A month or so ago I was invited to do a podcast with my good friend Cory Bryan. The podcast is Deliver It and I highly recommend listening into what Cory has to say. Cory said something during the podcast that has been running around my brain ever since. He said:
I sort of like it when leadership can’t make decisions. I’ll tell them if you can’t decide, then I’ll decide for you.
The implication was that he would drive all decision-making as the Product Owner – even decisions that senior leadership should be making. He was quite firm in his tone, seeming confident of his ability to step in and drive.
I certainly like it when Product Owners take charge of things and own their backlogs. I also like it when they’re decisive. And I think being driven is also a good characteristic.
But something in Cory’s words worried me. And it took me a little while to pinpoint it.
I guess my concern is that he is “working around” the lack of decisiveness by his leadership team in these instances. And my experience is that it might be the wrong thing to do. Here’s why:
- Is he REALLY in a position to make a sound business decision? I.e., does he really understand the balance of the business context as well as the CEO?
- If he does make the decision, will it be “sticky”? Or does he run the risk of the senior leaders second-guessing him and churning his team with priority changes?
- I also feel he’s masking a huge problem. And by doing so, it’s not transparent to the point where someone has to improve the lack of leadership decisiveness. It’s almost like you need to “fail” in order make the impediment visible so that it can be improved or corrected entirely.
It’s the latter point that troubles me the most. I wrote two blog posts around similar “problem masking” issues in these two posts:
Was Cory wrong? I don’t think so. But I do think decision-making is far too complex in today’s companies for a single individual to make...successfully.
Instead, the key is that there needs to be decisive, aligned, and thoughtful decision-making by the organizations leadership team WITH Product Owners. Otherwise, you need new leaders.
Stay agile my friends,