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I am having an interview for an Iteration Manager position and they have given me a scenario to prepare for which we will talk about during the interview. The scenario is as follows:

There is a piece of high priority regulatory work that gets assigned to your team. There is no Product Owner. The Business Analyst is split in 4 other projects to look after. Your team has estimated the stories and indicate it will take about 4 iterations. The Project Manager keeps questioning every estimate they have done, because he communicated to the Project Steering Group that it was only 1 iteration of work. More people get assigned to the team. There is high pressure from the Project Manager and Senior stakeholders to deliver on the estimated planned date. How do you deal with this?

It definitely seems like a very Kobayashi Maru sort of situation where the only solution is a no-win solution.

Here are my thoughts:

Problems:

No PO

  • When there is no PO you lose customer focus. Without a PO you are losing the person who is helping the team understand what the customer truly requires in their product
  • There is no feedback about the product that the team is developing
  • Without a PO the team decides how the product is to be built. The PM can get involved but that allows the business to be unaccountable for developing the system. This responsibility is deferred to the team in this situation and this is not a good thing to have happen.
  • Without a PO who is determining the requirements and assisting with the Product Backlog?

BA focus is split between 4 other projects

  • Find time with the BA to discuss the stories

PM doesn’t trust the estimations from the team

  • The PM is not the customer nor are they the person who can set the acceptance criteria
  • The PM can see a demo but they cannot say for certain that the team is developing the correct requirements in the correct order / priority

PM communicated to the that the work will take 1 iteration. Team estimated 4 iterations More people get assigned to the team

  • It is unreasonable to expect the teams output to increase 4x, however assigning more people to the team may not result in the work taking less time. Ramp up time to get new members up to speed would need the original team members to get the new members of the team on the same page regarding progress and code etc. (Brooks law: adding man power to a late software project makes it later).

Pressure from PM and Senior Stakeholders to deliver on the estimated planned date

  • Was there a miscommunication between the PM, Senior Stakeholders and the unknown PO?

Actions:

  • Explain to the PM and the Senior Stakeholders that by not having a PO for this product the end result may be the development of a product that doesn’t match with the customers / regulatory works requirements.
  • Attempt to break down the estimated stories further. By doing this, the stories may be able to exist on a more granular level allowing the PM to better understand the reasonings behind the teams original estimates as well as seeing the amount of work / effort is required for each story to be completed.
  • The team along with the PM could triage these smaller stories which would allow for better prioritisation in terms of the product backlog, however this could be hindered due to there being no PO and the BA being split amongst 4 different teams.

Regarding the PM

  • Maybe some misunderstanding in the requirements based of the regulatory work?
  • I understand why he’s questioning the estimates from the team, but I would trust the teams estimates as I’m not sure where he got his estimates from. And is he now trying to cover himself from blame?
  • There may be a miscommunication / misunderstanding between the PM and the product due to the lack of the PO

Are there any existing products that the team can use as an example for development?

Best course of action:

  • Make clear to the PM and the Senior Stakeholders that expecting the full product in one iteration will not be possible and that the team will try their best to hit the planned date with as many high-quality deliverables as they can. If theres been budget set aside for completion bonuses, it would be a good time to use it now as a motivator for the team.
  • Stress that in future, any order for high priority work which needs to be delivered by a set date that there must be a PO for the work with a PM that communicates and trusts the estimates of the team and the IM.
  • Depending on the regulations and the Senior Stakeholders / Project Steering group, it may not actually matter if it hits a specific date. If there was a PO this may have been clearer. Maybe the latest version isn’t compliant for the estimated 1 week iteration date mentioned by the PM but the product may not be launching until another date.

Apologies for the long read. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

closed as primarily opinion-based by Todd A. Jacobs, Ashok Ramachandran, Brian Carlton, Tiago Cardoso Oct 11 '14 at 22:43

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • I believe this question would be improved if you removed your proposed answer. You can answer your own question with the proposed answer. The link is to the help center, where they discuss this pattern. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 16 '14 at 15:47
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    Does this question seem likely to elicit a canonical answer? It seems to me that (as written) it's basically a polling question about a hypothetical situation, and any possible answer will simply be based on opinions on the subject, or opinions about interviewing strategies. – Todd A. Jacobs Sep 17 '14 at 3:12
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I'd focus my answer on the levers that I can move, either easily or with some effort. The levers I cannot move, such as no product owner or the answer provided by the PM to the Steering Committee of a single iteration, are simply facts that create the environment in which you are working. Serves no purpose to ask questions about it or analyze it. It just is.

The four iterations is a work estimate. It lives in some probabilistic distribution that can be as optimistic as one or as pessimistic as 10. Since it was not provided in this blurb, then my first course of action is to try to uncover where the four iterations live within the range. This drives the risk of the work from a time perspective and how I will track and report progress.

Adding additional resources could help. It obviously depends on the resource elasticity of the work, which varies from job to job. To assume Brooks Law will always adversely affect you is simply wrong. That said, my next action would be to analyze the elasticity of the work and determine where I am in resourcing compared to where I think the point of diminishing returns is. Then, I will recommend staffing the project to that point.

Then, I will determine if the BA's limited utilization on this project has any adverse effect. If not, then leave it. If so, then I would argue resetting his/her priorities such that (s)he becomes full- or near full-time on my gig.

Once these levers are pulled, I would analyze the likelihood of my end date and report in a non emotional way where I will most likely finish. Pressure and potentially angry senior stakeholders notwithstanding, an answer well substantiated by thoughtful analysis is the answer. I would continue tracking, reporting variances and updated forecasts, in a non emotional and frequent way.

  • I think David's approach is a good one. I don't think this question is to find out if you can save an impossible situation stacked against you. If that's a day-to-day requirement for this job, you might want to think about applying elsewhere. Rather, I think this question is about seeing how you handle a bad situation. Do you look for someone to blame or places you can help? Do you hide the problems or put them out in the open? If I were interviewing you, that's what I'd be looking for out of this question. – Daniel Sep 26 '14 at 19:44

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