I’ve started using an analogy to illustrate the importance of product owner teams in larger organizations. When working with organizations to do an agile transformation, almost always, a tiered model is used for scaling across the organization. The model looks something like this:
The top tier is portfolio management which is responsible for investment decisions and what initiatives continue to move forward. The middle tier is representative of the Product Owner role in Scrum and is where we often create program teams, sometimes called product owner teams. The bottom tier is where stable cross-functional teams reside that are delivering increments of value in some cadence such as every two weeks.
I think of the delivery tier as the engine of the organization. Each delivery team is designed to operate at a sustainable pace in a very predictable manner. If we think of each team as an engine then we may find some operate at 2500 RPM, others 3500 RPM, regardless, they each operate at a RPM that is sustainable. If we can operate with little variance then we can start to become predictable and make promises on what can be delivered over time. If a team is running at 2500 RPM then I can determine how far that team will travel if that engine powers a car.
But, if we push the engine past a sustainable pace, or have them operate past the redline, then the engine becomes stressed, will wear out more quickly, and likely fail to deliver as expected and certainly become unpredictable.
Fuel for the Engines
Product owner teams represent refineries responsible for providing good fuel. They must understand the business goals and problems to be solved, collaborate with delivery teams to define capabilities to build, and further decompose those into clear backlog items that provide clean burning fuel needed by the engines.
Provide bad fuel – the teams sputter and are unable to run at a consistent RPM. Bad fuel will not allow us to make promises to the market or our customers.
I haven’t completely vetted this out in my mind, but when thinking about portfolio management I believe this is where we are making investments on where to drill for crude oil. We increasingly learn more about the potential initiatives, collaborate with the product owner teams, and possibly delivery teams to progressively gain more knowledge so we can make funding or cut decisions about where we will invest.
This analogy seems to resonate when I’ve used it over the last few months to describe the responsibilities of delivery teams and product owner teams. Turning crude into clean burning fuel is a big job and really highlights the challenge most organizations have in providing clarity to their delivery teams.
I would love to get your thoughts on how I’m thinking about this.