Monday, May 4, 2009

Role and Importance of a Product Owner

In Mike Cohn’s post about Upcoming Books, one title caught my attention “Product Management: Turning Ideas into Winning Products with Scrum”. Here are some sample chapters

I have been attending sessions of the Atlanta Scrum Group. Last week one of the points we discussed was that product owners or rather the lack of product owners in the group.

A couple of discussions with some clients revealed the impact of not having product owners.

It is very easy to create a unmarketable technical marvels when you don’t have have a good product owner. The product owner is the person who should identify the critical needs of the customer and ensure that the every release to the end customer meets the customer’s critical needs.

She/He is the one who:

a) should decide how early or when the product has to be released for it to be successful.

b) define good user stories and prioritize them

c) guide the product team from a functional perspective.

From what i have seen so far, it is very hard for technologists to succeed as product owners. Technology specialists usually focus on making the product as the best designed product in the market. But the need of the hour may be a product that will solve the customer’s problem and not a technology marvel. No, i am not criticizing the technical gurus here or their importance, just stressing on the balance.

At the end of the day, what is important is for the business to succeed. The vision for successful products is the responsibility of the product owner, the architects convert the vision to a high quality product.

The problem, however, seems to be that we lack good product owners. Are we failing to understand their value? Not having a good product owner could result is in delay in getting a useable product, unmarketable product etc.

I have seen some real examples of the impact of not having a good product owner and the results because of a good product owner.

I hope this upcoming book will help developing some great product owners.

Agile can also fail in spite of all the great advantages it has if the basics are not right. Not having a good product owner is a failure in the basics.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spirit of Agile Development

I have been reading, listening and seeing a lot about Agile these days. Almost everybody i meet from the industry tells me they follow Agile and typically every discussion about Agile includes

a) We have release planning meetings

b) We have iteration planning meetings

c) We have standup meetings

d) We have retrospective meetings

Sometimes these statements make me this what the Agile Manifesto even aimed at? As with every process, with the growing Agile population making their own rules, regulations and processes, Agile seems to have boiled down to the 4 meetings and user stories. Not many people who talk to me talk about what i believe is one of the core values of Agile development.."VALUE ADD TO THE CUSTOMER".

With the growing popularity of Agile, i wonder if the core values would get diluted and the entire practice would just become a fad instead of achieving the actual vision. It is time the believers of the Agile practices start driving in the core values of the practices instead of just stressing on the process to be followed. I think the processes should always start with one question "What is the value add to the customer?".

From my experience, it has not been easy to implement Agile practices. It is very easy to implement the scrum or xp or whatever processes. But at the end of the day, Agile practices are about the correct mindset.

Any practice is a mindset, unless we understand the spirit and use the process to achieve the goals, we will not be able to get the most out of the process instead it would just be "Oh yeah!! i follow this too" without any value add to anybody.

CRM Incubation Week - II

The second CRM Incubation Week happened last week in the Microsoft Technology Center in Waltham, MA. Through the Dynamics CRM Incubation Weeks, Sanjay Jain  has been doing a fabulous job of helping people with great ideas of developing a solution in MS Dynamics CRM to give shape to their ideas and connecting them with the VCs who may be interested in funding any of these ideas. The panel of advisors who help these teams were top notch professionals from the Dynamics CRM world

1) Jim Steger from Sonoma Partners

2) Girish Raja from Microsoft

3) Sumit Virmani from Microsoft

4) John O'Donnell, from Microsoft

5) Aaron Elder from Ascentium

6) Richard Crane from Microsoft

The idea was to be able to build a POC that can showcase MS Dynamics CRM as a XRM Platform and also present the solution to VCs. The companies that participated this time around were

1) FourthLink 

2) Smart Red Pen

3) Skyline Vertical Solutions

4) myStaffingCRM

5) Hippamatic

The teams came with wonderful ideas that the advisors helped convert into a XRM based solution. The results were amazing to see. In 4 days, these teams had to build a POC and create a business model presentation. The work started at 9 AM in the morning and went till 11 PM in the night.  And in some cases, the teams stayed up all night to get their work done.

Proteans provided support from the offshore. The role of Proteans was to help these teams build their solution. This is one of the most challenging experiences i have had i.e. to help build 5 solutions at the same time with the help of the offshore software team in just 3 days. It required tremendous agility, dedication and patience from everybody involved, both onsite and offshore. The team at Proteans India worked 2 continuous days trying to meet the needs of the participating teams. That was an herculean effort by the team there under the leadership of Paramdeep Kour and Sukhbir Kalsi.

It is not easy to develop a collaboration model and develop a software with the help of an offshore team in 4 days. All the advisors and the teams were patient, supportive and tremendously helpful. And the offshore team worked tirelessly round the clock to get the job done. Additional support was provided by Rich and Jason, architects at Microsoft to help resolve any issues.

In the end, it was a great experience. Everybody had lots of takeaways and some teams taking away some trophies too. For Proteans, both the incubation weeks have been tremendous learning experiences. Personally, it was a great experience for me to be there and be a part of the entire action. Thanks to the advisors, the teams, Sanjay and the team in India, I learnt a lot of things in just 4 days.

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