Archive for August 2008

Jean Tabaka on Teams, Product Owners, and Decision Making

In an interview you can view at InfoQ, Jean Tabaka talks about the difficulties of decision making for Product Owners on an Agile project, and an approach called RAPID Management that provides a model for being an effective Product Owner. 

Here is the link:

I have read Jean’s book on collaboration as well as articles by her, and find I always find a lot of value in her writings.  This interview is particularly relevant and useful to me this week as I am working on ideas to make planning and decision making more effective for the teams I work with. 

One thing I found particularly helpful is Jean’s comments about the difficulty some people have taking on the role of a decision maker.  Although Agile emphasizes collaborative decision making, most organizations still expect someone (that is, some individual) to take responsibility for the decisions made.  In a Scrum environment, for example, it is the Product Owner who has responsibility for decisions about what gets worked on.  

Although this pressure and stress of decision making is real, as Agilists we have an approach and some practices that help to reduce or even remove this stress.  We understand that decisions need to be made at the “last responsible moment” and that we can steer development using a toolset or practices designed to address and remove the “single wringable neck” problem. 

Practices such as:

  • rapid feedback
  • on-going collaboration with customers and end users
  • working with Sprints (or iterations) that allow us to take on small, human digestible chunks
  • regression and unit tests in place that help take the pain out of making changes
  • emergent design and continual attention to technical excellence
  • and so on

In the Agile world mistakes aren’t as costly as they are in a traditional waterfall project.  Because we are delivering value rapidly and visibly we can learn from our mistakes as they happen and apply what we learn in the next Sprint, instead of 6 months later during some “stabilization” phase when it is impossible to recover.  Most decisions are relatively small allowing us to move forward confidently without fear that we’re making big, costly mistakes.  We can grow our knowledge rapidly and making correct decisions becomes easier as we go. 

This is a big part of what I enjoy and treasure about Agile.  The end result is that we can make decisions with less stress knowing that we have gathered enough knowledge to make good decisions, and that no mistake is a show stopper.