So often I am amazed at how much I learn with regards to Agile that applies to my own life. Most recently, prioritization was front and center. I had a difficult and personal decision to make and I was truly struggling with what to do. I was torn and, frankly, I didn’t want to decide. I wanted to have it all! ( Now if that doesn’t sound like some Product Owners and Business Stakeholders I don’t know what does.)
I reached out to someone I thought could help and, what do you know, he did! How I got to meet this mentor is a great story which I’ll save for another time. Anyway, his guidance was to sit down and not focus on my decision. Instead I was to focus on my longer-term vision. Now, I will say my vision is still a work in progress, so don’t think you can just bang out a vision in 10 minutes and be done with it. Once I had the vision (in pictures ONLY) he said to put words to it and really think about what was non-negotiable, open for discussion and nice to have. Then, take the opportunity I was considering and compare it to the vision and the words. I did as he suggested and my decision was clear!
In delivery, when you know your long term objectives or vision, it’s MUCH easier to prioritize all of the cool things you could possibly do. If the vision isn’t clear, well, you could spend a lot of time, effort and energy on something that won’t bring you closer to your vision and that’s not OK. It’s not OK for the team, for the users OR for the business. If you’re not spending energy on things that bring you closer to your vision, the odds are good you’re spending it on things which will (likely) take you further from it. The true waste is you won’t know until you’re so far away and it will be harder to to get back on track.
It is a little shocking, when I think back on all the teams I have worked with, how many times I have heard “We HAVE to have EVERYTHING!”. Funnily, in our own lives we know having it all isn’t generally possible but, in work, it can get dangerously close to normal. And, how is that acceptable? It shouldn’t be. There should be uber-clear goals a company is trying to reach and the things they are trying to do should enable getting closer to the goal. A Product Owner who doesn’t understand the vision will not be able to explain the context to the team. This means it will be ridiculously challenging for the team to work quickly and efficiently. Without context, the how becomes guess work. If the Product Owner doesn’t understand the vision, there’s not a snow balls chance he will be able to effectively prioritize leading the team to work on things that aren’t valuable.
As a Scrum Master insist on the Product Owner reviewing the vision with the team. Allow for an appropriate amount of time to ask questions. Encourage the team to understand the thinking behind the prioritization and to challenge and suggest things to be considered by the Product Owner. This is the environment to strive for. Mutual understanding and benefit. Understanding the vision and fostering this type of relationship with the Product Owner is powerful. It’s powerful enough to allow a team to take off and deliver amazing things.
It still hurt to make my decision. I really, really wanted to give it a go. It wasn’t the right opportunity at this time in my life and I was able to be at peace with it. Of course I want it all. Who wouldn’t? That said, knowing the context of how that one “thing” fit into the larger picture was critical to me. Understanding the product vision and the resulting prioritization is one of those concepts where everyone will nod their heads and say they get it but, do they? Do you? We need to focus on the right things so we are always getting closer to the vision and doing amazing things. As close as we possibly can anyway until we’re satisfied.