Re: Title. Sorry, its Friday the 13th, couldn't resist!
Anyhoo...I was checking out this InfoQ post which asks the question of whether you need a single person as your "Product Owner" or it can be many. I have my opinions about the answer to that particular question, but I'll save that for another post. It's the undercurrent of that question I want to discuss now.
"One neck to wring". "One throat to choke." I've heard this and similar statements for years in reference to Product Owners (in Scrum terms that is; in XP, we may say Customer). In other words, there are people who make the statement that part of the Product Owner's role is to be the "one throat to choke", the "one neck to wring".
My take on this is similar to my feeling on the "Chickens & Pigs" thing: me don't like it, and here's a quick run-through of why.
This euphemism, at its heart, is a statement of accountability. It basically implies that the Product Owner is accountable for the outcome of your agile project, for its successes and/or for its failures. Beh, hogwash.
Let's backtrack a tad (just can't help myself ;-). I'm a believer that there exists at least these two primary degrees of agile teams:
- Agile Team v1.0: practices have been installed and people are following their agile methods generally as the book tells them. They are following the mechanics, that is, but that's all. What's missing? Well, a real team. Agile Team 1.0 may not be a bad thing, it's likely to be a much better thing than to have no agile at all, but it's not the hyper-productive thing your executives were clamoring for.
- Agile Team v2.0: as with v1.0, the team is following the practices, but this team is a real team. In other words, the team is truly "self-organizing" and empowered. This team understands and manages the interpersonal aspects of good teamwork. This team truly understands that at root of success are people, and the interactions between them. This is the team that execs bought into [noun] "Agile" for; this team kicks ass.
Highlight: "...hold one another accountable...". There ya have it, Agile Team 2.0 is a team that shares its 'Accountability'. Each member is accountable; the developers, the testers, the CM folks, etc..., and finally, yes, the Product Owner (Customer) too. No "one neck", no "one throat", everyone.
Bottom line, if any one person holds the accountability for success/failure on your agile project, particularly if that one person is your Product Owner, you've got more to learn about how to be [adjective] agile, about how to be a team.
The good news is that you're not the best you can be, you've got room for some big improvement, how lucky!