Falling into the How Trap

August 19, 2009 Mike Cottmeyer

Yesterday I talked a little about how companies focus too much on process… how they are doing their work… rather than the actual business outcomes they are trying to deliver. This is a really big problem that impacts all levels of the organization. I bet if you took a good look at your company you’d find great examples in your corner offices… and in your team rooms.

I’d like to take a moment to go over a simple example that I see over and over in the agile community. I hate to pick on Scrum again (the price of success?)… but Scrum is basically a HOW solution… a process… that solves a particular organizational dysfunction. We need things like business alignment and servant leadership… we need the ability to inspect and adapt and respond to changing business conditions. What Scrum gives us is Product Owners, ScrumMasters, Iterations, and Retrospectives.

If Scrum works though… why does this matter?

When we start thinking that the goal is to have a Product Owner… even a trained CPO… the focus shifts from WHAT we are trying to accomplish to HOW we are going to accomplish it. I need the business to be able to make prioritization decisions… I need clear direction on what to build next… I need clear requirements definition… I need user acceptance. The Product Owner is merely a HOW that satisfies the WHAT… in some contexts.  What if my context changes?

What if I can’t have a dedicated Product Owner for every team? What if in my company… the Product Owner role is too big for one person? What if I need to guide and coordinate multiple teams across multiple timezones? If I focus on implementing a HOW… the Product Owner role… I lose the opportunity to create new strategies that deliver the right business outcomes. If I focus on the WHAT… I am now free to craft a strategy that delivers value… AND operates within the constraints of my business environment.

Re-thinking the Agile Enterprise takes a systematic look at what we are actually trying to deliver… the core capabilities of our business… and lays out a strategy… a framework… for creating situationally specific strategies to scale agile in the enterprise.

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