Boss what should I do next?
I really dislike using the word NOT to express something, so I would rephrase the title “Product Owner rather than Boss”.
You can read more about where the Product Owner sits in the overall scheme of things, here: https://gabrielrondelli.com/agile/product-management-prouduct-owner/
One such boss figure among classical top-down hierarchies is the Team-Leader ( just as a classical example, the first tier commonly met in “how” organizations for boss titles, just before People Manager title ).
Among the responsibilities of the Team Leader we have:
- Create an inspiring team environment with an open communication culture
- Set clear team goals
- Delegate tasks and set deadlines
- Oversee day-to-day operation
- Monitor team performance and report on metrics
- Motivate team members
- Discover training needs and provide coaching
- Listen to team members’ feedback and resolve any issues or conflicts
- Recognize high performance and reward accomplishments
- Encourage creativity and risk-taking
- Suggest and organize team building activities
And I was recently asked: How does a Product Owner deal with conflicts, thus addressing the point above: “Listen to team members’ feedback and resolve any issues or conflicts”.
I think this is an inherited flaw for organizations who fail to grasp the true meaning of an Agile team.
There is no boss
First, the product owner is not a separate entity from the Scrum Team, he is not a boss. Neither is the Scrum Master, any Agile framework currently implemented does not recognize such titles that are usually assigned with a command-and-control boss roles.
Every conflict that arises in the team is dealt within the team by the team, meaning: Devs, Scrum Master and Product Owner together as a single unit.
As you can see, the keyword here is team not managed team and certainly no boss roles.
The same goes for setting goals, deadlines and delegation.
The goals are set by the whole team, tasks are shared and only the team decides the split, I wouldn’t go into deadlines and everything else, because I think they are redundant in the context of an Agile framework (eg: we don’t have deadlines, the team chooses how much it forecasts to get done by the end of a Sprint).
Thus, many organizations and as well fresh players into the field fail to grasp the true meaning of a self-organizing team.
Core values and dysfunctions
If someone gives direction, resolves conflicts or sets goals, it means it knows much more than the team that actually sets the goal or that the team is failing in self-organizing.
Going down the above road will lead to abandoning trust which essentially is the core for all other values such as: “Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage”.
Based on the book from Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a team” we can see that at the base of the pyramid, the lack of trust is the most important.
Going forward with other studies on human motivation we can tell the following:
Trust is the basis for the team’s rest of dysfunctions and a sure source of hidden costs later down the road.
Pinning the Product Owner as a goal-setter, a task delegator, a dead-line setter or any such “boss” activity, eliminates trust and will have the team put in a “carrot-and-stick” mentality. Faking progress and hiding mistakes just to get in “good-terms” with the “boss”.
I’m going to leave you with a small quote from the book called Freedom .Inc, which delves further into the abyss of the human psyche and economic science:
(…)Raiman’s last statement echoed one of Zobrist’s remarks, that his daily tours of the shop floor to listen and converse with operators were his quest for bonheur, for happiness or joy.
But it was his reflection on the relationship between fairness and performance that intrigued us. Indeed, Raiman used two different meanings of fairness: economic and moral. While talking about the trade-off, he refers to the economic unfairness of the competition that—since Adam Smith—has been viewed as the basis of a country’s economic performance. But when he talks about fairness as a basis for the company’s performance, he refers to moral fairness, to the way a company and managers treat people.
In the first case, he mentions the simple notion that underlies Smith’s market economics: Material self-interest drives economic action and performance. In the second case, Raiman formulates a more complex precept: The satisfaction of people’s need to be treated with moral fairness leads to their enhanced effectiveness and to enhanced company performance.
This enhanced economic performance—gains in productivity, profits, and so forth—then, in turn, paves the way for providing economic fairness to people through profit sharing, bonus, or ownership schemes. It may seem hard to believe that fairness and respect can be appreciated by people even more than a bigger paycheck. Needless to say, in a perfect world you would want all three—fairness, respect, and maximum remuneration. But we do not live in that world, and so we have to make choices. On at least two occasions that we know of, unions at liberated companies, when given the choice, did, in fact, choose fairness and respect over their pocketbooks.Freedom .Inc: How corporate liberation unleashes employee potential and business performance
I would go on citing from Daniel Pink’s “Drive”, but it goes through the same patterns: human motivation is tied towards rewards up to a certain point, the rest of the way is composed of something more…
First, and foremost, the Product Owner with the help of the Scrum Master should ensure trust among the team to build on the next values. Trust that the team knows what to do, they desire to do their best and are willing to do it as best as they can.
Remember, nobody gets up in the morning desiring to do an awful job. This shift in mentality is the first difference from the usual monitoring and supervision theory.
The second dysfunction is “fear of conflict”, this is tied with the Scrum values: courage and openness.
It takes courage to admit a mistake, be it your own or of a colleague.It takes openness to address the challenge and be open to discuss it. This is easier said than done.
Most people don’t want to debate or put mistakes out in the open, because they are afraid of repercussions.
This ties directly to the first point of “trust”.
It also goes against the responsibilities of the Team Leader or any “boss” title.
Metrics can be faked, if fear of repercussions and of conflict, people will hide mistakes and inflate metrics, just to “look good” “on paper”.
Businesses are complex endeavors, with many unknowns, it is impossible to know every variable early on.
There are even entrepreneurs that council others to “fail often, fail fast”. Why? Because given the statistics most start-ups will fail. Failing early, will ensure a quick recovery. So you can replace the word “failure” with “learning”.
Creating a culture of accepting mistakes and learning from them early on, is a culture that enables innovation.
Here’s an example from Gore company from the same book Freedom .Inc.
Individual initiative and risk taking have always been strongly encouraged at W. L. Gore & Associates. Bill Gore was known for asking associates on his daily plant tour: “Have you made any mistakes lately?” And if the answer was “No,” he would say: “You haven’t been taking enough risks.”
Needless to say, if the risk is that you might fail to keep a commitment, you should warn others immediately. If you don’t, you’ll punch a hole in your credibility bucket. For Gore’s associates, the result is a company where they feel uniquely free to pursue their own interests within the framework of a fulfilling job—or, rather, commitment.
But for the company as a whole, the proof is in the results. And the company has been eating its freedom pudding for fifty years now. It still tastes as great as ever. In the early days, Bill Gore started out with an unloved little compound called PTFE and one product—coated wires and cables. Today, Gore takes in more than $3 billion in sales and has averaged better than 10% annual growth over the past decade. It not only makes the most famous waterproof membrane in the world, but it continues to innovate in ways that no five-year plan could foresee.Freedom .Inc: How corporate liberation unleashes employee potential and business performance
The next dysfunction is the commitment or lack of it, fear of conflicts leaves people to not commit to anything, because of fear of repercussions.
Commitment is something voluntary, chosen, not a job imposed by somebody else. Commitment is something that you take from beginning towards the end, because you believe you can do it. See the difference?
The last two dysfunctions follow: accountability and lack of interest for results.
If we take these two away, you can imagine what will happen to the Product Vision. When the team does not hold anyone accountable and there is a lack of interest towards the end-result, you can imagine what happens to an iteration.
With each Sprint, the goal will be farther and farther away and as such will deviate from the Product Vision.
As a Product Owner you are part of the Scrum Team and as such your first duty is to eliminate yourself as the “boss figure” by instilling a culture of trust.
This is done on a continuous basis, by ensuring the Scrum values mentioned above are respected: Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage.
Whenever a conflict arises, ask yourself if it is treated constructively. Watch out for the 5 dysfunctions and involve the whole team in treating them, especially the Scrum Master.