Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Product Owners: You need to tell a story

As a product owner on an agile team, you have a few choices on how you want to manage your product:

  1. React to everything you hear and treat every item on your backlog as a crisis.  Schedule a meeting with your type-A CEO every month and transcribe every rant that he mentions into a notebook and then attempt to be everything to everyone.
  2. Randomly fire ideas into the backlog.  Your development team is just looking for ways to keep busy, so as long as it remotely resembles the last 5 features you built, it's likely going to be a good thing to work on.  Periodically, put things in there that you heard a customer mention during the last quarterly account review
  3. Come up with a vision for how you want your product to evolve.  Identify the two or three types of people that use your product and tell a story about how their lives become easier as we add features.

The last one is the one that development teams really need your help with.  Analytical people like developers tend to jump directly to solution mode and begin to see nothing but trees.  It is the job of the product owner to keep the forest in focus and find the areas that have all the mature trees that are ripe for cutting so that the 'cutters' don't just clear the whole lot.

If a cutter needs to set up a winch to deal with a particularly tricky tree, just leave it to the cutter to deal with while you walk through and mark the right trees to harvest.  If the cutter needs to replace an axe or saw or have them sharpened, you can expect that they will do that first before they go onto the next tree.  Your story is about the mature trees you've harvested...right?

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