Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Starting a No Product Owner Experiment

In the usual two week cadence, our product owner showed up our team room looking exhausted. We were glad to hear it wasn't the fact that he came to do planning with us, but that the early hit of winter and snow and related tire change left him feeling beat up.

Our Product Owner usually sends us a ton of emails (forwarded bits he wanted us to react on), shows up regularly every two weeks, and whenever we ping him in between. The is not a part of our team and does not sit with us. He used to, but in an experiment to change the way the team communicated, was moved further away to make a huge positive impact. The developers who used to report to him changed reporting to the team, and we have not been the the same since.

We started going through the usual motions of how my team plans, listing things that we knew that needed addressing. I was making my own notes on a computer without sharing a screen, hoping someone else would step up and write stuff on our whiteboard like we always do, without success. The list was starting to get long, and yet another thing came up. The product owner spoke up: "I want you to prioritize this", cutting the discussion leading to understanding with the power voice. I could feel the energy sinking.

So I stepped in.

"Hey, this would seem like the time to introduce this thing we've been talking about for the last month or so with the product owner. We've agreed to try out an experiment with no product owner."

It wasn't the first time my team heard of it. It was definitely not the first time the product owner heard of it, as it was a stretch we had agreed on together.

I summarized the change in the context of this meeting that the team now has the control (and responsibility) of priority calls. We did not have one person who "wants us to do this", but we had a team that was set out to be customer obsessed and care enough to understand what would be our real options and the right choices.

With an agreement to agree on what PO used to do and what it really means to not have a product owner but a PMS (Product Management Specialist - the person is still around for helping), we continued planning with high energy.

There was a little bit of rebellion in the air. But everyone discussed things together, heard each other out and ended up with exactly the thing our ex-PO wanted us to prioritize - our route, feeling more energized.

The outcome of the rebellious planning seemed better than what I had come to expect. There was no passivity around "officially delivered items", where the real outcome of what would happen would end up very different. We talked enthusiastically about improving some of our core automations, agreed on pairs that could contribute on things, and prioritized our short term backlog.

My team does biweekly planning, but it is more of a biweekly backlog creation. And out of that list, we just work on items more in a kanban style.

My first lesson: it's not about what the change is, it's about changing. Trying something new out is energizing. Our real challenges of understanding what "No PO for three months" means are still ahead of us. 

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