Power steering or no?

I realized at the functional test workshop that, to some extent, the six years of Agile have replaced development teams whining about incomplete requirements with development teams whining about the lack of a product owner’s time.

Really: is that progress?

Well, yes. At least we’re not still whining about changing requirements.

Nevertheless, this flash made me think about that old XP metaphor of the Customer driving the project like a person driving a car. When you drive, you don’t think about the steering wheel, you simply think about turning the car, and it turns. The steering wheel, the philosopher Heidegger said, is ready-to-hand. But when the power steering goes out, suddenly the steering wheel is in your face. What was once a simple reflex is now a conscious act. The steering is present-to-hand.

A tool being present-to-hand can be good or bad, but it’s always disconcerting.

Think of it: to the product owner, the team is always present-to-hand. She must attend to them. It’s not like driving at all.

Directing a product team must be something like my telling my 12-year-old to clean his room. When I do that, he goes off, comes back, and reports that he’s done. When I look at his room, I see 18 different things that are still lying on the floor. I have to painstakingly tell him 18 different things to pick up. Were it not for my steely determination to raise presentable human beings, I’d just do it myself.

That feeling is what it must be like to be a product owner.

3 Responses to “Power steering or no?”

  1. tomm Says:

    I think it’s interesting that as a parent you “put on” the responsibility of raising presentable human beings. With being a product director however, management holds you accountable whether you want to put that on or not. I find it difficult at times to balance taking responsibility versus squelching the whining whenever the team cites my lack of availability as a key cause of an issue; especially since management sometimes sees me as the 12-year-old in this story. Ken Auer gave me some good advice regarding this problem at the Ruby Hoedown in Raleigh, and I think he is a great source for more info on this issue. I would

    BTW, let me commend your use of Heidegger… _Being and Time_ is so packed with useful explanations of how we live it’s incredible.

  2. lisa.crispin Says:

    I actually still hear, not so much whining, but just questions about handling changing requirements, especially during the iteration. But I don’t get out as much as you do. Why can’t we let go of the notion that we have to have everything nailed down by day N of the iteration? It’s no different than what we did in waterfall development. I’m learning to accept that we will keep discovering requirements as we test and code and test.

  3. lisa.crispin Says:

    I asked our product owner if he ever feels that way and he had a good laugh and said sometimes he does. He thought it was a good metaphor.

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