We’re in this together

Willem has written a nice blog entry about eXtreme Customer Collaboration – about getting into the skin of the customer and operating as a whole team. We’ve had some discussions lately about the different roles in e.g. Scrum and the effect that these roles have on teams. Scrum and Extreme Programming distinguish explicit roles for the customer/product owner and developers/rest of the team. This distinction helps to think explicitly about how to fulfill certain important responsibilities in a project. The pitfall here is taking it too far, so that people start focusing on their own defined role only and state things like “that’s not my responsibility”. The team slips into an us vs. them mentality.

Remember, as team members, you’re all in the same venture, whether you’re a product owner, developer, tester, project leader, or Scrum master. You’re all in the same ship and if it sinks, you’ll all go down together; finger pointing and saying “it’s his fault!” doesn’t help you a bit… In Holland we have a saying “samen uit, samen thuis”, meaning we’re in this together – if you start something together, you also finish it together.

Listen for phrases like “that’s not my responsibility”, “that’s her job, not mine”, or “we’ve implemented it as specified, it’s not our problem the customer isn’t satisfied”. If you encounter this, you might want to check the team’s shared vision. If there is no shared vision, (re)establish it as soon as possible and make sure the team owns it. Explicitly share your goals as team members – everyone has his or her personal goals and the project’s goal should be in the intersection of all the stakeholder goals and interests – if you find out it’s not, you have a different problem to work on – more about that in a future blog entry.

Physical distance between the product owner and the rest of the team also reinforces the us vs them thinking, e.g. if you’re a few doors away, in the other building, or even on other side of the country. Get the team physically close to each other; rearrange the furniture and walls, try to co-locate everyone if possible. If it’s not possible, get everyone on site together at least part of the time, e.g. 1 day per week. The overhead incurred is worth the productivity gain.

The roles as defined in Scrum and Extreme Programming (and in many other process models) are ‘just’ tools: they help you in getting your processes going. They’re not carved in stone, so make sure the roles won’t become a goal in itself. Keep trying, inspecting and adapting; and remember that you’re all in this together.