Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Three Cures for the Management Bottleneck

This is the fourth post in a series on self-management that began with "The Use of Self-Managing Teams Outside the Context of Software Development"

Divide and Conquer

One of the ways that Agile, especially when using Scrum, reduces the management bottleneck and enables self-managing teams is by having clearly identified roles and responsibilities. Two very useful roles are those of Scrum Master and Product Owner. The Scrum Master role clearly frames the project management function. The Product Owner role clearly frames business management related to the product that a team produces. Both of these roles clearly delineate an area of responsibility that would normally be done by a traditional manager and makes it possible to delegate those responsibilities.

The Scrum Master
In Scrum, the Scrum Master is the person making sure that the (Scrum) process is working, looking for and removing impediments, and acting as a liaison between management and the team. Regardless of what you call the role of Scrum Master, the role itself does not require you to be doing Scrum.

The Product Owner
The role of Product Owner also comes from Scrum. As with a Scrum Master, the use of Scrum is not required in order to have a Product Owner. However, the effectiveness of the Product Owner is definitely leveraged by Scrum. The Product Owner is the person who is solely responsible for the content of a release. They are responsible for all decisions related to what changes are made to the product, including all defects and enhancements. Of course, the Product Owner is most effective if they gather information from a wide variety of sources and work closely with all stakeholders. A Product Owner that regularly makes decisions without consulting with stakeholders or acts on a whim won’t be a Product Owner for long.

The Product Owner Needs a Product Backlog
The role of Product Owner goes hand in hand with the use of a product backlog. A product backlog is simply a list of high-level product requirements (preferably in the form of user stories), prioritized by business value as determined by the product owner.

A backlog gives a clear context to discussions of priority. Anybody can go and look at the backlog to see the position of something they have a stake in. If it is lower than they think it should be, they can examine the backlog to see what is higher in order to help frame a discussion around either moving it higher or moving other things lower. Thus, many people can be leveraged to collectively groom the backlog. This distributes the work of grooming the backlog and helps to ensure that the team is focused on the highest value to the organization.

Reducing the Management Bottleneck
Even if the roles of manager, Scrum Master, and Product Owner were all handled by a single person, the use of these roles and their artifacts simplifies the job of management while at the same time amplifying its effectiveness. And of course, that makes it even easier to delegate these roles. The more that management is delegated, the less chance that management will become a bottleneck.

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