Meaningful responsibilities

We love coming up with titles. Chief Product Owner (CPO). Chief Digital Officer (CDO). Engineering Lead (ED). We do it because we need an anchor to encapsulate what we do.

But titles alone can be confusing. People can easily misunderstand their true meaning and role. Is my definition of a CPO or a CDO same as yours? Language can be a tool for communication but also miscommunication if the message's meaning is lost.

We have a particular challenge in the field of software development. We don’t yet have a well-defined nomenclature that everyone uses. This results in a lack of alignment and clarity with negative material consequences. Work falls through the cracks. People step on each other toes. The resulting processes are inefficient, and the frustrations are high.

What can we do about it? I hear you think, “well, we already have a solution — the RACI model (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed). Yes, the model exists, but somehow it never produces the desired impact. How many RACIs did you truly use? I am not talking about the RACI ppt that gathers dust somewhere on a shared drive. I find them dry, impersonal, and lifeless. Dare I say dull?

The alternative

The alternative is to create more personal, meaningful role definitions. Short, succinct, explicit, unambiguous responsibilities. Written as a story in the first person. Defined by the people fulfilling the roles and published for all to see. With responsibilities broken down into three categories — main (‘core to what I do’), supporting (‘how can I help others’) and excluded (‘what I am not doing’; for these, we must consider what the role might have done in the past but not anymore).

Template

To help with the process, I like defining the roles using the following template containing four components:

  • (1) a brief, one-liner definition of what the role is about;
  • (2) a section defining direct responsibilities — these are the core, exclusively held responsibilities;
  • (3) a section covering what the role can help with;
  • (4) a section clearly stating aspects the role is not doing.

The template looks like this:

(1) As a <insert role>, I am all about …

(2) As a <insert role>, I am directly responsible of:

a. lorem

b. lipsum

c. dolour

(3) As a good team member, I can help with:

a. lorem

b. lipsum

c. dolour

(4) And I want to let you know that I will not worry about the following. I’ll let other capable team members solve them:

a. lorem

b. lipsum

c. dolour

Self-definitions. Transparency.

Using the template, we can ask each person to define their role. They are the best positioned to define it, and by asking them to do it, the role definition becomes meaningful. It becomes personal.

Once we have all the roles, we make them transparent by publishing them and inviting people to participate in the review process.

Examples

Are you still with me? Let’s look at some real-life examples, covering the roles of Chief Technology Officer, Chief Product Owner and Delivery Lead.

1. CTO

As a CTO I’m all about technology and the quality of the technology output.

As a CTO, I am directly responsible for:

  1. Setting the overall technology choices for the project/product, ultimately responsible for the technology roadmap.
  2. The overall quality of the engineering functions — architecture, software development and testing.
  3. Evangelizing the tech vision across wider communities.

As a good team member, I can help:

  1. Unblock technical decisions that cannot be made by team members alone.
  2. Provide a sounding board for any team members seeking help making technology choices.
  3. Prioritize technology roadmap features when choices are not evident.

And I want to let you know that I will not worry about the following. I’ll let other capable team members solve them:

  1. Delivering the technology roadmap. I consider this a delivery responsibility.

2. Chief Product Owner

As a Chief Product Owner, I’m all about product, market, and brand.

As a chief product owner, I am directly responsible for:

  1. Setting the overall product vision.
  2. Articulating why we are building each feature.
  3. Understanding the overall landscape, we operate in, including our competitors.

As a good team member, I can help:

  1. Explaining the features at a high level.
  2. Being a mentor to product owners on matters of product management.

And I want to let you know that I will not worry about the following. I’ll let other capable team members solve them:

  1. Delivery aspects, such as estimation, dependency management, delivery plans, and technology choices.
  2. Managing teams.

3. Delivery Lead

As a Delivery lead, I’m all about delivery.

As a Delivery Lead, I am directly responsible for:

  1. The overall delivery of the programme.
  2. The delivery performance of the team. While I’m not responsible for all the aspects that influence delivery (such as technology choices and engineering), I must detect poor performance and trigger overall changes in the programme to address them.

As a good team member, I can help:

  1. Support feature teams’ delivery leads.
  2. Find solutions to sticky delivery problems.
  3. Act as a sounding board on dependency management, estimation, and work sequencing topics.

And I want to let you know that I will not worry about the following. I’ll let other capable team members solve them:

  1. Prioritize roadmap features.
  2. Technology choices.

Closing notes

We are so much more than our titles. But titles are here to stay. Defining what we do becomes essential, especially in fields with emerging roles.

But expressing what we do shouldn’t be a mechanical, dull exercise. It should be personal, meaningful, and clear for everyone around us.

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Peter Pito

Peter Pito

160 Followers

Agile practitioner and software developer at heart. Husband, father and rookie triathlete. I try to be the best version of myself, as often as I can.