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New Manager, New Product Owner, Too Much Work

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New Manager, New Product Owner, Too Much Work

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I recently spoke with a colleague who’s a little confused. John was just promoted to being the development manager in a small organization. He’s used to doing lots of work—whatever needs to be done, he does. Now, he’s managing 6 developers in an organization that’s trying to move to agile. No, they haven’t had any training. No, they have no money for coaching. No, they have no product owner.

John is doing what he always does—when there is work, he does it. So he’s doing the product ownership, the management, and much of his old technical work. Except, he’s not doing any of it well. When we spoke on the phone, he was wondering why he felt so beaten down, and why he didn’t quite know what was going on. He explained what he’s doing.

“We have no product owner, so I’m writing stories.” I asked him if the team helped him write stories. “No, they’re too busy developing features. I write stories alone. And they are too busy to help me groom the backlog. I do that alone, too. Our server went down the other day, and I’m the only one who knows how to bring it back up, so I took Danny with me and showed him how to install the patches to bring it back up with me. That way, we don’t have a truck factor of one. But I still have all this code to write. I’m so tired.”

He should be tired. John’s trying to do development work, management work, product owner work, IT work, and who knows what else, all by himself. His instincts are great—the fact that he brought someone else in to help bring the server back up means that he realizes he’s not going in the right direction. But he needs to stop now and delegate more work.

As a new manager, transitioning to agile, it might be worth sitting down with your team and thinking more strategically about where you want to focus your energies and the energies of your team. Of course, every situation is different, and you will need to adapt this advice to your situation.

  1. Get out of the business of being the product owner. Manager as product owner does not work. This deserves its own blog post, so watch for it in the future.
  2. Generate a project portfolio of all of the work in your group, including all of your work and all of the work everyone in your group is doing. You might be surprised by the data. I suspect John has little idea of what people are really doing. That’s because he’s too busy to do one-on-ones.
  3. Generate an iteration contents chart. For a given iteration, chart how many features, defects, changes, and any other things get done. Track them from iteration to iteration. I explain how to do this in Manage It!.
  4. Reduce the iteration to two weeks. Although it might sound strange, reducing the iteration duration to two weeks from four, provides more opportunity for feedback, which helps everyone see what’s going on.
  5. Don’t forget to think about what your job really is. Especially with new managers, it’s so easy to allow the technical work to drag you under. Your job is management. Once you can see the project portfolio, consider some of these delegation tips to delegate some of your work.

I’ll be checking back with John in a few more weeks to see what’s going on. In the meantime, if you are a new manager, let me know if these ideas have helped you. If you prefer, comment anonymously or send me email.

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