product ownership

Finding the balance

Isn’t it great how the brain works? Making patterns, re-examining existing ones, exploring new paths and rediscovering things we had forgotten we knew. The brain’s constant effort, working so hard to make pieces fit together. My fascination just won’t end when it comes to this.

Yesterday I was reminded of the complexity of my brain. I was arranging a one day workshop about Scrum, agile and teamwork for a bunch of curious people. This workshop served as a starting point and they are now going to form three teams and start their journey at the Shu level. We were discussing who is actually in charge of prioritization between product development work (new features, bug fixes etc) and larger chunks of (process) improvement work that has come up during the retrospective.

We did not reach a conclusion there and then. However, we all agreed upon that the Scrum framework (actually, any framework) relies on a set of rules and a will from every participant to follow those rules. With this as the ground foundation, we have to balance different interests, pros and cons of different suggestions and solutions.

After our lunch break I showed them a brilliant movie that Henrik Kniberg made in 2012. It’s called Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell and it is a simple, fun and convincing film about the flow in agile and the importance of communication, communication and communication. Henrik has also written about it in his blog here. In the blog post you can find the complete drawing, and a transcript of the film.

I’ve seen this movie loads of times, and every time I find something new to think about. A new angle. This time my brain was obviously occupied by our discussion earlier about who really decides. So this time, I really listened carefully when Henrik started to talk about tradeoffs and decisions that the team and Product Owner need to make. We need to trade off between different types of value; knowledge value and customer value. We need to trade off between short term and long term thinking. And we need to trade off between different perspectives; should we build the right thing, should we build the thing right, or should we build it fast?

In all tradeoffs, we of course would like to have it all. The best would be to have the right, high quality product built in no time. When I bought my last racing bike I wanted to find a lightweight, durable and affordable bike. I was told in the store that I could only choose two out of the three. Yes, I can find a lightweight racing bike that can handle a bit of the rough stuff, but it’ll cost me a fortune. So, most often, we can’t get it all and we need to compromise.

So, how do we do that? I like to find the limiting constraints that I can’t influence. In my bike example that would be the upper limit of what I can spend on this bike. I’m not made of money and I need some to run my everyday life. When it comes to durability and weight, these are not as hard limits. Of course my bike can not weigh, say, more than 25 kg, but on the other hand that goes without saying because I don’t think I could even find a racing bike that heavy in the first place.

After that I like to challenge my initial assumptions. Do I really need all of this? Do I really need this special feature? Is it really the bike’s weight that limits my performance? Can I get that performance in any other way? Is this need really more important than the other? What happens if I get this but not that? And if it’s the other way around? If I don’t get any of it? I try to be creative and put forward even ideas I find stupid at first.

And, finally, discussing the topic with others almost always helps me figure things out. Talking to someone else is a very good way of solving ones problems. Most of the time they don’t even need to say so much; the fact that they’re actively listening is often enough. When I say things out loud to someone who is trying to understand and trying to help, the solutions tend to come out as well. And when people do respond and give their opinion, that provides me with another view of the issue.

This might seem very, very obvious, and to some extent it is. I do agree on that. However, even the simplest things in theory can be hard to actually implement in real life. So letting your brain work one more time on the same topic might be a very good help. After all, the brain is rather fantastic!

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