Extreme Ownership in Agile Teams

Reference: https://www.mindtheproduct.com/2018/10/escape-from-the-feature-roadmap-to-outcome-driven-development/

I think this article hit some really relevant notes for me today. I operate in a service oriented software business (for the most part) where we are given work by our clients to complete and hand off back to them. I’m still pretty green here, but as far as I know it is the norm that they give us a feature list to complete in the best way possible rather than a problem to solve. As an organization striving to do scrum well, and one I am encouraging to be extreme owners, we are having a disconnect here somewhere. We need to change the conversation, and change the value we are delivering. We DO deliver valuable features, but how much more value could we deliver if we were given some latitude to solve the problems rather than just follow marching orders.

I think there are two major hurdles to extreme ownership, and this may be a bit patronizing to say but: 1) The company offering the services needs to have a genuine culture of empowering their teams to fully own the relationship and 2) The client needs to hand over some degree of control and offer more transparency so that the service provider can know what problems to solve and have the room to solve them. For smaller nimble companies this is a lot easier as there is less risk and you are accountable to a smaller body. For large companies, this introduces a degree of risk… leaning more heavily on an outside party and giving them more “permissions” which could disrupt your usual business. These larger businesses are typically risk averse and want stability over innovation.

Why is that though? Should that be the norm? CEO’s are accountable to boards who are accountable to share holders who want a maximum return on their investment. Short term mindedness will mean a mild setback such as a bad deployment could result in a small stock drop. This happening repeatedly could result in lost confidence and a more long term irreversible change. If this were comparing apples to apples for delivery… you’d take the more stable approach and hold onto your slow but steady gains. But the deliverables in these two scenarios are not the same. One is an apple, and the other could be a cider mill, an apple pie stand, or a butter knife — something totally non-analogous but the “best” thing to do. The first iteration of that butter knife could be a flop, but the fifth version could be a game changer setting that company apart from its competitors. This can only be achieved if the engineers you pay dearly for are given the empowerment to solve the problems, to own the space, and to even pursue new experimental endeavors in that space for that client. THAT is where a service providing company can bring some REAL value. At that point, the business model might look a little different such as a joint venture or a licensing structure rather than a simple SOW contract. It might get more complicated, but the alternative means you won’t be innovating, you will eventually be cutout of the the picture by someone who is willing to innovate, or you’ll be beaten by attrition as the ambitious problem solvers leave your mundane company to go work directly for your clients who no longer need you.

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