I also work with one of the teams in our Advertising Engineering department.

Before I joined Zalando, I worked as a Product Manager in gaming, which involved being responsible for the product lifecycle, as well as bringing agile values to my teams. This experience made me realise how complex the needs of a team are, as well as how important the work of a Producer is. I began my career in tech as a Software Engineer, which has definitely come in handy.

One of the things I love about my job is Zalando’s commitment to Radical Agility. We're constantly iterating on this methodology that addresses autonomy, mastery, and purpose and genuinely makes teams more productive. Do you know what happens when teams are happy, autonomous, work on achieving mastery, and have a clear purpose? They innovate, they push the boundaries, and make valuable contributions to their company.

Each team is unique and it should be treated as such. Autonomy for every team does not mean chaos. You, as a Producer, empower them to own what they’re working on, to be great tech citizens in a microservices-led, InnerSource ecosystem. At the end of the day, the Agile Manifesto tells us that individuals and interactions come before processes and tools. Whether it is Scrum, Kanban, XP, Radical Focus, or something specifically tailored without a fancy name, whatever works for one team will not necessarily work for another – we have the power to innovate ourselves. I enjoy challenging myself and my teams when it comes to being agile. It is a culture of continuous improvement, where my shiny agile project management toolbox keeps getting polished.

But I’m not here to talk about Agile. I want to tell you why I chose to become a Producer. To quote my mentor, Katia Vara, a Producer “gets shit done”. I love getting things done. I am helping my teams keep a healthy team spirit, be focused, and continuously improve themselves, the product and their processes. I am there to help them truly achieve autonomy.

One of my favourite tools for this, as well as one of the most powerful, are retrospectives. When done right, the team is engaged and feels safe enough to share their thoughts and voice their concerns. It is an excellent opportunity to get their pulse and to come up with concrete action points. My challenge here is to ask the right questions at the right time as their guide and to emphasize their achievements. I am also the one to come up with new canvases, new ways of conducting the sessions and adapting existing techniques to match their needs.

I want my teams to be happy to wake up in the morning and come to work, to understand the “why" and the “what" behind what they’re building. I am there to shield them when needed and to help them own the “how".

Sounds nice, right? It actually is. But of course, the road can be bumpy, full of trials, incidents, and sometimes emotional. Achieving results takes time, patience, ambition, and commitment, where it’s important to hold your ground and keep your integrity. At the end of the day, I iterate. I do, measure and evaluate, learn and apply. I am not afraid to fail and own it, as long as this will help me improve and better help my teams and stakeholders.

When it comes to delivery, I believe in adapting, learning, and adjusting over following a methodology strictly by the book. From round table sessions, to interactive story mapping, to incident ninjas – when you’re a Producer, you keep coming up with useful things to help your teams. Producers are instrumental from start to finish.

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