Monday, May 21, 2012

On Fighter Pilots and Product Owners

The first Scrum Team was created in 1993 at the Easel Coporation in Massachusetts. Perhaps Jeff's most careful hire, and most thorough training, was the first Product Owner. He drew on his experience as a fighter pilot in Vietnam when thinking about the role of Product Owner. He knew the Scrum Team would work on a PDCA cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act) which came out of Deming's and Shewhart's early work on quality control. But that was good for dealing with tactical issues, but the Product Owner would be working in a more uncertain world, constantly having to stay in touch with and react to the customer, the team, and the competitive landscape. The best way he had learned to deal with an uncertain environment was taught to him as how fighter pilots had to react in combat. John Boyd's OODA loop (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act). Boyd had designed it to help officers survive during combat and defeat the enemy. As he put it in his famous briefing "Organic Design for Command and Control" the key was to:
"Operate inside adversary’s observation‑orientation‑decision‑action loops to enmesh adversary in a world of uncertainty, doubt, mistrust, confusion, disorder, fear, panic chaos … and/or fold adversary back inside himself so that he cannot cope with events/efforts as they unfold."
That seemed like exactly the type of thinking a Product Owner should have. That's how Jeff trained the first one, and how he's training them now. Jeff is offering his Certified Scrum Product Owner course at the end of the month, and basing a lot of it on Boyd's thinking.

After all, Boyd was not only a legendary fighter pilot and military thinker, he had a pretty good insight into the shortcomings of the very idea of a "Command and Control" mindset.

"C&C represents a top‑down mentality applied in a rigid or mechanical (or electrical) way that ignores as well as stifles the implicit nature of human beings to deal. with uncertainty, change, and stress. (Examples: The Battle of the Somme, Evacuation of Saigon, Mayaguez Affair, Desert I, Nifty‑Nugget and Proud Spirit C&C exercises, etc.)."
That sounds like an argument a good Product Owner would make.

1 comment:

Stanislaw Koltschin said...

Hi Jeff,

I like your Idea a lot! I think the PO is really the "bottleneck" in Scrum Projects. I also have an idea on how to improve it.

Did you ever hear about Design Thinking?
I think there are some parallels with Boyds idea and DT. Design Thinking is about exploring and creating really useful things for customers, understanding him and his problems.

I think you could combine Scrum and Design Thinking very well. Currently I'm working on that in my Bachelor's Thesis.

Imagine splitting a Scrum project in two phases, in which the first is a exploring stage and the second proceeds with the classical approach.
In the first the team has the lead in exploring the customer needs and creating different solution approaches by means of Design Thinking. The team tries to understand the customer, creates quick sketches/prototypes of different solution and ideas iteratively with constant feedback of the customer, endusers and maybe even focal groups. The PO accompanies them, but doesn't refuse any ideas. After some iterations you make a cut and the PO has the lead again, creates the Product Backlog based on those prototypes and insights.
The team gets a deep insight into the customer needs, looks beyond it's nose and creates a better solution based on this insight.

That's my theory, what do you think?

Some links about Design Thinking:

Best regards from Berlin,