The product owner for the rest of us

Every team whose demand and task stack is open to multiple sources wishes for someone to prioritize and decide which tasks would create the biggest business value at this point in time. Having only one person who knows it all and who prioritizes all demands and tasks? Who wouldn’t want that for his or her team? I want one and I’m not a programmer. What can we learn and re-use from Scrum principles for all other types of work?

I use an example team that analyses the impact of a demand, coordinates multiple effort estimations for each demand, and writes the detailed specification for the demand. All of these tasks do not happen sequentially at once but at different points in time during the life cycle of the demand, which results in a task stack that is at least three times larger than the number of demands.

Prioritization of demands and tasks

The original demand is initially rated by the person placing the demand: it has a priority and an optional deadline. If there is not a single person who prioritizes all demands, the team has to prioritize these demands itself by ranking all critical demands having a deadline first, next all critical ones without a deadline. Then it does the same with major, minor, and low rated demands. Within each ranking category they use first-in-first-out.

The problem with demands only rated once

As new demands are constantly put onto the stack, most minor or low rated demands will most likely never be done – even if they have a deadline. And maybe they shouldn’t! They were not important enough compared to the others at the time they were put onto the stack.

Priorities and deadlines change

Priorities do change. Previously low rated demands could become more important as time goes by. Someone has to periodically rate all existing demands, prioritize them with all stakeholders, and check whether an old demand is still valid and whether a deadline is still important.

That does sound familiar, doesn’t it?

I want a product owner, too!

That sounds to me like a product backlog as defined in the Scrum methodology. There, it is the task of a product owner who constantly ranks the backlog items which are the demands and tasks in our case here. Wouldn’t that be great? Someone who cares about the order of the demands and tasks in the product backlog!

Finding the single person that actually cares enough about ths stack is the challenge. Check your daily work. Do you wish to have only one product owner who constantly prioritizes the backlog, who tells you what is important to him or her now, and who doesn’t change his or her mind while you were working on a demand or task?

I’m certain that we can re-use the product backlog and product owner from the Scrum methodology for all other types of work.