Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Work'em Hard, Burn'em Out

Agile was fashioned to make developer's lives better, thus making them enormously more productive. It is frequently observed that development teams get so fast they can run product marketing and product management folks right out of ideas. I overheard someone at 2010 Scrum Gathering opine that product management has difficulty with Agile because it makes them work for a change. Incendiary stuff.

Scrum specifically defines a single product owner for each development team. This person has a lot to do. They define releases. They represent enterprise business value. They help the team envision the big picture so the team knows where it's headed. They write user stories to encapsulate functionality. They prioritize the stories so the team works on the most important things all the time. They use ROI to rank user stories. They groom the backlog of stories to reflect new information. They are constantly available to help when the team needs more detail or finds a hole in the stories being worked. They accept or reject the team's output on behalf of the enterprise. They help buffer the team from bright new ideas so the team is not distracted during a sprint. And then there's all the stuff I left out.

Scrum wisely permits only one product owner per team. A "single throat to choke" is one of the less pleasant ways to explain this. All competing ideas and priorities funnel through one individual. Presumably an individual will not hold mutually contradictory ideas. Presumably the product owner operates from hard data on what the market values right now. Hard data, not personal opinion, accurately reflects reality. If a judgement call is required, presumably the product owner is most likely to be right. Finally, presumably one person can smoothly juggle all of the above.

Pragmatic Marketing's Barbara Nelson questioned that assumption at the APLN OC April 6 meeting. She mentioned an executive who valued razor sharp product management people. When the razors got dull, as they inevitably did in his organization, this executive went looking for new razors. Oops, we have a sour note. Scrum is designed so developers can work 40 hour weeks. No more death marches. If we are now burning through good product owners, we have just shifted the constraint.

Scrum does not detail the product owner's relationship with the world outside the team. If one person cannot stay on top of all the details, presumably that individual is part of a marketing organization that can. Like all good developers, Scrum only defines the product owner / team interface. What happens on the enterprise side of that interface is someone else's problem.

Maybe that's what comes after Scrum. Something else with a crazy name that organizes all the product owner stuff into a cross-functional team. Something that splits up the load, does all the research, analysis and strategy while focusing into development like one person. Just think, product owners could work 40 hour weeks. In my lifetime, you think. Well, wait. We now see developers as creative artists and development as a team activity. "Creative" isn't found in every product owner's job description?

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