How product owner teams scale agile methods to large distributed enterprises

Abstract

Software development teams in large scale offshore enterprise development programmes are often under intense pressure to deliver high quality software within challenging time contraints. Project failures can attract adverse publicity and damage corporate reputations. Agile methods have been advocated to reduce project risks, improving both productivity and product quality. This article uses practitioner descriptions of agile method tailoring to explore large scale offshore enterprise development programmes with a focus on product owner role tailoring, where the product owner identifies and prioritises customer requirements. In globalised projects, the product owner must reconcile competing business interests, whilst generating and then prioritising large numbers of requirements for numerous development teams. The study comprises eight international companies, based in London, Bangalore and Delhi. Interviews with 46 practitioners were conducted between February 2010 and May 2012. Grounded theory was used to identify that product owners form into teams. The main contribution of this research is to describe the nine product owner team functions identified: groom, prioritiser, release master, technical architect, governor, communicator, traveller, intermediary and risk assessor. These product owner functions arbitrate between conflicting customer requirements, approve release schedules, disseminate architectural design decisions, provide technical governance and propogate information across teams. The functions identified in this research are mapped to a scrum of scrums process, and a taxonomy of the functions shows how focusing on either decision-making or information dissemination in each helps to tailor agile methods to large scale offshore enterprise development programmes.

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Acknowledgements

The anonymous reviewers are thanked for their detailed comments, which have substantially improved the clarity of the article. I am also grateful to all the companies and interviewees who were generous enough to contribute their time and resources to participate in this research. Thanks also go to the current and former students of the Executive MBA at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, who helped to identify target companies. The research benefited in part from travel funding from the UK Deputy High Commission, Bangalore, Science and Innovation Network; the Institute for Innovation, Design & Sustainability (IDEAS) at Robert Gordon University, UK; and accommodation and sustenance from Company H during the data collection visit to Delhi, India.

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Correspondence to Julian M. Bass.

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Communicated by: Brian Robinson

Appendices

Appendix 1:

Interview Guide for Off-Shore Agile Software Projects, January 2010

Background Notes

I want to ask you about your experience of geographically distributed agile software development projects. The research involves interviews with people doing a range of different roles and from companies with different development models.

I want to learn more about your views on agile processes. I am particularly interested to know what factors are affected by geographical location and separation. The purpose here is to try to understand the factors that affect project outcomes, successful or otherwise, so that we can try to learn for the future.

Interview Guide

I want to ask you the following questions and tape record your answers. I will keep your responses completely confidential and nothing will be shared with any client companies. I do plan to publish interview extracts but I will make names and companies anonymous. Can I switch on the recorder?

Your Current Project(s)

How many projects are you working on currently? What is (was) the title of your current (or most recent) project? What is the project management structure? How is the project organised geographically? Is the project maintenance/evolution or a new build project? Is the project COTS or bespoke? How many people are in the project team?

Agile Practices

What are the special features of agile projects (compared with other development processes)? What agile project development practices are being used in your project? What agile practices are not used?

Requirements

How are requirements decided and prioritised? How do user stories evolve over time? How do user stories move up or down the backlog? How do you interact with customer representatives (XP)? Are they onsite?

Product Owner/Customer (POC)

How do you represent the product development team within the client organisation? How do you represent the client organisation within the product development team? Which remotely located stakeholder groups are most supportive or challenging? Which remotely located stakeholder groups do you interact with most/least frequently? What would help make life easier for you?

Releases and Testing

How does unit tested code become a release? How is user acceptance testing managed? How are bugs reported back, prioritised and fixed?

Social Media/Cloud

What forms of social media or electronic communication are used in the projects? What forms of cloud computing services are used in the projects?

Learning

How does learning take place within the team? How does learning take place for you personally?

Any Other Comments

Now, I want to check if there is anything else you would like to add? Do you have any further comments in relation to geographically distributed agile development projects?

About Your Organisation

Now I want to ask some questions about you and your organisation. These details will be kept confidential.What is the name of your organisation? What industry sector is your organisation in? What industry sector are your development projects in? How many people are there in your organisation?

About You?

Your name? Your age? What is your role (product owner, developer, architect or scrum master)? What experience or formal qualifications do you have? How much experience do you have or when did you qualify? How long have you been working in your current organisation?

Appendix 2:

Interview Guide, Agile Method Tailoring [Company H], May 2012

Background Notes

I want to ask you about your experience of agile software development projects. The research involves interviews with people holding a range of different roles, and from companies with different development models.

The purpose here is to try to understand how agile methods are used in [Company H], so that we can try to learn in the future. I want to ask you the following questions and tape record your answers. I do plan to publish interview extracts but I will make names, projects and clients anonymous. Can I switch on the recorder?

Agile Processes

What agile methods and practices are you using? Would you describe agile methods as being successful for you? In what ways? What challenges have you encountered with agile methods?

Scaling to Enterprise Projects

Describe any software tools or technologies you use to support agile methods? Have you adapted agile methods because of the geographical distribution of the team? Have you adapted agile methods because the client organisation was geographically distributed? Have you adapted agile methods because of a particularly large team? Have you used agile methods in a context with demanding regulatory compliance? What adaptations did you make? Have you used agile methods in a particularly complex domain context? What adaptations did you make? Have you used agile methods on a particularly technically complex project? What adaptations did you make? Have you used agile methods with an especially complex range of stakeholder relationships? What adaptations did you make? Have you adapted agile methods for use on a strategically important enterprise architecture programme?

Future Perspectives

What future trends do you forsee in your use of agile methods? If there was one thing you could change about the way agile methods are used at [Company H] what would it be? What advice would you give to improve agile productivity? What advice would you give to improve agile product quality? What advice would you give to improve transitioning to offshore agile?

About Your Project(s)

Now I want to ask some questions about you and your project. These details will be kept confidential.What project are you working on currently? How many projects? How is the project team structured (for management purposes)? How is the project team organised geographically? What is the project domain? What is the project purpose? How large is the project in terms of team size? In terms of value? When did the project start? How much longer will the project run for?

Any Other Comments

Now, I want to check if there is anything else you would like to say? Do you have any further comments in relation to agile methods?

About You?

Your name? Your age? What is your role (product owner, developer, architect or scrum master)? How long have you been in your current role? How long have you been working in your current organisation? How long have you been working in the software industry? What formal qualifications do you have, if any?

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Bass, J.M. How product owner teams scale agile methods to large distributed enterprises. Empir Software Eng 20, 1525–1557 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10664-014-9322-z

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Keywords

  • Agile software development
  • Scrum
  • Large scale offshore enterprise development programmes
  • Product owner
  • Product owner teams
  • Grounded theory