This is some observations about another pattern that doesn’t work — when there is no clear business owner of a product.

When we started off we had a couple of strong decision makers. A committee of people would vie for his attention and the law was laid down. The buck stopped with the one owner of all things tech. It didn’t matter if you thought it was a good idea or a bad idea, the decision was made and we all moved on.

The fact that the buck stopped with someone is the real key.

As time passed and the organization became more diffuse this started to go away. Among other things a benevolent dictatorship isn’t very politically correct. Everyone needs a say into how the ship is going. With everyone having their hands on the controls the ship never turns. It’s just slowly cruises ahead with no direction. When the ship runs aground everyone has plausible denyability that it wasn’t their responsibility.

The committee is eager to claim responsibility for success and quick to denounce it when things go awry.

We tried a number of different schemes to manage this. We tried the scrum approach with different business owners getting their own teams. We tried the massive committee. Even anarchy.

Without clear top-down direction, things will rarely work right. When they do it’s a grass-roots victory from the trenches, not the top.

A clear direction gives the right priorities for a company. A person with whom the buck stops is empowered to make the hard decisions — because they are held accountable for the win or fail of their actions. Lacking that person the buck gets dropped, kicked to the corner and starts to collect dust.

I don’t think the buck can stop at a committee.