Implementing scrum for non-software teams

When we hired a new CTO at Valore, we rolled out agile/scrum with our product and engineering teams. We had been in the waterfall dark ages. We predictably experienced every bad outcomes one could expect from a misaligned development process. It took some time for the team to understand it, get comfortable with it, and realize the many benefits of it.

A sampling of the many benefits we have experienced from adopting scrum include: Continue reading “Implementing scrum for non-software teams”

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The Line of Chaos

The “Line of Chaos” is a concept that good product managers will not just understand, but will embrace with vigor.

First, let’s start with what it is. It is an imaginary line that serves to illustrate the interface between business and technology. Why does that interface matter? It matters because business people and engineers are fundamentally different.

Recall the post by Paul Graham about Makers vs. Managers. Business people, especially sales people, thrive on selling, meetings, making clients happy, reacting to the client or market, the (not so) occasional fire-drill, and often just raw activity. They are interrupt-driven. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m so busy! Look at all the meetings I have on my calendar.” They frequently switch context. They lie in the now. It is often fluid, reactive, and, well, chaotic.

Engineers (I’d include designers in this too) thrive on long blocks of deep thinking to solve problems. Output should be the measure of productivity for engineers, not the activity or the lines of code. In fact, time to think, not code, may result in the best output (a scalable design or elegant feature, for instance).

None of this is controversial. The thing that isn’t mentioned in the PG article is how those two different worlds can work together to great effect. This is where product managers step in. They are responsible for defending the engineers from the chaos. In some ways, they are responsible for saving the business people from their own chaos (even if they might not know it at the time). PMs are the keepers of the Line. Good PMs will fight to the death to ensure that the Line does not penetrate the engineering team.

The keeping of the Line of Chaos takes many forms for a PM. Prioritization. Stakeholder management. Feature benefit analysis. MVPs. Product strategy. At the end of the day, these and other common principles of product management are just tools to fight back the Line of Chaos.

This is not to say that the Chaos does not serve a purpose. It does. Great ideas often emerge from the chaos. But, even then, the idea is going to need some help to get presented to the engineers in a way that puts them in a position to be successful.

Great product managers are hard to find. There aren’t a lot of people who can both operate in the chaos, while simultaneously fighting it.

Declare Bankruptcy

Sometimes you have to just declare bankruptcy.

No! Not financially, but productivity-wise. People have a tendency to hoard things. Emails are the worst, but there are other things people hoard – especially in professional settings. Files. Old presentations. Spreadsheets. Ideas.

Admit it. You probably have some crazy folder structure that is maybe half relevant to what you do, but was based on some idea you had a couple years ago. Now you don’t even remember what’s eight layers deep in that hierarchy. So you just use omni search on your Mac to find what you’re looking for (if you don’t do that already, you should start).

I see this a lot with tickets, user stories, bugs, and a bunch of other things. People place irrational value in having all of those sorts of things ‘tracked.’ The reality is that they probably have not looked at any of those items in months, if not years. But, there’s a huge list of things. It’s intimidating to look at that list because it seems like you are just totally swamped and will never get out from under it. It clutters your thoughts when you need clarity.

But you can. And when you do, you will feel liberated.

The only thing you can do is declare bankruptcy and delete it all.

Yes, that’s right.

Delete.
It.
All.

You may black-out when you hit the button from the anxiety, but a funny thing happens once you make the leap and black back in — nothing.

Nothing happens.

The sky is still blue. The world is still there. There is still important work to do. If you’re too scared to delete, you can always just archive. Storage is cheap nowadays and search is pretty good with most stuff.

Now, the only difference from before is that you have now de-cluttered. You have freed yourself from the tyranny of all those things you were never going to do anyways. Now focus on the important stuff that matters.

As a product manager, you should NOT be in the business of tracking what everyone in the company thinks we should maybe do one day. You should be laser-focused on what is in front of your business in the next 90 days max. That’s six two-week sprints. That is so much time.

In fact, by keeping it somewhere a stakeholder can see it, you are setting an implicit message that it will get done at some point, regardless if it ever will. It validates the idea. You’ve now set yourself up for conflict down the road. That is bad and will waste your time.

It’s just not logical (a nice way of saying crazy) to think that if something isn’t important today that it will miraculously become a priority if it stays on some random list for long enough. Or maybe the thought is that you’ll do all that other important work first and then have some time to do unimportant stuff – again crazy. What’s more, if those things you deleted are important, it will come up again. I promise. You won’t be able to ignore it.

It feels great. It does.

I discovered this when we moved from an old ticket system to Trello (highly recommended). We just moved systems and started fresh. No import, not translation. Nothing. Just a fresh Trello board and the path forward. It felt amazing. I now do it with email, my to-do list, and a few other things I do to manage my productivity.

Fight the clutter, declare bankruptcy, make the leap, and delete it!

Then the hard work of keeping things de-cluttered so you don’t need to declare bankruptcy again any time soon.