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Business and IT - A False Dichotomy

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

There is a never-ending discussion about the chasm between business and IT and therein lies what some might see as an almost intractable issue. Thinking about IT strategy as separate and distinct from the business strategy is the same as saying the marketing (or sales or financial) strategy is distinct. It is nonsensical and self-defeating. And so, in the immortal words of Bob Newhart . . . STOP IT.

Since that is easier said than done I want to dedicate this post to showing how empowering one particular role in a delivery organization can help prevent this chasm from appearing or close it if it already exists. That role is the Product Owner, whom we will call Sally.

As a project’s key touchpoint between the business and the delivery teams, Sally handles crystallizing and delivering the vision that will result in value to clients and profits to the company. She is also responsible for communicating that vision to the delivery teams. They must understand customer requirements and stakeholder values well enough to reconcile competing stakeholder requirements for the best outcome.

When Sally does her job, the delivery team can deliver a product that delights customers and end-users.

Servant Leader

Sally understands the desired outcome and communicates her vision to the Agile team. What makes her an exceptional product owner is that she is a servant leader. Sally makes sure the team understands everything that needs doing to achieve success. She dots all her i’s and crosses all her t’s to make sure she does not trip up the team.

Clear requirements, epics, and user stories are critical and empower the team to deliver as expected. The information Sally provides defines the feature or functionality needed, but she is careful to only tell the team “what” she needs them to create. She knows the team will decide “how” to build it.

Fully Engaged

Owning a product is a big job. It takes dedicated interaction with stakeholders and customers to give clear direction to a team. This is why Sally works best when she is focused on only one value stream or team. If products are similar, it is possible for a product owner to work with two teams, but one team is optimal.

This singular focus means Sally can engage 100% with the team and make sure she is available to answer questions.

If you choose to assign your product owner to more than one product, make sure a plan is in place to keep both teams moving forward. Waiting for a decision from a product owner stops the flow.

Represent Stakeholders

Since Sally is the project’s key stakeholder, you can look at her role as the customer of all customers. There is no one who knows more about what the product needs to do to delight customers. She pays attention and learns more about their concerns. Her information comes from time spent with customers and stakeholders, and business analysts who are looking at the strategic big picture.

One of the first objectives Sally has is to identify all the internal and external stakeholders for the current release. It is important to consider their requirements as early as possible in the project to avoid rework. Because Sally understands what customers want, she can assess each stakeholder requirement and determine if it adds customer value or not. There might be meetings to discuss the best course of action, but at the end of the day, Sally’s decision stands because she is representing the customer.

As a project moves forward, stakeholders – especially customers – often change their minds. It is not unusual for a customer to request one behavior but end up deciding that behavior will not work. When this happens, Sally works with the customer to understand and define the change requested. If the change makes sense for the majority of the targeted customer base, the backlog gets updated to reflect this change.

Sally is careful to accommodate customers, but she also recognizes and minimizes the effects of scope creep.

Here’s to Sally, a Great Product Owner!

Sally is good at her job because she recognizes that the team cannot produce incredible results without clear direction, which takes time and effort. She does not hesitate to go the extra mile to make sure the team can keep the momentum going.

The other key to Sally’s success is the knowledge that releasing a product that does not hit the sweet spot of their customer base will not bring success for the company or her team.

Contact us to learn more about how to make sure your strategy, operations, and tactics are aligned and delivering value.

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