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Archive for January, 2009

When a Product Owner Is Also the Boss

One of the trickiest problems that Scrum teams face is whether to allow a Product Owner to serve as a team member. Most Certified Scrum Trainers I’ve heard discuss the topic recommend that Product Owners not be a part of the team. The problem is that when a Product Owner participates in the team’s day-to-day activities, he or she undermines the team’s ability to self-organize. That’s not to say that Product Owners willfully sabotage a team’s chance at success. On the contrary, the sheer difference of the Product Owner’s “status” exerts its influence on the team’s perceived sense of autonomy to choose its course of action. For instance, Scrum asks that when a team estimates the level of effort it will require to complete a given story, the Product Owner not attend so that all team members feel at ease to honestly evaluate the story’s level of difficulty.

This problem gets even trickier if your Product Owner is also your Boss with a capital B. For smaller organizations, it’s not uncommon that the president or CEO would also act as a Product Owner. When that happens, it might be even harder to ask that he or she limit her involvement in the Scrum team. But the same rules apply. For Scrum to truly facilitate hyper-performing teams, those teams must be empowered to decide how they pursue their work. After all, that responsibility is accompanied by a sense of ownership over its success and a commitment to realize that success that is shared with the rest of the team. Besides, when a team is experienced at making tough decisions to get results, that frees up the Product Owner—and, in this scenario, president or CEO—to think about big-picture strategy. In that sense, Scrum is a sensible framework because it acknowledges that the Product Owner can’t—and shouldn’t—have his finger in every aspect of the business. Instead, Scrum recognizes the necessity of distributing both responsibility and authority.

Recession on the Brain

Even if the economy has looked a little up in the New Year, the threat of a recession is still weighing very heavily on everyone’s minds—especially business owners. Of course, what everyone wants to know is how they can weather the global economic crisis without losing market share or watching profits take a nosedive. More and more, I’m seeing business leaders and analysts point to project management frameworks such as lean, agile, and Scrum as the answer. And while the reality of changing the way your company works could create some short-term challenges, agile management practices can yield incredible savings and results over time.

In a recent post titled “Mastering the Recession with Lean, Agile, and Scrum” on www.agilesoftwaredevelopment.com, blogger Peter Stevens considers how agile methods can steer organizations toward lean operations that can both withstand hard times and flourish when the recession loosens its grip. The first piece of indispensible advice is “create value for your clients.” In fact, this should be the shining beacon that illuminates every one of an organization’s activities. If you’re focused on building something so peerlessly useful, created with your customer’s needs in mind, then your customer won’t be able to deny its value. And in that situation, they won’t be able to afford not to retain your services or use your use your product.

The second pearl of wisdom is to “eliminate waste.” This concept is more closely linked to lean manufacturing than to either Scrum or general agile, but, really, it’s like dealing with two sides of the same coin. The benefits of eliminating waste are twofold. In the midst of the recession, it helps organizations to focus its business on those activities that create the most business value, even forcing management to acknowledge branches of the business that are not bearing fruit. This process of organizational streamlining pays off over time, too. If a company reconfigures itself to survive during challenging times, imagine how that same configuration will operate when customers aren’t guarding their coffers as closely. Suddenly, a team guided by its attention to its customers’ needs that effectively reduces waste is prepared to succeed in both good times and bad.