Jeff Patton gave a talk at Agile 2012 on “The Product Owner’s Role”. A couple of statements really resonated with me. “Discovery is what the product owner team does.” and “The product owner’s job is to provide impact and outcome.” A film of a project I led came to mind.
A successful small company wanted a system to track and report performance of their field personnel. The VP of Operations had some clear ideas on what he wanted to see. We agreed to a short term 3 month contract to deliver and implement a pilot solution. Spoiler alert. The final product was very different from what he initially envisioned.
First, we had to develop an easy to use system to collect time data. We made a short list of the basic data we needed. We mocked up and demoed the data collection screen to a field services manager. He immediately asked why he had to enter information from the schedule that the company published in a spreadsheet. Discovery? We can use this to publish the schedule too. The project sponsor thought that was a real bonus and we were only a month into the project.
Next we had to validate the data. We could use payroll data to validate the time entry. Discovery? Maybe we could use the time entry to populate the payroll system. Turns out there were legal issues and that idea failed. Jeff also said in his talk that while many ideas fail, we learn from them. Later, we were able to run some nice payroll analysis report that really helped HR.
With data that was pretty easy to collect and validate, we were ready to produce management reports. We mocked up a report with some basic metrics giving the VP daily insight into his field operations. He was still skeptical. After all they had been trying to do this for several years with little success. He made some calls to a few reliable teams with poor performance for that week. Sure enough, they acknowledged they had some problems but would be back on track the next week. He was surprised by some high performing teams that he thought of as weaker. Sure enough, the teams were doing a great job and glad to hear that the boss knew it. This was powerful information.
Discovery? Maybe we could summarize by region? Maybe we could do some deeper analysis? Maybe we could track quality, customer feedback, pay performance bonuses…
Jeff also said that just building is soul crushing. Discovery is fun and rewarding. I agree. It was fun to discover and deliver a high impact business solution. And rewarding to help the people in the business. It did not hurt that we extended our contract for another 6 months.