Seeding the Agile Product Owner in the Enterprise

[article]
The Product Owner in the Agile Enterprise: Part III

Program Managers - see http://blogs.computerworld.com/at_microsoft_program_managers_dont_program_or_manage who filled a comparable function. "

In the post above, Microsoft describes a current operating model for Program Managers which is somewhat equivalent to the Product Owner role as defined in agile today.

Embedded Systems Example - Symbian Software Limited
When it comes to embedded systems and an even much larger enterprise scale, Symbian Software (now a part of Nokia) develops and licenses Symbian OS, the market-leading open operating system for mobile phones. Symbian initiated an agile transformation in 2008 that will ultimately affect many hundreds of practitioners.

Clearly, the development of a mobile phone operating system is a highly technical endeavor and one where the ultimate user (mobile device user) is fairly far removed from the major technologies (OS, device drivers, media players, etc.) which are the primary focus of the implementation. As such, the development process does not lend itself quite so easily to the traditional, customer/user facing, agile Product Manager/Product Owner roles. However, the Product Owner role must still be successfully addressed in this highly technical context.

Mathew Balchin VP of Multimedia, PIM, CBS within Symbian Software Engineering was integrally involved in the design of the agile rollout model for Symbian. The scope of the challenge, (i.e. finding lots of product owners) was daunting. Matthew described their approach this way:

"We applied the product owner role pretty much out of the box (per Scrum training) and defined the interaction at the outset with our traditional product management functions. We have had some pretty good debates about selecting them. We have so far applied a skill -based selection process rather than an open recruitment approach. All our POs come from engineering teams and are senior engineers with product or customer experience. We have a one PO to two team mapping typically, rarely 3 teams, sometimes 1. It was flagged as one of the pivotal roles in success by pretty much all senior stakeholders and early on we identified the need for role-based soft skills training in addition to the standard agile training."

IS/IT Examples
When it comes to IS/IT, I have observed that the role/title of the Business Systems Analyst (someone responsible for analyzing the business needs of clients to help identify business problems and propose solutions) is often a reasonably good fit for the Product Owner role. In a couple of cases, I've seen that role directly fulfill the Product Owner responsibilities, (if not the title) and many such individuals have even be collocated to live with the team as part of the agile transformation.

In the larger IT shop, I have also seen the role filled by Project Managers. In many cases, the self-managing and team-based planning lightens the workload for the project manager in the agile enterprise, and they often have the domain knowledge, inclination and insights necessary to fulfill the Product Owner role. Therefore, many have the time, skills and inclination to fill this role.

Discount Tire is America's Largest Independent Tire Dealer. Chris Chapman, Application Services Manager and his teammates are driving a phased agile transformation that will ultimately affect the entire IS/IT team. Chris noted how they addressed the Product Owner challenge:

"In our case, our product owners are in IT. They are the liaison to the business and in many cases speak for the business (it's not always designed that way, but ends up being that way due to not always having business representation on the teams). Our Business Systems Analysts in IT are filling the role of Product Owner. Their previous responsibility of documenting detailed business requirements and rules now falls to the entire team

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