16 February 2006

The Disengaged Customer - For want of a Product Manager

In The Disengaged Customer - Balkanization, I discussed how the Customer's organization began to work against itself as the system grew to incorporate different business lines (and thus different stakeholders).

A picture emerged from all of this where the team had originally built the system for a single Customer handling a single line of business. Using XP worked wonderfully in that situation. Then we added another line of business, with its user community. That process went OK, but not as well as the original line of business since we had a shuffling of our Customer, and no real feedback on the new work. Then we added another line of business, with its community including the old Customer mentioned above. As new lines of business were added and encompassed new user communities, the complexity of dealing with those people increased dramatically (I’d argue exponentially).

The problems came to a head shortly before I left. Again, the limited communication between the Customer’s organization and the development team caused a misunderstanding to occur, and the Gold Owner took it out on our Kevlar-underwear-wearing manager. I was pretty ticked at that point about the whole issue. Our manager met with the Gold Owner, and it finally became clear to her what was happening. There was talk of “a lot of crying on the floor” when the Gold Owner was done dealing with some of the people. The development team had been absolved of most of the blame, and we were going to get our Customer back and engaged.

I spoke a few days ago with one of my now former colleagues on that project. The Customer had been diverted to focus on a “problem child” project. Plus que ├ža change…

In all of this, the Gold Owner had her own vision of how all of these lines of business should be integrated to support the organization. This was a good thing, in fact an excellent thing, except that she wasn’t the Customer. I dearly wish she had been, since that vision was an excellent way to categorize and prioritize the work. It also would have meant that the Customer was in a sufficiently high position of authority to be able to deal with the Balkanization issue. That person would have effectively been what Jim Shore refers to as the Product Manager.

As a Product Manager, she would have been in a position to either directly enforce some discipline on the organization, or to escalate the problems very quickly to someone who could. With her vision, she would have been very easily able to establish priorities and to weed through issues that may have seemed important to individual stakeholders, but weren't all that important to the organization as a whole.

A healthy dose of financial oversight would likely have helped as well, but that's another issue.