How to apply Scrum to an "IT factory" or "IT service"? What is the product?

Last post 05:28 am May 15, 2014
by Ian Mitchell
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04:42 am May 15, 2014

Hi everybody

I was wondering whether somebody could elaborate a bit on how to apply Scrum to an "IT factory" or "IT service". I will explain what I mean by that. Just to tell you a bit about myself: I did the PSM I assessment and I am working in the field of IT Project Management. I am interested to understand how Scrum can help me be better at my client's projects. But in this specific area I am having difficulties to understand how the concept of a "product" applies to an "IT factory" or an "IT service".

At my client we are trying to establish an "IT factory" that takes some input (data), processes it, and produces a new set of data. It's an analogy to a brick and mortar factory that takes some raw material, processes it, and creates some higher value goods that can be sold. It can also be understood as an IT service. It consists of some IT infrastructure (machines and software) that are embedded in the company's process landscape. So there are various clerks and IT specialists that need to do some work to get the factory going.

Coming back to Scrum, my problem is that I'm having a difficult time understanding how this "IT factory" needs to be understood as a product. Because if you don't have a product, you will not have a Product Owner who is a centerpiece of a Scrum team beside the Scrum Master and the Developers according to the Scrum Guide. What makes the situation somewhat more challenging is that there are suppliers who have some knowledge on the software side. The client himself has of course knowledge on the process side but is having a difficult time in understanding how the software will fit into the process landscape. The supplier on the other hand side is having a difficult time understanding the client's processes.

From my point of view this is a perfect situation to apply an Agile approach to resolve this chicken-and-egg problem. And I think to get started with Scrum I would just need to clearly outline the product. But what is the product in this setting? After having defined the product, who is the Product Owner given the ambivalence between client and supplier? I would be very happy to get your point of view on this. Thanks!

05:28 am May 15, 2014

> From my point of view this is a perfect situation to apply an
> Agile approach to resolve this chicken-and-egg problem. And I
> think to get started with Scrum I would just need to clearly
> outline the product. But what is the product in this setting?

It's called an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. To understand what makes an MVP tick, it's best to put aside the analogy of a bricks-and-mortar factory. Rather, the product in this setting is actually a series of lessons about the relationship between the organization and the market. That's what an MVP is...the minimum needed to test assumptions without wasting any effort.

In conditions of high uncertainty, there's little point in defining a product, even in outline form, if the hypotheses behind it are not subject to validation. What you need is a minimum product for testing assertions about customer wants and needs.

> After having defined the product

No, there is no "after having defined the product". There may come a point where you have validated a market assumption in terms of an MVP, at which point further incremental releases can be made to test additional assumptions and so maximize product value. In agile practice the definition of a product is an ongoing dialog. It's best to think in terms of incremental releases, each of which is a test that builds on an MVP or pivots to a new one, rather than a defined product.

> who is the Product Owner given the ambivalence between client
> and supplier?

The Product Owner should be someone with the authority and skills to define an MVP, to represent stakeholders and explain the emergent scope to the Development Team, to know whether or not an MVP is successful, and to maximize its value by capturing new product requirements in terms of an evolving Product Backlog. That role could be filled by either the client or the supplier or even a third party.