The Agile Product Owner Is Not The Problem

Episode 45 - 20 Jul 2016

Some 18 months ago, I was trying to work out why a development team - my development team - was having such a hard time getting things done.

It wasn't for a lack of talent.

Nor was it for lack of teamwork: we worked well together.

At the time, I blamed the Product Owner: he seemed to go out of his way to make life difficult for us.

But I've come to realise that the the real source of the problem was not the Product Owner.

No, the real source of the problem was... an interface.

All is revealed in the video. Enjoy!

If you sit here (Development Team)

Or here (Lead Developer)

And things aren't running as smoothly as you would like.

You may be thinking that the Product Owner is the source of your woes.

Perhaps your Product Owner really is Evil.

But it's more likely that your problem lies...



The mind works in strange ways.

(As least, mine does)

A few weeks ago, I was walking through the Inns of Court here in London.

Headphones on, listening to a podcast.

An actor was being interviewed.

I don't remember his name.

Might have been Albert Finley.

Someone of that ilk.

Whoever it was, he talking about a new role.

I wasn't really paying attention.

They were saying something about spectacles (glasses).

How the choice of style was important in establishing the character

And also, due to his advancing years

to be able to see the other cast members clearly enough

to be able to read their expressions.

And then he said something that stopped me in my tracks:

"I can't wear my own glasses, because of the reflections."


That line was enough to jolt my brain into action

In a matter of seconds

I got from Reflections all the way to Product Owners.

As tenuous connections go, it's right up there ;)

"Of Course!"

My first thought was:

"Of course reflections from actor's glasses would be a problem."

I wondered why I'm never though of it before.


My second thought was a picture like this.

(I should point out at this point that I'm a physics grad... so pictures like this are often in my brain!)

This what happens whenever light encounters a boundary:

a portion is reflected and - assuming the second material in translucent -

a portion in transmitted.

the proportion that is reflected is determined by the refractive indexes of the two materials.


My third thought was

"I know how to reduce the reflection".

Imagine adding a layer of material with a refractive index

roughly half way between that of air and glass.

We've replaced a large step change with two smaller step changes.

Although this adds an extra reflective surface,

when all the calculations are done,

more of the light gets through...

and reflections are reduced.

I know what you're thinking: why stop at one layer?

Why indeed!

Turns out that you can get even more light through

by applying a coating that continuously varies the refractive index.

More light is transmitted.

Less light it reflected.

"Impedance Matching!"

My fourth thought

  • and this one is particularly weird -

was... Impedance Matching.

(I told you there were some strange thoughts in my head.)

Here's a electronic component

It sends a signal to a second electronic component.

at the boundary, a certain portion of the signal from the first component

makes it to the second.

That's a good thing.

And a certain portion is reflected.

That's a bad thing.

The proportion that is reflected is determined by the DIFFERENCE in the RESISTANCES - more correctly the IMPEDANCES - of the two components.

Sound familiar?

Yep, it's another discontinuity. Another step change.

In this case, the solution is different to solution used for the glasses.

The components are designed so that the OUTPUT resistance of the first component is as close as possible to the INPUT resistance of the second component.

"What Else?"

My fifth thought was...

I wondered what else is like this?

What other things where there is an interface - a discontinuity, a step change - where performance can to improved by:

  • smoothing ... like the glasses
  • or matching ... like the electronic components


My brain provided a perplexing response: this scribbled drawing. A drawing that I'd done MONTHS earlier.

It wasn't as abstract as it looks: the sketch represented a real life team.

A team ... of which I was a member.

A team... that was struggling.

There was no shortage of talent and ability.

But somehow this group of exceptional people

was producing very ordinary results.

Eureka! (Again)

And then I understood.


Step changes!

The problem wasn't with anything I'd drawn: the problem lay in the GAPS BETWEEN THEM.

Like materials with different refractive indexes - or electronic components with different resistances - there are "discontinuities" between each of these players.

Next time,

I'll spill the beans on the "discontinuities" in this particular team

and talk more about what can be done to smooth the discontinuities

And what can be done to reduce the size of step changes