Let’s set the stage for story time. The stage would be you’ve got a organization. That organization has a Vice President of Product reporting to the CEO. They have a Director of Product. They have a Program Manager. They have a Product Manager/Owner. That’s the hierarchy. On the Engineering side, you have a Vice President of Engineering that reports to the CEO. They have an Engineering Director. They have a Team Lead. They have an Engineering team.
Team being the bottom hierarchy on the engineering side. You have a team that is complaining incessantly, that they are not gettin gthe most important work. They feel they deserve the most important work because they feel they are most performing team. Despite feeling they are the better than other teams in the organization they are not getting work that they feel is valuable and of the highest priority.
There is work in a queue for another team.. They think they could get that work done today. They don’t think they have any work in their queue so why are they not getting a crack to do the work in the other teams queue that they think is valuable. They really want to just pull that work in.
They have a product manager that is workimg with two teams. They are running a bit thin and behind on product discovery work. So they love the idea of just take this work from another team because they don’t have anything ready. However if you go up a level and they are shaking their head. The thing that every seems to think is the most important, didn’t even exist until two days ago and when it was put in a queue no one put it at the top of the queue.
What has happened is the product manager of these two teams has work for one of the teams for the next couple of weeks, kind of prepared. They have nothing prepared for the other team. So then a request comes in that seems the team could just work on with no real guidance so they just decide to it pass that to team, even though it’s not really well thought out or ready.
So the team is now lobbying that this is the most important work because they don’t have anything else ready. The top of the organization is continually asking, “You’ve got this other feature set that is way more important that than. Why aren’t you doing that work?” and the answer of course is “It’s not ready.” However, that isn’t what they are telling the team.
At this point the team is so frustrated that they go to the development director screaming that their team is getting screwed, because they’re not getting the most importat work. Fast forward, this team is using Kanban because they are so fast and so agile that they need to be able to respond to whatever is the most urgent thing that hour. (Despite a product team that has no real work prepared for them.)
So one of the things that keeps happening is because they are working without iteration and the rest of the organization is planning work a week at time and look four to six weeks out. This teams work stream is invisible to the top of the organization. The product manager isn’t doing the work to make demand visible either. So nobody is talking about what work this team does or doesn’t have. The top of organization functionally treats this team like it doesn’t even exist.
So at some point a coach tells the team, “Maybe you are part of your own problem. You’ve had this problem for six months. With no resolve.” The team questions how this could be the case. The coach implies “While you think Kanban is more effective, perhaps if you were making work visible and helping your product owner define what is important in a way that aligned with the rest of the organization, you could get a better result.” The team instantly rejects this because a one week sprint is idiotic and they need to be able to respond to immediate changes. Process is bullshit. We don’t need any process.
The coach says, “This may be true. Is it possible however that stance is like speaking French, but the company only speaks English? You might think French is idiotic and every one knows most business is conducted in English, but is that getting you the result you desire? You keep ordering all the time, but you are failing to understand they don’t speak French, and so they just you hand waving. They just then give you whatever they guess it is that you want. What would it look like if you still worked in Kanban and the way you wanted, but instead you took your cycle time and applied that to the work in the backlog by week so help the product owner visualize this is the next 4 weeks. So that your work looked like the other teams work and was part of the conversation?”
Immediate the team insists that isn’t their job and they shouldn’t have to do stupid work just to make the org happy. Just give them the most important work.
This is one of the major of the problems with engineering teams today. They don’t understand how business works, and they don’t understand what makes money and what doesn’t make money. Because of that, A lot of their product people don’t either, right? And they don’t fundamentally understand the mechanics it takes to execute against strategy.
If you are not willing to spend the time to learn that in depth, you are gonna have to delegate it to a proxy. And if you’re gonna delegate to a proxy, you better learn how that proxy operates and how they communicate. Because if you’re not making that proxy successful, guess what? You are not their best vendor, their best provider, and if you’re not their best provider, they’re gonna stop issuing you purchase orders.
So if you’re a team that’s pissed off at the purchase orders that you’re getting, maybe you need to look at the mirror and ask, am I a quality vendor?