Scrum THIS

Hey You! Mr. Release Manager!

The Cranky Product Manager appreciates that you’re trying to do this Agile Scrum thing by the book. And that it is hard for you. Because before this Agile tsunami came crashing down you mainly just tracked the progression of different release documents (Is the PRD done? Check. Is the Functional Spec done? Check. Is the Design Doc done? Check.)

Ok, that’s not fair of the Cranky Product Manager. You did more than that. You also ran hurried release meetings once a week that tried to bury issues instead of surface them (OK everyone, here’s the status of all the documents. Anyone have any issues? None? OK, let’s adjourn.) You also organized two or three Fantasy Cricket leagues plus your wedding during working hours, and boy it all took a lot of time.

But now, in the Scrum era, things are different.  It’ s not easy. You once had a private office, but you now spend the bulk of your day tethered to a communal table in a stifling hot “War Room,” inhaling the body odor of The Veteran, trying to tune-out the grandstanding arguments between two nimrod Hotshots (“My idea is the most elegant…”, “No it’s not. It’s trivial. You’d have to refactor it immediately.”), and listening to the documentation writer bitch and moan that she can’t write the doc by Friday if the product keeps changing every hour. It’s really hard to organize fantasy leagues or surf the web with so little privacy. Plus the porn shui of the War Room is completely off.

So it sucks to be you, Mr. Release Manager, and the CPM is sorry for you.

But just because you are stuck in that War Room doesn’t mean the Cranky Product Manager should have to join you. You argue that in Scrum the product manager is the same as the Product Owner, and therefore the Cranky Product Manager needs to be constantly available to the team in order to make on-the-spot decisions within minutes of the asking.  Ergo, you demand the Cranky Product Manager sit in that sticky-note-encrusted, windowless tomb with you all damn day.

Uh, no way.  Not gonna happen.

Why not? Because the Cranky Product Manager needs to be the Voice of the Customer and the Voice of the Market.  How is she to do that without actually VISITING some customers and prospects?  And VISITING means that she actually needs to leave the office, hop on airplanes, and fly far, far away.  She cannot answer questions from the dev team within 5 minutes if she’s on a plane, or in a meeting, or on the phone with a customer.  Not that the CPM wouldn’t LOVE to hear debates about Iron Man or whether that Star Wars cartoon is “canon” or not —  all day, every day, for hours on end. Who wouldn’t?

And your response, Mr. Release Manager?  You argued that perhaps the Cranky Product Manager should not visit so many customers and should spend more time in the War Room.

Anyone else see the irony? The Voice of the Customer should have less interaction with customers?  All so she can make on-the-spot customer-facing decisions more quickly?

TRUST that the Cranky Product Manager will have more to say about this Fatal Flaw of Scrum in an upcoming post… She feels a HUGE rant coming on.

Related Posts: So You Think “Agile” Methodologies Exempt You From Product Management

21 comments

  1. Bruce McCarthy

    Oh, that hits close to home!

    To be fair, though, I’ve found there needs to be a balance. It’s no good becoming the voice of the customer if no one can hear you speak because you are never there.

    I used to complain about too many project meetings (okay, I still do sometimes) but part of being a good PM is setting the direction and priorities for the team and being there to reinforce them on a regular basis.

    So again it’s a balance. (I wrote some about that here: http://www.userdriven.org/blog/2007/7/24/what-program-managers-really-want.html.)

    That doesn’t stop this post from being a riot, though!

  2. John Hornbaker

    Agile certainly creates yet more demands for a PM’s already scarce time and attention. But Agile (done right) keeps everyone closer to the customer and this is a good thing!

    What really needs attention here is setting PMs up for success so they can make great products without burning out, as my colleagues at Enthiosys have pointed out, from the competing demands of the Agile team and real world customers.

    http://www.enthiosys.com/insights-tools/burning-thru-pms/

    Drawing attention to this problem is a great first step, but we need to start arming PMs with ways to deal with it–because it’s not going to go away.

  3. Agile PM

    We had this same problem!
    What we did to solve it was have our PM become a “Strategic Product Manager” and our User Experience person become our “Tactical Product Owner”. The Tactical Product Owner takes business direction from the Strategic Product Manager but has the ability to make those on-the-spot decisions. That way the Strategic Product Manager can focus on the customer and the market. The Strategic and Tactical people sync up twice a week for an hour to stay on the same page.
    So far it is working well…

  4. CRH

    Umm, maybe I am missing something here but with all of the wonderful technology we have to stay connected, it shouldn’t matter whether the CPM is on or off-site. Phones with email, web mail, voice mail, conference calls. There should (sorry to be naive) never be anything that is so urgent that cannot wait until the next day. Agile makes it possible to move on to another item until an answer can be received from CPM. The CPM may even have to research further so that is also a delay.
    CPM will prioritize what needs to be worked on. If it cannot be done in the allotted time, it goes into the next release. What is the sense of urgency here?
    I am not Agile certified in anyway but, I managed my software product updates in this manner. The business set the priority. I gathered the requirements and time estimates and coordinated the testing. If it didn’t fit into the schedule, it was pushed to the next release.
    It is not rocket science RM. Relax. Sometimes slowing down speeds things up through clarity.

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  6. Anthony Broad-Crawford

    In our day and age the agile “war room” is as large as the internet. I and several others are out in the real world interacting with customers and the market rather frequently. Attending the agile meetings remotely isn’t a problem with the rise of video conferencing, desktop sharing, digital white boards, etc. We have had attendees of the four corners of the United States and been able to hold these meetings. Distance should never be a limiting factor for ones availability.

    More importantly, the product development team shouldn’t have to ask the PM for direction and resolution every few minutes. The minutia needed for these hour by hour (or card by card) tasks should be thoroughly understood by the development teams. If they are immobile without the PM sitting within ear shot, they are too in the dark about the product and the customer.

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  8. The Cranky Product Manager

    CRH, The Cranky PM agrees with you. There should be nothing so urgent it can’t wait a day for a decision. And we need to allow for the possibility the PM would need even more time to do research.

    But alas, this reasonable and sane expectation is against the “Official Scrum Recipe.” Scrum mandates a “product owner” live in the Scrum room and be on-site and able to answer any question within minutes. This is just not feasible in any situation where the product is for more than one customer.

    And because the trend of the day is to treat Scrum like it’s a frakin’ religion, well to suggest deviation from the recipe is heresy.

  9. The Cranky Product Manager

    Anthony,
    The issue is not so much the difficulty of communicating from a remote location — everything you mentioned works great if you have a remote office.

    The issue is more the TIME. Meeting with customers, prospects and all the other constituents necessary to get a product out takes TIME. The meetings make it not feasible for the PM to be reachable by the dev team any time of the day, no matter how much technology you can throw at the problem.

    You make an excellent point about the frequency of questions meaning the dev team is too in the dark. That can often be the cause. But often it is because the dev team is inexperienced or afraid of being responsible for their own decisions, so they ask PM to make every little decision.

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  12. Randy

    My thought on the argument stating that the statement made CRH which the CPM agrees goes against the scrum recipe, is that scrum is just one of the tools of agile project management. Others are XP, Lean, and so on…

    There are other variations you can use to make agile project management work for you. In one of the scrum projects I had, I had the BA act as the product owner since the BA is more familiar with the business objectives of the project. BA constantly checks with the “real product owner” to make sure that decisions are done as per the latter’s expectation. I guess this is the tactical portion that “Agile PM” mentioned.

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