Ever since I left my short stint at the meat factory, I’ve been a Software Testing Consultant for all of my modest career. Until a few months ago, when fate threw me into a Product Owner role.
5 months in, I feel my priorities, my thinking, my mindset… change.
This is not necessarily a good thing, but it is a necessary thing. First, I was Product Owner of Test Automation. But as that team disbanded due to too much overhead for a reasonably small team, I became Product Owner of a 8-headed SCRUM team of developer-architects, a tester, a test automation specialist, a DevOps specialist and soon a new junior developer.
My previous two blog posts were about helping a relatively small team learn more, move them forwards and become confident.
My new role is again different and it’s providing me insights about myself, how I adapt to these dynamics.
My mindset has changed drastically. Where I was focused on risks, oversights and possible problems before, I am now looking at ‘good enough’ and going forward with the things ‘that matter’. Because of my Testing background and my now PO role, I realise that those two things are very different for me than other team members. I don’t know the risks well enough, I don’t know the scope too well (as the product is very new to me) and I can only guess at the value our changes bring.
Yet, this doesn’t seem to stop me forming opinions and making decisions.
It frightens me to take steps forward into this vast uncertainty of unknown unknowns knowing that I’m probably on top of the Dunning-Kruger ‘Mount Stupid’.
I caught my self disregarding several risks people mentioned, just because they intervened with my plans…
I have critisised many Product Owners before, when I was a tester, that I could see they had no clue what they were doing or where they were going.
I’m beginning to believe that this uncertainty is a big part of the role.
I need a tester to keep my feet on the ground.
I need this done as early as possible.
My priorities lie with keeping the team happy and delivering business value to the stakeholders. Not in risks, maintenance or changes…
Because of that, I’m not thinking of 3 out of 4 types of work.
Four Types of Work
When you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know enough or feel inadequate, start learning, reading and discussing. That’s what I do at least. I needed to ‘up my game’.
One extremely important finding for me were the four types of work featured in ‘The Phoenix Project’: Business Projects, Internal IT, Changes and the highly destructive Unplanned Work.
This connected several frustrations of mine into one model.
My current customer is quite good at pinning down Business Projects. At the very beginning, we do a three-amigo kind of thing where we lay the fundamental vision for the project and immediately try to cut down all the surrounding waste.
Internal IT is handled reasonably, though the responsible people seem to live on a well frequented island. We have two Admins who seem to troubleshoot and fix several major problems a day.
Changes are frequently happening, but are largely unmanaged. I’ve added a blank User Story in our sprints to capture ‘surprise tasks’. This should create a good baseline to see where these change requests come from and how much time they soak up. From there on out we can create procedures to mitigate, ignore, prioritise, escalate… What exactly we’ll do with the data, I don’t know yet, but we’ll have a better idea on how to tackle these changes.
I finally can put into words why I as a tester was often a source of frustration for a Product Owner: Unplanned Work. This type of work disrupts your whole flow, motivation, plans and ultimately, can destroy your project. Call it, bugs, risk, oversights,… it’s everything that suddenly requires someone’s attention and who can therefore no do anything that was planned. It eats your plans. It tears apart your flow and energy. It makes sure people get frustrated.
When Work In Progress is often called the silent killer, Unplanned work is the loud bloody zombie apocalypse that comes to exterminate your project. It terrifies me.
… enter the jolly testers who tell us we forgot about something important.
We just had two sprints torn up by the walking dead. Project management: ‘oh, we forgot to include these highly crucial features that need to be in production by the end of the month.’
Nor I, nor the team, was amused.
A Change in Thinking
A year ago, when I was a tester in this situation I would raise many bugs, make them visible and be loud about the frustrations I could notice in the team.
In similar occasions, I’d have given up and watch the train ride into a wall (again) to then see what we could make of the pieces.
Being in this situation as a Product Owner I try to make the best of the situation. Hope for the best and try to plan for the worst.
As a contingency, I put machinations in place that will bring more insight:
- We will capture the ‘surprise tasks’ that weigh on the team to manage Changes
- We will analyse the bugs found after development (and initial testing) from the past 6 months to build a checklist that can help us identify Unplanned Work
- I need to keep a buffer to allow for Unplanned Work
The data in 1 will be a baseline to come up with certain Change Procedure(s).
From the data in 2, we can build automated checks, monitoring, alerts and ‘have you thought about/talked to X’-checklists for management.
I’m now in a role where I don’t have to be the 20-something-year-old screaming bloody murder anymore. It might sound strange or unfair, but my words have more impact these days. I won’t complain.
This phenomenon has given me the power to actually strategise and bring change while being very obvious about it. I’m not trying to persuade people to follow my ideas anymore. I’m gathering them by being direct.
I want to avert future disasters like we’re now in. I want the team to be on top of things. Maybe in the future, we’ll simulate our own disasters, while we’re still in control. Just for fun. And learning.