An interview with Ron Thompson, Product Owner
by Phil Lew
Agile is here to stay and, says consultant Ron Thompson, Eiscon Group, a 2015 PNSQC speaker, and product owners need to learn how to effectively manage the agile process. It’s a fulltime job, one that can’t be delegated, and one that requires both wisdom and courage. From a conference viewpoint, it’s an area rich with potential for exploration by presenters and attendees.
The following interview with Thompson should generate some topic ideas for those passionate about contributing positively to the agile movement.
PNSQC: What is biggest challenge of product owner?
Ron: I’d say the biggest challenge is to balance the priorities of different stakeholders from different business groups. IT is concerned about new technologies while sales is wanting to get features they need to sell the product as soon as possible. Everyone thinks theirs is the top priority. There’s no right answer regarding how to prioritize requests. It all depends on the current situation of the business; there’s a lot of negotiation and my role as the product owner is to understand the business and facilitate the negotiation.
PNSQC: That’s tough to be the middleman, what else is difficult as a product owner?
Ron: I’d say the #2 toughest challenge is overcoming resistance to change. When we delivery a new feature, sometimes people don’t like it; “That’s not what I wanted”. So my job is to spend time with people to help them understand what they are getting because maybe what they want does not always make sense for the business. So, I can’t take stakeholder requests at face value. Its my job to dig to see what they are really trying to accomplish, which may not be exactly what they request from a software feature point of view. Sometimes I have to say: “No, we won’t build that but here is what we can do.”
PNSQC: In what cases if at all, does agile not apply?
Ron: There are probably reasons not to use agile, but I think agile has value everywhere. I have not found an environment where there isn’t value in using agile.
PNSQC: What about misconceptions in agile?
Ron: Many don’t understand agile and think it is an undisciplined method. “You mean you can’t tell us when you are going to deliver that?” Actually, agile is constant planning, constantly trying to find highest value, and actually requires more discipline. You can do a bad job at agile, and do damage, if undisciplined.
PNSQC: What are some of the most important points in implementing agile successfully?
Ron: Most important are fundamentals, product owners have to do their job well. Product owners cannot be on the sideline. You can’t make someone a product owner while they are doing some other job in the organization. The product owner should be a dedicated role. There’s a lot of work to it and it requires discipline. “When I have a few extra minutes, I’ll prioritize the backlog”, just won’t cut it.