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One Owner

On every project in the software world there are numerous owners responsible for the success of the project and whether the business objectives are met at the end. Some companies has some embraced the idea of group ownership that they forgotten the value of accountability and hierarchy and, as a result, encounter problems completing projects. Although the concept of shared ownership might be nice, the reality of it is rather treacherous. The ideal in a shared ownership world is everyone working together on a common goal towards making a project successful. Each owner contributes his or her “fair share” to the project to make it a success.

We all remember high-school group projects. Shared ownership only works with very small teams where everyone on the team knows each other well and has a personal interest in seeing the other members of the team succeed. For example, if the team members are family or very close friends shared ownership might work. However, even in these situations shared ownership can lead to bitter fights, broken families, and ended friendships. Shared ownership fosters failed projects and finger pointing.

The truth of the matter is: we all work at a different pace, with different ways for accomplishing the same tasks. In a project with multiple owners, there is always someone who wants to move faster and push harder than the team as a whole. There is also always someone who wants to slow down and understand everything before taking the next step. Neither approach is bad. Both approaches have merit. However, when a project has shared ownership the two approaches can conflict and create tension within the group.

In many situations the tension can be healthy. It can force the fast driving pushers to consider their approach to make sure loose ends are tied off. It can force the slow methodical plodders to prioritize and make decisions about which aspects of the project are more important and need attention first. The problem comes when there’s a loose end that no one ties off or a decision that never gets made. These situations create a stalement between the plodders who are unwilling to make a decision and the pushers who are ready to make a rash decision as long as a decision is made. This situation screams for a single owner.

When a project has a single owner, there is one person to decide when consensus cannot be reached. As much as we would all love to have consensus on every decision, it is not always possible. We can drive towards it and drive towards it and eventually someone needs to draw a line in the same and state “this is how it’s going to be”. Corporate America recognizes this need for someone to have final authority. It’s why we have terms like “escalate” and “boss”. Someone has to make the final decision.

If you see yourself on a project that is struggling to make decisions, determine if it’s a problem of shared ownership. Usually, when decisions cannot be made, and consensus fails, the underlying cause of project churn is lack of a clearly defined owner to force a final decision. Find a single owner. Sometimes the owner is not required to make the decision himself. The owner provides a date by which a decision must be made or a budget to fund a decision. The owner provides the boundaries. Consensus becomes much easier when boundaries are laid out early.

Always find the single owner. If there are multiple owners, spend the time to establish the single owner. Escalate to establish the single owner. Every project, decision, direction needs a single owner to follow it through to completion.

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