The Product Owner's Puzzle Cube: An exploration of design constraints

In Scrum, the Product Owner is responsible for articulating and maintaining a compelling vision of the product to be developed, and helping to translate that vision into discrete backlog items that teams can turn into finished product increments. In this context, we usually think of constraints as a bad thing...something that limits our range of options. But well-articulated constraints can actually help us build better products faster. This session will share and discuss a quick hands-on illustration of the value of thoughtful design constraints.


Outline/Structure of the Fast Games

The group is divided into teams of 5-6 people, with 4 designated as "developers", 1 as the "Product Owner" and optionally 1 as the "Scrum Master"

The teams are given a 6-piece 3D rubber puzzle to solve as a team. They are also given a photo of a completed cube as a prototype. The product owner is asked to articulate the vision of the finished product, and the Scrum Master, if available, is asked to facilitate the team's process. All teams start at the same time, and the facilitator starts timing how long each team takes to complete the puzzle.

Despite the apparent simplicity of the request, the puzzle is actually fiendishly challenging to assemble as a team, in part because there are many ways that 3-4 pieces COULD fit together, but only one way that all 6 pieces fit together. This illustrates the challenge of excessive optionality. Most teams take 10min or more to complete the puzzle.

After a majority of teams have finished, or about 15min, we stop to discuss why the puzzle is so hard, (optionality) what are some systematic ways to reduce complexity, (i.e. by imposing meaningful design constraints) and the implications for normal day-to-day work.

Learning Outcome

Powerful hands on experience with the trap of excessive optionality and the value of thoughtfully translating product vision into a set of meaningful design constraints that focus the team without limiting its creativity.

Grounding discussion in how complexity slows teams down and drives sub-optimal results.

Target Audience

Particularly useful for Product Owners or Business Team members who need to translate the product vision into actionable backlog, but any team member could benefit.

Prerequisites for Attendees

Understanding of basic Scrum framework and Agile principles is useful, but not required.

schedule Submitted 2 years ago

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