Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Publisher side product owners

Product owners for a video game project using Scrum are usually a member of the development team. The reason for this is that unlike projects outside the game industry, product owners are needed to provide a much higher level of subjective feedback. Does the control of the player feel right? Is a mechanic “fun enough”? This feedback requires daily engagement with the team.

However, in some cases the publisher will require that product ownership be placed in the hands of someone on their staff. This could be an executive producer or someone who works directly with a licensee. In some cases this makes sense. If a licensee wants to maintain oversight or the publisher wants to make sure that their franchise is well tended, then product ownership at the publisher level makes sense.

Unfortunately this usually means that the team loses the day-to-day involvement of product owner. This can lead the project down bad paths. These projects can lead to “iterative and incremental death marches” when there is a reckoning between what the game provides and what the license or franchise owner sees much later.

A solution is to divide up the Product Owner roles. With this solution, a publisher product owner and a developer product owner would divide and share the role. The figure below shows the arrangement between the two.

The publisher product owner would have the following duties:
  • Own the product backlog. They would have the final say on the PBIs and their priorities. They would focus on the larger release sized epics and not the sprint sized stories that are manipulated between sprints.
  • Establish the release goals. Identify the "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" for the release.
  • Attend release reviews and planning. Attendance is a must. This role won’t work if they can’t sit with the team for at least one or two days between releases.
  • Call for release dates and manage the release plan (the potential set of sprint goals). The release plan has some flexibility by definition. The publisher product owner needs to be involved in any changes are made to the release plan and dates.
  • Is the “one voice” for all the publisher side customers such as sales, marketing, executives and licensees.
The developer product owner has the following duties:
  • Attend the release reviews and planning sessions.
  • Works with the team to refine the sprint goals during sprint planning.
  • Available daily to work with the teams to refine the understanding of sprint goals.
  • Remains the “one voice” for the development team.
The key to making this work is that both product owners need to be “on the same page” with the vision for the game and understand their duties. The entire organization from a tester at the studio up through the executive staff at the publisher need to have the same vision for the game.

1 comment:

Joolz said...

This is certainly a question that has been taxing me. I have a different situation in that I am a producer in a small studio (in Sofia) of a large publisher, whose editorial team are based in Paris. Ideally, they should have a 'publisher side' product owner, and I should be the local product owner for the studio. However, there's little chance of them visiting us here in Sofia - but I can always ask.