vrijdag 14 maart 2008

Product Ownership (5)

Continuing the series on product ownership, here's links to the previous parts: Introduction, part 2, part 3, part 4.

Point 4: A "business sense" and a vision

When I was first thinking about the qualities and how they fit together I had a bit of a hard time placing this one. I felt they are essential, but couldn't really nail down how or why that would be.  Not just the combination of business sense and vision, but also how a product owner should use these.
The more I was thinking and organizing my ideas, I started to see that they are actually closely related and rely on some of the other qualities I put forward earlier. It brought up some interesting discussions and ideas, which I've tried to capture in this post.

Since business sense is a pretty subjective and vague description, I'll clarify what I mean by that. To me, business sense is all about making good decisions. And in order to make a good decision one would need to understand the tradeoffs, the iron triangle, such concepts as risk vs. value. All these need to be balanced in order to make a good decision imho. So you could sum it up as "the art of making a good decision at the right time". Some of this can be picked up through study and/or experience. What is harder to pick up is "seeing an opportunity", this is where a vision comes in.

A vision could be defined as a long term strategy or goal. Often, it's not realized overnight but in small incremental steps. Other terms that could indicate a vision is "the Plan" (with capital P), "the big picture",.... Since a vision is some thing like trying to see the future, it means that some assumptions and question marks will be present.

Keeping the above definitions in mind, it's fairly obvious to see that good business sense is essential for a product owner to make the right decision at the right time. Or at least, to make the right decision with the information known to him at that point. Which to me also makes the decision to gather more information and not make a final decision (given that there is enough time to do so) an equally good decision to "yes" or "no".
A product owner with a well developed business sense should be able to prioritize and make clear decisions about the backlog. This is supported by good communication and negotiation skills, which allow him to convince stakeholders and to get an open dialog so it works, as much as possible, for everybody.

On the vision part, the product owner should be the one guarding the vision, that does not mean he has to be the only one creating it.

I'd like you to think about 2 questions before reading along (and feel free to disagree with my answers below).

  • Can a vision be defended without a deep understanding of the problem?
  • Does the amount of understanding the problem have an impact on refining or adjusting the vision?

I'm inclined to say no to the first and yes to the second. And here's why.

If the vision needs to be defended, chances are pretty high that there will be an argument on the assumptions and question marks or, in general, on the more vague parts of the vision. In a good vision, those vague parts have been filled in somewhat with a belief, an assumption that is based on knowledge in some way, shape or form. Knowledge, typically drawn from the problem domain. It could be a predicted market change, a new technology that's upcoming, a desired feature that would give competitive advantage, ... . And in order to defend that, you better know what you're talking about.
On the second question, my answer is yes for a rather similar line of thoughts as the previous. If you end an argument with a need to adjust the vision, typically you'll be adjusting/refining the vague parts. If you half understand the problem, how will you refine or adjust the solution?

As a final thought, here's how I see business sense and vision working together. If the vision is your end goal, the business sense makes sure you follow the right path to reach it, with small steps at a time.

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