The product owner defines what the development team is meant to build and the order in which it is built. What should you do when the Product Owner responsibilities lie with more than one person?
The short answer, that works in simple situations, is get the business to pick one. However things are not always so simple and there are situations where you will need more than product owner. I’ll outline a few scenarios, both good and bad, which for the purposes of this post I’ll characterise as Many Kings, Pretender to the Throne, and finally Chief and Indians.
Some people think estimating is “crystal ball gazing” (@agilemanager, 2 Nov 2012) leading to “bad decisions” (@WoodyZuill, 2 Dec 2012). I’m not one of them.
I don’t always estimate. Nor do I necessarily estimate everything. But I find estimating helpful when considering investment proposals. This is true whether picking the next user story or commissioning an entire project.
Admittedly estimating is not an exact science so I think George Dinwiddie (@gdinwiddie, 27 Feb 2013) summed it up nicely when he tweeted that “estimates turn the unknown into the unsure, based on someone else’s expertise”.
I believe that even estimates with caveats help the business make better investment decisions.
Today I bumped into an article Bryan Zarnett wrote for the Scrum Alliance. I read the article mainly because the title caught my eye in Google – Running the Scrum of Scrums: Agile Program Management.
This leapt out at me because of the claim that the Scrum of Scrums is the same as Agile Programme Management. It isn’t.
I thought I’d share the way I organise programme teams. I’m interested in software delivery so I’m talking about programmes that have software development at the core. Non-software programmes would have a different structure and mix of roles. I push Agile but the same organisation would work with a less nimble approach.
There is nothing mysterious or radical about my programme organisation. In fact it is entirely in keeping with the guidance from Managing Successful Programmes (MSP). If you didn’t know Organisation is one of the nine Governance Themes from MSP.
Although I tend to apply the same shape to all of my programmes I do adapt it to local conditions. The size of the team makes a big difference so I’ll show how I have organised large, medium sized and small programme teams. I’ll also take a quick look at a poor structure for a programme team – with role based teams – and explain why I don’t fancy it.
There are obviously other ways of structuring a programme team but this is what has worked for me.
You’ve got a product backlog as long as your arm but the system is live and operational demands keep landing on the developers doorstep. What to do?
Many development teams have to cope with operational commitments in addition to their new work. This is inconvenient but reality. Basically you need a mechanism to get operational work through the process despite high priority new development. There are a few mechanisms to enable this.
During the last year I have spent a lot of energy on recruiting project managers. I was looking for something specific and although I spoke to a lot of project managers, some of whom came highly recommended, it took a long time before I found what I was looking for.
Having spent a fair bit of energy on this, I thought I’d write up what I believe makes a great project manager.
Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) is about programmes but it does have something to say about how to run the subordinate projects. And projects in MSP are not meant to be agile in any way. Although agility is encouraged for MSP programmes agility in the projects is viewed as a “disaster”. Given the people who use MSP are most likely to be using PRINCE2 this belief is perhaps not surprising. But it is not a belief I hold to.
Tomorrow night I’m speaking at the BBC Cardiff Kanban Meet Up on the topic of “Delivering incrementally with Agile methods”.
I’ll be presenting material from three of my blog posts:
Come along if you are in the area.
Gojko Adzic has recently published a great book on a technique he calls “Impact Mapping”. Gojko’s Impact Maps are a visualisation of the business drivers and the associated project scope. This means the people doing the work (developers, UX, testers, etc) know what to build but also why they are building the functionality, how the functionality fulfils the business outcome and and who the functionality is for. Love it.
As it happens Programme Managers already have a very similar tool for a similar purpose. Benefits Maps, like Impact Maps, are used to visualise business drivers and associated scope, in this case programme scope. They answer two key questions:
- Why are we doing the programme?
- How will we realise the benefits?
The dual function – showing why and how – make Benefits Map high value documents. It also means a Benefits Map can easily morph into the initial Programme Blueprint. For a simple programme the Benefits Map may be the only Blueprint. And the diagram format means it fits on one page. Even in a world where we value “Working software over comprehensive documentation” that one page is worth having.
Karine doesn’t show up. She has a good reputation and was previously the product owner on a run away success. But on your project she seems quite distracted by other commitments. What she is working on is all good stuff and related to the wider programme but it means Karine often misses the important meetings with your development team. When she does turn up the team are very happy with the input she provides. They’d just like it more often. Much more often.
Phil doesn’t show up. He is a colleague of Karine and is product owner on another work stream within the same programme. Phil’s development team never sees him at all as he is entirely focussed on external communications.
Mike doesn’t show up. He’s the external customer and commissioned you and your company to build some software. He knows his business inside out but he’s never been involved in software development before. And Mike is quite busy and doesn’t often make it to your offices. When he does come in he talks to the CEO and not the developers.
I’m sure elements of these scenarios will sound familiar to you?
You’ve got a a big problem if the Product Owner does not show up to the key meetings of the Agile Heartbeat or is otherwise not engaged.
To address this problem you’ve got three options: Educate, Delegate, or Escalate.