July 6, 2017

You know you're the Product Owner...

...when your product's users are complaining and you have to worry about your bonus.


The Product Owner's bonus is on the line when users complain! You're not worried about the upcoming appraisals although the users are complaining? And you're not looking for that boat you fancied for so long because the users are giving you great reviews all the time? You're not a Product Owner.

In this day and age of DevOps and Agile, the most coveted job in the world seems to be the one of Product Owner. Never have I seen so many co-workers turn into a PO as recently is the case. Operators turning into Operations PO, testers turning into the Testing PO, security experts fulfilling the role of Security PO. It's amazing to see all these Product Owners mushrooming in organisations.
Understandably, because their original jobs are nearing their expiration date, or so they're let to believe.

The other day I had an interesting discussion with one of the architects of a client of mine. We're discussing a lot these days about architecture, API's, services, data warehouses and other interesting stuff. But this time around he challenged me. Seriously.
This particular client is a typical Project oriented organisation. Projects develop something and once it goes into production and becomes at times business critical, a very efficient department takes over. (Just in case you're wondering why I put efficient in italics, read this post). This architect is part of a department that is making the transition from a Project oriented towards a Product oriented way of working. It's a significant move and absolutely not trivial.
What's interesting is that the general understanding of the necessity of a mandated Product Owner has caught on with this client of mine. What hasn't caught on is that the PO is supposed to be somebody from the business. Take this with a tiny grain of salt thought, as by stating that the PO needs to be a business person, I mean that the PO needs to understands the business in which his products make a difference and generate value. Do you need to be an MBA? Nope, but you do need to understand the relevance of the product for your user.
And this is exactly the issue at hand. All the different so called PO's my friend the architect is dealing with do talk with the user, but do not necessarily understand the relevance of the products they're using. The Operations PO discusses the stability of the product, which makes perfect sense because the focus of an operations person is ensuring that the product is not crashing. One could argue that the relevance of an operations person is the fact that products will crash, which is a bit ironic. The Testing PO is of course focusing on whether or not the product is conforming to the requirements and specifications. This is what testing is all about: Is what has been build, delivering what was intended in the first place. And with all the security incidents, global incidents at that. And with all the new laws and regulations around privacy and what not, the role of the Security PO is cut out, it's focusing on limiting the risks for the organisation by having the products being used by, well the users.

Since all these PO's are doing their job extremely well, the products are up to par and are in fact creating value for the organisation. They surely do. But that is not to the credit of these PO's. The reason for this, is that none of the PO's are concerned with the best product, i.e. the product that is helping the user to conduct business. They are all focused on the product delivering what was intended, namely stability, requirements and security.
I hear your brains churning on this, so let's make an assumption here to illustrate: What if the product crashes all the time, but when it doesn't it removes the hassle of manual steps in a complex process? And although it crashes, data integrity is guaranteed? The operations person won't like it and will very likely take the product out of commission. Why? Because operations is affected when stability is an issue.
So now it turns out that the product is fully according to spec, tests are 100% green but the user will not stop complaining because the product is still not helping to drive business? The tester will not look into this as a testing issue, but as a specification issue. The fact that the tests didn't reveal this major flaw, namely usability. And even when it did, usability being a testable requirement is a novelty. It is with my client's organisation and it is in many others.
Guess you can fill in the problem with the Security officer acting as PO. Consider it a small exercise to flood your brain with some endorphin.

The issue here is that none of these so called PO's is accountable for the success (or failure) of the product. None of them is. And this is what sets the PO apart from everybody else in the organisation:

The PO's bonus is on the line when users complain!

This means that when a accountability of a product's success, i.e. the level if complaints from users about the product, is not with you, you're not the Product Owner. It also means that unless you get a full mandate to make a success out of a product, you're not the Product Owner either.
Don't accept the role of PO unless you get full mandate, which includes discretionary say about the product team, its road-map, funding, etc.

Back to our wannabe PO's, because that's the correct word for them. Their bonus is not on the line, they're not responsible for the product's success. They're definitely not accountable. But that doesn't mean that they're not responsible for making the product a success. Their knowledge, insights, experience and general professional view on the product is invaluable input to the PO to create a success out of a product. The PO shouldn't ask for their input, but when the input is not provided, the questions should be raised. They're not impacted by bad reviews, the PO is. They do have to worry about their jobs, because if the PO can't use them...

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