Agility, Or A Pig On Roller Skates?

Who is responsible for optimizing value in Scrum? The Product Owner. Originally, I thought that the product managers and other business customers who play this role would love Scrum. After all, it lets them rapidly and flexibly create value-optimized releases.

But many of the business customers who use Scrum aren’t taking advantage of Scrum’s ability to do this. Instead, they are trying to use Scrum to deliver the same releases that they would have in waterfall — only faster. They mistakenly think that Scrum will let them build EVERYTHING faster – not just the high-value stuff, but the low-value stuff as well. And they think that Scrum is also a license to make changes without consequences. This is not how Scrum works.

The Scrum community hasn’t done enough to help product managers and business customers understand how to use Scrum effectively. Most of the articles, books, and courses for Product Owners focus on managing the Product Backlog. There isn’t enough information available on how to manage the actual product, which should be their first concern.

What would the situation look like if Product Owners had all the knowledge and expertise they needed? Product Owners would start to think of the team’s development capabilities as an asset to draw upon, as an inventory of possible features and functions. They could then use Scrum to design releases that delivered the maximum amount of incremental value with each release, ultimately driving customer awareness, adoption, and satisfaction.

This requires a mindset change on the part of business customers. The right mindset involves thinking of a release not as a miracle but as a predictable achievement and planning for it as such.

I started out by working on Scrum. Then I worked to improving the ability of software developers to create done increments within a Sprint (i.e., the Professional Scrum Developer program). Now I’m starting to work on improving the ability of product managers and other business customers to think with agility and make effective use of their Agile teams.

In a future blog post, I’ll discuss how agility is constrained by the velocity of the Scrum team, which in turn in constrained by the team’s skills and — more importantly — the quality of the existing software. Agility is not a pig on roller skates.

5 thoughts on “Agility, Or A Pig On Roller Skates?

  1. I have seen this situation over and over again and a lot of people I’ve talked about share the same pain. Most of the scrum awareness efforts and training are centered on developers and project managers. For most software companies that means the internal people. I’ve been asked the question a couple of times before: How can we convince our customers / business of the values of scrum?
    I can only speak for Belgium at this point, but whave a long way ahead of us in trying to build awareness with the business people. Getting them involved in the values and principles of scrum and how these can improve their way of doing business as well. We are going to set up some awareness efforts in the near future specifically for the business people. So I’ll be following your thoughts about this closely.

  2. Ken,
    I would love to see put together a PSD style PSPO course that took a very similar “hands on” approach to Product Ownership. In that light, a third of the program would show PO’s how to use the tools of their trade (Excel, Project, etc.) to connect the Scrum team to the business. Another third would be focused on the “best practices” around the tools and Scrum:

    – Discussions on maximizing ROI
    – Definition of business value.
    – Definition of “done”
    – Writing User Stories
    – Defining acceptance criteria

    The remaining third would be core Scrum framework education and use.

    I am working with a client right now that would love this material! I am considering putting together training for them “out-of-band.”



  3. Chad
    We are doing that, filling in the product owner gap. However, it will go beyond what many product owner courses currently address, which is “agile requirements management” and also address how to plan, roll out and manage a product to optimize value in the marketplace … how to gain competitive advantage. The time frame is early next year and it will include an assessment.

  4. Pingback: Agile: SCRUM Process « Take a Leaper

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