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Emil Oprea, HOFA on PO: „ I get motivation from this cool PO community in CGM”

November 7, 2022

Emil Oprea is one of the most interesting and cool guys within CGM. With his beard, his tattoos and his unique humor and way of seeing things, Emil stands out and inspires people around him. For almost 3 years, he is Head of Functional Area on Product Owner and he is doing an amazing job within the POs Community. He has big plans for the POs Community, not only for the one in CGM, but also for the one in Iași. But let`s get to know him better and find out what he is up to.

 

„I wanted more as I understood the power of a community”

What was your career path until you became Functional Lead on Product Owner?

 

I did lots of things, some of them completely outside IT area. I’ve tried many Universities in my pursuit of finding the right path for me – back in those days the military service was something mandatory in Romania, so it’s no secret that I used this workaround to avoid that service. Eventually, I stopped at Philosophy, which I enjoyed so much, felt like home for me.  

But I did not become a teacher – that was not for me in the current educational system in Romania. Instead, my first job was at a local radio station which meant a lot to me as I could meet very interesting people. Then I was a freelancer (a.k.a. no or very little income), being a bass guitar player in some local bands, which is an important period of my life even now looking behind. And because music was and still is an important life factor for me, I continued my adventure in the clubbing area, so I became an employee again, working with a small, but fun company that activates in the professional sound and lights domain.  

Moving to Iasi in 2008 meant a big change in career, first in the operations sector, working for big corporations. In one of these I discovered a passion for IT and became a BA, working with developers from India. This aspect brought value to my knowledge regarding values, and culture is an important one when you think about empathy. I left that big corporation because I wanted to work closer with the team and feel how it’s like to share the same office.  

In 2019, while I was a Product Owner in an IT company in Iasi, working on an e-health project at that time, a former colleague (who’s also a very good Scrum Master) approached me and planted the seed to take a shot on a new opportunity. So, I was motivated by the industry domain CGM activates in, which is healthcare and which I still think it’s the future. I started as a Product Owner and I still am one. But I wanted more as I understood the power of a community. I asked questions about community values and continuous learning even from the moment of the hiring interview.  

So, I got hired!

At that moment, there was another colleague who was putting a lot of effort in building a strong PO gang. We started working together towards that. Unfortunately for us, she left the company and took new challenges. So, I inherited this, although at the beginning I did not want to take ownership over management aspects, like budgets, etc. Eventually, it only felt natural.

 

Do you remember what it was that you wanted to become when you were a little kid?  

Yes, I wanted to become an artist. A writer or something related to music, or both mixed together, just like The Doors did in late 60’s or Pink Floyd with their legendary The Wall album. I always have been an introvert, or how I like to say: a person who frequently does retrospectives about his own persona. And I always knew that the most important aspect in whatever you do for a living is the human factor. Studying philosophy now makes more sense, doesn’t it?

 

If you must define what a PO is and what does a PO do, what would you say?  

A PO is a leader. Imagine a 1000 horse-power racing car with no steering wheel – it drifts a lot, isn’t it? So, you need someone who provides direction and understands the power of the team. Most teams fail (completely or partially) not because they are not technically good, but because they don’t really understand why and when they need to accelerate or brake. Just like my example above, they run out of gas without being able to reach to destination just because... they don’t have a clear one.

 

„A PO is a leader, not a boss”

How can someone become a Product Owner?  

First, you need to understand that you are going to become a leader, but not a boss. Then, you need to assess yourself a bit to find out if you understand empathy and its value. If you don’t understand people and reasons why they act/demand the way they do, you cannot be a PO. There’s a set of values that a person who wants this needs to study and fully understand – the Agile manifesto is the basic start.

Then of course there are some technical aspects which you can find in literature as „hard skills”, such as understanding some tools and concepts – but these are the easiest to achieve. The real challenge is to ask yourself: are you a leader in its true meaning? And don’t jump into saying Yes or No too soon.

 

Let`s try it now with Scrum Master.  

I’ve never been a Scrum Master, but I worked with some in my career. I think the same values apply here as well, it’s just the focus that differs. Scrum Masters are team-oriented persons, while POs are product oriented, but they should work back-to-back instead of taking sides.

 

What does a person need to become a Scrum Master?  

Haha, a lot of hair on your head because you are going to lose it. [laughs]

I think diplomacy should be Word of the Day every day. And the will to „fight” not only with the team, but with the company in general. It takes guts, that’s for sure.

 

Emil Oprea, during the RACI vs. DICE workshop

Recently, you delivered a very attractive workshop about RACI and DICE. Can you tell us more about what are they and how they can be used by a PO or a SM?  

Well, besides the technical aspects that a workshop like this can bring to our daily work, it was more like a start of a natural bonding between the two communities: Product Owners and Scrum Masters. Obviously, these are only tools that would help any PO or SM to figure out who’s doing what in the project, which in return will bring better efficiency by at least knowing how to adjust your speech according to the audience or where to ask a question in order to get the correct answer. These are project management tools, but who says you cannot make use of them if they add value?

 

„I believe in the idea of bringing back knowledge and good vibe in the community where we all started from: the Iasi IT community”

Why did you feel the need to organize this workshop in particular for the CGMers?  

One of my personal objectives is to do my best towards a closer bonding between all CGM functional areas. This one was only the start of my work for this objective.

 

Can you share with us some conclusions and some main ideas that we need to remain with after the workshop?  

Use whatever it takes to make your work life happier. These are free tools that you can use, even if they are only for mapping your stakeholders in your head. Or maybe you don’t need them now, but in the future, when you will change projects, remember that you once joined this workshop.  

 

I know that you are preparing something big for the PO community, first within CGM, and after that for the local community in Iași. Can you give us a sneak peek?  

This is true and I’m so excited about this. We are working on a project that we hope will have a great outcome for the PO community in CGM. Being Product Owners, we know that the first version is always the worst one, therefore this project will not stop here, but will be continued in the next year, a lot improved. In the life of any community, at some point there’s a natural need for having a better organization towards knowledge sharing, something that we can rely on every time we feel or every time we welcome a new colleague. My plan for the next years is to extend this activity to the local community in Iasi. It is not just an ambition; I believe in the idea of bringing back knowledge and good vibe in the community where we all started from: the Iasi IT community.

 

What motivates you and what inspires you to keep going on?  

As you can tell, I use the word „community” a lot. I know how hard is to build or develop one. And I had my share of sleepless nights, especially because of the pandemic – it’s even harder to develop something that’s meant to bring people closer when in fact... you cannot be close enough to anyone. But when you reach to the point where people are proactive and take it seriously, that’s your confirmation that you are doing a good job. I get motivation from this cool PO community in CGM and each of them inspire me to do even more stuff, even if could sound a bit crazy at start.

Also, I said it before: I think the modern IT in the world of healthcare is still in a pioneering stage. The pandemic confirmed it. This has been and still is the future.

 

You have quite a few years within CGM. What do you like most about being a CGMer?  

Freedom to experiment and the support for doing this.

 

What are the main life lessons that you’ve learned over the years that you are happy to share with the juniors today?

Don’t give up so easily. I turned to be a BA, then a PO at a mature age so it’s ok to have courage even when you’ve passed 30’s. Also, accept the idea of you failing – this has the best outcome, and you learn the most in these situations. The hardest thing to do is to not take it personally. Yes, you will in the beginning of your journey, but you will learn out of it and become stronger. That’s what communities are for, to seek help.

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