Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Who owns the product?

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve recently moved from software development to product management. Consequently I’m getting a different view of the development process. And of course, I have to deal with developers who never seem to do quite what I had in mind or when I had it in mind!

Before you ask I’ll admit it, my project is not running Agile/Lean. Why not? Because a) it was running when I got involved, b) its a “small” project – small in the sense of number of people involved. Why does small matter I hear you say?

Well, many of the process advocated by Agile are for social interaction, and they require social interaction – no point in having a stand up meeting with 2 people, or trying to pair programme if most days there is only one person.

Would I like it to run Agile? Yes

How would I change it? Difficult this one, probably, placed in the position of my managers I would never have started this project. The way I view projects is like this: if they are worth doing they are worth committing lots of resources to, if they are not worth committing the resources then they are not worth starting.

Put it another way: no side bets, no micro projects.

But I didn’t want to write about project management here. I wanted to ask: who ones the project?

As a developer the answer was clear: me – not the product manager.

As a product manager the answer is also clear: me – not the software developers.

Ownership is important. When you feel you own something you work harder, you take a higher pride in your work. I’ve been feeling this problem for a few weeks but my thoughts coincided with comments from the economist John Kay in Tuesday’s FT.

So often I’ve worked at companies where the product manager role was under developed or non-existent – that is a blog entry in its own right. In these cases as a developer I’ve stepped forward into the gap and tried to fill it. Tried to direct the product, I tried to create a “roadmap”, to care about the product, make it improve.

Its a matter of pride in your work. And I see this in other developers too, even if they aren’t trying to direct the product they want it to succeed – you don’t think people enjoy working on failed projects do you?

Now I’m a PM, I’m not developing code but I am trying to think about the product strategy, I’m talking to sales guys about what they need, I’m talking to customers about how they use it, I’m trying to make sense of all this and balance the demands for features, bug fixes, improved usability and the rest. I’m not coding it but I feel I own the product.

Part of this goes back to my question of identity. I still see myself as a developer, I feel I should be coding, I feel the developer owns the product but now, well, what right have I to have these feelings of ownership?

Multiple owners may make for competing ideas and demands but it is better than having no owners. I’ve seen code that isn’t owned by anyone, it deteriorates; I’ve seen products that aren’t owned they tend to die. Ownership is important, and somehow I need to find a way of balancing the needs of the multiple owners.