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Are you a Bob Ross or a Rembrandt?

November 1, 2013

Coming up with a metaphorical question like this does require good explanation… And I will. Let me describe two cases.

Case one, develop according to Scrum

In the first case, you are running your development according to scrum. As a product owner you have your end goal clearly defined. You chop up your end goal functionality in small pieces, so you have a complete set of stories for the product available. These stories are fed batch by batch to your development team.

You clearly explain for every story what the result should be and why this is needed. This way you build your product in small incremental steps. Every sprint your product is growing and you are getting closer to your envisioned end result. Also, you have your stories prioritized so the important parts are build first. Sounds like the way it should… right?

Case two, develop according to Scrum

In the second case, as a product owner you run your development according to scrum. You have your end goal clearly defined and only a set of stories available to cover the next two sprints. You clearly communicate with every story what the result should be and why that piece of functionality is needed and how it fits in your envisioned end goal. After every sprint you evaluate the result, learn from the result and start to extend your story-set till you again have the next two sprints covered. This way you are defining your product as you go, while you still keep the intended end goal clearly insight. Anything you learn can be directly translated into the sprint without throwing away all the preparation work that you have done. Sounds also like the way it should.. right?

Two ways to paint your product

PBS Remix-Happy PainterCase one I see happening most of the time. And I understand that. It gives a clear framework and it provides management tangible result of the work of a Product Owner, even before development is started. In the end you need some proof that you are doing your job when you are in classic organizations. This way you can always show that it is not you if development fails somehow.

rembrandtIn second case you are lacking that “work proof” and you have to rely on “results proof”. For that you need to have the trust of the management. But the benefit of this way of working is that you learn while you are going forward without wasting any work that was done ahead of development. So less waste, more control, and more chance of hitting your goal.

Any new product is a journey into the unknown. Sure, you see an opportunity in the market, and sure, you have an idea on how to fulfil that opportunity. But everything is based upon interpretation, some vague market research on a focus group and gut feeling…

In the second case you can go back to your focus group, show the results of your sprint and take the feedback directly into stories for the next sprint without feeling the pain of throwing away work.

But as a Product Owner you need to be really close to your team in the second case. Observe every element during the sprint, be sharp in the sprint demo and directly understand the implications of every piece of functionality created.

So are you an artist?

Case one is painting by numbers.. The Bob Ross scenario. As a product owner you define the parts that the development team needs to color in fully upfront. Nice result for the people that are not capable of painting. You will not learn and you get the predicted product, but no guarantee on the predicted market result.

Case two makes you an artist. It is the Rembrandt scenario. You play with your lines, interact with your market and your team and learn from every stroke you make, discover elements you did not plan on. You are continues innovating and far better chance on achieving your desired market result.

I believe that the Product Owner needs to be a Rembrandt.

Ps: Special thanks to Bente Diemer who came up with the painter metaphor while doing research for UX in Scrum.


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