One of the strongest concepts I learned in Check Point is “Ownership”. For almost any task there is an “owner”. The term “owner” is quite different than “manager”. On one hand it implies emotional attachment and on the other hand it implies you don’t have to be a manager to have responsibility.
The simplest way to describe the owner function that the owner bares the sole responsibility to finish the task he owns. He is accountable. The “Feature Owner” is a specific example for an ownership within the R&D organization (which is actually called “products organization” in Check Point).
How does it work?
The product manager wants a new feature added to the on-line application. Let’s assume the feature is a new usage report for an on-line application. The group manager chooses a Sara to be the feature owner. Sara is a senior developer.
Sara now owns the entire life cycle of the feature: requirements, design, user experience, coding, testing, documentation, upgrade and deployment.
At first this seems very strange. As the lead developer on the project Sara would not have time to work on all the other tasks, and if she does, who will do the coding?
Furthermore, Sara does not have the skills to write an MRD or describe the user experience since she is “Just” a database programmer.
The trick here is that Sara does not need to do everything on her own. As the owner she has ad-hoc managerial power to push other people to do their work. She demands requirements from the product manager, pushes QA for the test design and nags tech writers for better version.
There are multiple advantages to this approach:
- 1. Sara has to know what the product goals of the feature are.
- 2. Sara has to take into account testing, tech writing and other considerations she would otherwise ignore. The nice thing is that she can make changes in coding to help them.
- 3. There is a clear owner for the task success with a strong emotional attachment.
- 4. The feature owner has strong technical understanding of the feature.
- 5. It is easy for the managers to monitor the feature progress and status.
But the best advantage is there is no escapeway for the feature owner by blaming others.
“GUI didn’t finish on time”
“QA missed the bug”
“The Requirements are not clear”
“We don’t get enough priorities from infrastructure team”
“No one told me how to handle failures in the database”
Sara is the owner, she has to take care of everything by definition. By empowering the developers, the results are improved and everyone is much happier. On a future post I’ll describe some of the downsides of this approach.