Names of things matter...

It's often seen as desirable when non-software parts of the organization begin to adopt the more flexible structures of modern software. It sounds good, these tech companies are doing great, let's be more like them.

More and more companies are adopting the phrasing and language of agile. In many cases it's just a set of labels on top of rituals. Many companies take it a step further and apply other technical names of things to job titles, and non-software processes.

Let me give you some examples:

  • Platform -- This is a big one, everything is a platform these days. It actually means something. Probably cover this later.
  • Product Owner -- A scrum role team role becomes a job title.
  • ______ Manager -- Anything with manager in the title.

One of the great risks in this kind of thing is that it becomes a way of normalizing existing behaviors. An individual that labels themselves a product owner, and then sits down and makes a ten page list of requirements is able to claim success in a part of their role, but leaves the team in a place where success is unachievable.

What's seldom seen outside of these tech companies is that while many of them use pieces of these popular methodologies, it's almost always as a proxy for thinking and evolving as a product team. We use Scrum because it helps us do great work. Not just to claim we use Scrum. It should never be: we will do Scrum and great work will follow. It changes, evolves, and is a tool to help think; not a substitution for thinking.

In traditional hierarchical management structures you can be awarded a job. That award comes with a title and expectations. In a lot of software teams the separation of title and role is ingrained. It doesn't matter to the team what your title is, it matters what role you are filling. When you fill that role, be it product owner or engineer, you need to fill it completely.

Building great software is messy. Lots of work, lots of different contributions go into a great product. Different people are in charge at different times. In a healthy product first process by any name, a team forms to tackle a goal. Success is achieving that goal and getting all of that work done.

Together the team needs to eat the whole pie that is their mission. As an individual stepping into a role, no matter your title, you are agreeing to eat a piece. Too often when people go by titles and phrases like "That's not my job" they are avoiding some part of the pie they don't like. Titles reinforce that rather than breaking it down. If you join a team look around and understand what the team needs before you cut your piece, and make sure that you eat your entire piece because your team is counting on you.


Photo by Brooke Lark / Unsplash