Why the Product Owner needs to negotiateIf your team is using "INVEST" as part of your Definition of Ready, backlog items should be negotiable - but why should they be negotiable if you don't want to negotiate?
In a recent post, I discussed what "user stories" actually mean, so I'll skip on full repetition.
When you work with stories, then you're talking about someone who has a problem and an interest in having a solution. On purpose, we refrain from equating problem and solution for a while - because if people knew the best solution for their problem, they probably wouldn't have it anymore.
At this point, the different interests of the different stakeholders enter the stage:
Why is the user interested in getting this problem solved quickly? Why would developers be interested in helping? What are our financial interests? Our strategic interests? What are everyone's primary interests? How far do they overlap? What can we do to align them and reduce conflict?
Different approaches can later be weighted against each other using aligned interests as objective criteria when making decisions.
Negotiate the approachThere is always more than one way to deal with a problem. Common strategies are:
- Accept (do nothing)
- Avoid (create a work-around)
- Ameliorate (reduce the impact)
- Cover (make it invisible to the user)
- Resolve (eliminate it once for all)
Descending from 1-5:
- User pain decreases
- User effort decreases
- Delay increases
- Engineering complexity increases
- Engineering effort increases
The "null hypothesis" is always that we accept the problem, i.e., don't do anything. The Product Owner can direct the approach by elaborating on optimization goals, such as: "The user can't bear with it and we need to act fast" - or "We don't have much of a budget for this, but need to make it easier for the user".
Negotiate a compromize
You will make a trade-off. Questions such as "How much pain does the user have?" can open up discussions about compromizes, such as: "If this problem only occurs once a month, we'll fix this manully next time - to have enough time for our [other important thing], then afterwards, we'll resolve it".
Any chosen path will incur costs to at least one of the factors above. The Product Owner should defer a decision until there is enough information to weigh off plausible alternatives and put these into proportion with as much objectivity as possible,
Negotiate the solution
After aligning interests and deciding on a strategy, different scenarios can be explored. These scenarios may result in solutions that are more or less compatible with our interests. They can be weighted against each other based on such objective criteria. While tools like a Pugh Matrix tend to be overkill, the team needs to come to an agreement that is "the preferred way of solving the problem" based on the optimization goals.
The final strategy may be a compromize of multiple approaches, such as "We'll do a quick fix now, then spend a larger amount of time later to resolve it".
The PO, central negotiator
The Product Owner can have more than one negotiator role:
They might negotiate business interests with customers and/or developers - they might take the role of the customer and negotiate customer interests with developers - or they might facilitate the negotiation between these (and other) parties.
Product ( / Story) negotiation relies on four key rules:
- Separate people and problems
- Focus on shared interests
- Create options
- Use objective criteria
Apply these four negotiation rules to discover highly satisfactory solutions.
The Product Owner is responsible that negotiation can happen - the team is responsible for making it happen.
Negotiation opens up solutions, rather than discovering ways of shoving someone's opinion down others' throats. Negotiation is the first step towards co-creation and mutual satisfaction.
Start negotiating stories today!