Let the team decide…

In a typical agile development team a few hundred decisions get made every day, by everyone. Should we build this user story first or that one? Should I refactor this method now or do it later? Is this bug more important than that user story? Should I call that meeting for this week or next week?

Every decision that gets made, in the end, makes its mark on your product. Every decision impacts the team’s velocity or productivity, the product quality, the product features and the user experience.

If you’re planning a trip in your car, every decision you make along the way will impact where you arrive at, how long it takes and how many dents you have on your car when you get there. Do you want to get there quickly, or is time not so important? Do you want to avoid dirt roads, or do you prefer them? Is there a particular landmark you want to see on the way? You have an idea of what your journey will be like before you leave, and your decisions are based on that vision of your journey.

Back to the development team: every decision made will impact where and how you arrive at your destination. So the question is: does everyone in the team have the same vision of what your journey will look like?

One of the Product Owner’s most important roles is to define and communicate the product vision. The more the team understands and buys into the product vision, the more likely it is that each decision they make will lead the journey in the same direction you want to go.

Here’s a concrete example: a lot of POs spend a lot of time prioritising things: bugs, stories, meetings, etc. Many POs I know want to be involved in every decision the team makes. What makes one thing more important and/or urgent than another thing is all about vision and context. What would happen if the PO spent all the time she spent prioritising bugs on communicating the product vision? If the team understands the vision and context, then they should be able to make the right priority decision based on that vision and context.

Time invested making a single decision for the team has little return beyond the decision itself. Time invested in communicating vision will repay itself over and over with better decisions across the team, fewer bottlenecks and less wasted time.

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