What to Do When Murphy’s Law Hits Your Product

We all have times in your product’s development cycle when something suddenly takes a turn for the worse. Maybe it’s the development of a user story that was supposed to be quick and easy, but ends up taking extra effort. Perhaps it’s a new feature that you thought would add much-needed “wow”, but ended up being a dud. Inevitably, these situations will come up as you build your product. How you handle these situations is important. These are some tricks I have used when problems creep up in your projects.

Communicate

When problems come up, it’s vital to talk about what is happening. In a recent sprint, the development team was unable to complete most of the user stories they committed to. Some stories were more complicated than they anticipated. Minor issues from the previous sprint needed to be fixed, shifting time away from the current sprint’s stories. A team member left the company during the previous sprint, causing the team to quickly on-board a new developer.

During our daily stand-ups, the devs never mentioned any problems. They said they would be able to meet their sprint commitments. Naturally, it was a big surprise to me when the sprint demo had a ton of issues and few results. Had the team communicated with me some of their problems, I could have adjusted my expectations and we could have found possible solutions.

Resolve Conflicts When They Come Up

When work is being done as a team, you’ll have conflicts. Last year, a new project manager joined our team as the Scrum Master. He immediately began stepping on toes by taking on responsibilities outside of the Scrum Master’s role. He tried to speak for the business and users by writing his own user stories and acceptance criteria. He tried to tell the developers how to build the site. He argued with team-members and our stakeholders, creating friction with internal and external resources.

The team and I worked together to resolve conflicts with this project manager. We asked him to stay focused on his role as a Scrum Master. My supervisor and I talked with his boss about our problems. We also went to our company’s executives to see if the issues could be resolved. Ultimately, this project manager left our company, but our proactive approach helped mitigate some problems.

Work Together

In a Scrum team, you will have a diverse set of skills at your disposal. A good product owner should work with his/her team to ensure quality work is done.

Often I have certain ideas on how a feature should be implemented. My team offers their insight and feedback for me to consider when we are grooming the backlog of user stories. One such example revolved around our account managers setting up answer scripts that are used when customers call into a call center. The UI/UX Designer suggested building the set-up pages like a wizard that would send the user through a process to configure each script type. The developers liked the idea and thought it would improve the user experience.

I listened to my team and our initial user feedback reviewing prototypes of the wizard was very positive.

Recognize What Is In Your Control

Recently an update to a development library has caused havoc across the entire portal my team has been enhancing. This update was needed to fix a known bug, but our team could not foresee such widespread issues.  The scale of the problem is causing development delays in critical new features.

It would be easy to get caught up in the negativity about this scope of this problem. However, something like this was unexpected. Other developers were even shocked by how a simple update is causing such problems. At this point, it seems like there is not much I could do besides support the dev team in the efforts to fix the issues. Recognizing what I can control helps me stay calm.

Don’t Lose Focus on the Big Picture

Too often its easy to get caught up in the weeds. This is especially the case when things go wrong. As you and your team work through the problems, I find it’s useful to spend some time to focus on the overall flow of your project. If you have been doing things the right way, you should be able to see progress towards your vision.

 

 

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