Over a year ago, Roman Pichler wrote an important post on Being an Effective Product Owner. In it he writes:
Proactive stakeholder management is particularly important in larger organizations, where the stakeholders include not only customers but also internal functions, such as production support, service or sales, as well. Taking into account and prioritizing the various interests early on and involving stakeholders regularly, for instance in form of user story writing workshops and sprint reviews, is crucial to ensuring that the software can successfully work in its target environment.
While frequent, iterative, and incremental deliveries help course correct based on working code, this is not an excuse to "just code it and see". Getting good at Agile means getting good at managing stakeholder expectations. As a Product Manager, when I deal with a changing requirement, there are 4 essential questions I need to answer over its lifecycle:
- Is everyone on-board? - I need to ensure the business itself is setting common goals.
- Should we make this change? - I need to enable changing goals. Ironically, this means saying no to some changes.
- Is everything in place? - I need to know that code, tests, documentation, or any other part is done.
- What did we get? - I need to express the value of what was delivered to all stakeholders.
It is not that asking the questions requires much effort. Rather, it is the delay between asking the question and getting the answer that determines how much change I can accommodate. If it takes 2 weeks to get stakeholders to agree to the meaning of a change and another 2 weeks to get estimates from the development team, then I will be unable to take lessons learned in one 4-week iteration into the plan of the next. Even if the effort is measured in man-minutes, the latency of the process impedes my capacity to change requirements. In order to become change adept with regard to requirements, a customer proxy needs to become very efficient in answering these questions.
I would be very eager to know how other people are answering these questions. What practices help make the answers readily available? What tools make it easier to get the answers on demand?