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Once upon a time I was asked to help out a software product company.  The management briefing went something like this: “We need you to increase productivity, the guys in development seem to be unable to ship anything! and if they do ship something it’s only a fraction of what we expected”.

And so the story begins. Now there are many ways how we can improve the teams outcome and its output (the first matters more), but it always starts with observing what they do today and trying to figure out why.

It turns out that requests from the business were treated like a good wine, and were allowed to “age”, in the oak barrel that was called Jira. Not so much to add flavour in the form of details, requirements, designs, non functional requirements or acceptance criteria, but mainly to see if the priority of this request would remain stable over a period of time.

In the days that followed I participated in the “Change Control Board” and saw what he meant. Management would change priorities on the fly and make swift decisions on requirements that would take weeks to implement. To stay in vinotology terms, wine was poured in and out the barrels at such a rate that it bore more resemblance to a blender than to the art of wine making.

Though management was happy to learn I had unearthed to root cause to their problem, they were less pleased to learn that they themselves were responsible.  The Agile world created the Product Owner role for this, and it turned out that this is hat, that can only be worn by a single person.

Once we funnelled all the requests through a single person, both responsible for the success of the product and for the development, we saw a big change. Not only did the business got a reliable sparring partner, but the development team had a single voice when it came to setting the priorities. Once the team starting finishing what they started we started shipping at regular intervals, with features that we all had committed to.

Of course it did not take away the dynamics of the business, but it allowed us to deliver, and become reliable in how and when we responded to change. Perhaps not the most aged wine, but enough to delight our customers and learn what we should put in our barrel for the next round.