The Champion, the Chief and the Manager

March 25, 2011

Successful product development projects are often characterized by having an enthusiastic product champion with solid domain knowledge, a visible and proud chief engineer, and a clever and supportive project manager. And of course, the most important thing, a group of exceptional developers. From an organizational point of view it makes sense to require that all projects should clearly identify these three roles:

The Champion: The product champion is a person that dreams about the product, has a vision about how it can be used and can answer questions about what is important and what is less important. The product champion is required to have a deep and solid domain knowledge and will often play the role of a customer proxy in the project. This position can only be held by a person that is deeply devoted and has a true passion for the product to be created. The product champion is the main interface between the project and the customer/users. (Sometimes also known as: Product Manager, Project Owner, Customer Proxy…)

The Chief: The chief engineer is a technical expert that has a vision of the complete solution and is always ready to defend this vision. At any time, the chief engineer should be able, and willing to stand up to proudly describe the solution and explain how everything fits together. He/she should feel responsible for technological decisions that the exceptional developers do, but also make sure that the solution is supporting the business strategy. The chief engineer is the main communication channel between this project and other projects. (Sometimes also known as: System Architect, Tech Lead, Shusa, …)

The Manager: The project manager is a person that leads a team to success by managing the resources on a project in an effective and sensible way. He/she will be responsible for actively discovering and removing impediments. The project manager is the main interface between the project and corporate management. (Sometimes also known as: Scrum Master, Team Leader, …)

Of course, for very small projects these three roles can be fulfilled by one person, but for projects of some size there should be three people filling these three roles: one product champion, one chief engineer and one project manager. These three people must work together as a team, form an allround defence (aka kringvern) around the project, while being available to the developers at any time. Their task is to “protect” and “promote” the project to the outside world so that the exceptional developers can focus on doing the job.

I believe that identifying these three roles is the only thing an organization needs to impose in order to increase the chance of success. Then the team of exceptional developers together with their servants decide everything else, including which methodology and technology to use.

Advanced Feedback-driven Development

March 26, 2009

For any non-trivial project: Software development should be considered a continuous learning process and a cooperative game of communication between professionals. Effective software development can be achieved through frequently repeating cycles of preparing, changing, observing, reflecting, and learning.

While the statement above is obvious to many, it is easy to miss the key points. For instance, you must make sure that you facilitate the learning process by implementing effective feedback mechanisms, do frequent iterations and be willing to re-plan the project continuously. You must also implement information radiators, enable osmotic communication, and get rid of things that hinders communication (yes, I am a fan of Alistair Cockburn). But first of all, you must assume that your developers are professionals that know what to do given a vision, trust and enough information. You should certainly not treat your developers as mere resources that need to be directed and told what to do and how to do it.

I am fortunate in that I work for a company that really gets it. I invite you to take a look at these slides. The key thing that this particular project do better than most is to do fast and automatic testing on all levels which gives developers confidence when making changes. Automatic feedback from all levels was a key success factor to get the first version out of the door, and now we have a workflow that will support further development for years. I think it make sense to describe what we do as advanced feedback-driven development – AFDD.