I’d like to thank Hertz and Accenture from the bottom of my heart. This oh so public airing of their digital dirty linen totally reinforces the point many of us have been making for years. The private sector is NOT intrinsically better at these things than the public sector. Occasions like this and the TSB meltdown should never be celebrated but should surely be greeted by a wry smile by those of us who have been hearing about the incompetence of public service digital for years from some corners — and particularly why there was never any need to bring things in-house because all the expertise was with the big suppliers.

O RLY?

I say this — obviously — as a supplier these days. That doesn’t change my opinion at all. Wrestling control away from those big suppliers and bringing skills and knowledge back in house across the public sector was/is an amazing thing. This does NOT mean they have to do everything themselves but there is a beauty in an intelligent, aware customer.

Other people will write far better analysis of the legalities and repercussions of the Hertz vs Accenture case but I just wanted to have a quick (for me) comment on one thing. The idea of outsourcing ‘product ownership’. This is clearly sub-optimal at its core. It is totally putting the inmates in charge but I wonder if it is partly a side effect of the ’tyranny of agile’ or more precisely the ‘tyranny of Scrum™’.

The role of ‘Product Owner™’ has become a thing with responsibilities and tasks and expectations. All of which are useful and consistent to the smooth working of a good Scrum™ team. In organisations that were not birthed in the internet-era those people are not just sitting around waiting for the call-up to the Show — however there are almost always people with the right instincts, a good understanding of their audience/users/customers and what makes their business tick. They just couldn’t tell a backlog from a backside or a user story from a story book. Increasingly I wonder whether they really need to.

It is their insights, ability to actually be the voice of the user, knowledge of the politics of the business and ability to make decisions that matter. Honestly that is what I am looking for. Someone empowered for sure — but you need the person empowered to genuinely know enough to understand the context of the decisions and the trade-offs they are making. Otherwise you just end up with a proxy product owner — no matter how skilled they are at the mechanics of product management. You can’t just parachute someone in and expect them to have that local knowledge sufficiently to make a real impact (it can happen — absolutely — but in these ‘transformation’ type projects it is really, really hard.). It takes time and exposure to the heartbeat of the business to really do this well. You can’t teach that experience…or outsource it.

You can however outsource the mechanics of it all. Maybe this is where the nomenclature gets us into a tangle and maybe GDS/DDaT stumbled onto something with the Service Owner/Product Manager split.

Maybe it is a partnership — a Subject Matter Expert/Owner with a Product ‘professional’ supporting and coaching them — but not the ‘owner’ or decision maker. An adjutant role for lean/agile practices alongside the Agile Delivery Manager (maybe this is back to my idea of hybrids or multi-hyphenates.)

In the case of Hertz I am 100% sure they had people with the expertise to ‘own’ this thing — who would perhaps have benefited from an independent support role providing them the support in the mechanics of working with a digital delivery team and perhaps doing an element of translation but no more.

I mean they had $32million — I am sure they could afford one more person!

Oh and you have to admire the cojones of the Accenture person who when faced with a hugely unhappy client and with no working site to show them doubled down and asked for another $10million to finish it.

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