I quipped recently that if your Agile “standup” is a manager going around the room, it’s a Status Meeting, not a standup; at least not in any Agile sense, where the purported ownership unit is the team. While I’d like to explore that at some point, this is just a short thoughtdump on individual vs team ownership.

I’ve seen a lot of companies say they celebrate team ownership, but I haven’t often actually seen it. Team ownership is the team figuring out what to do, not a Project Manager. Team ownership is the standup organized by and run by the team, according to the team’s desires without Project/Product/Manager people involved. They shouldn’t even be in the room unless asked. Team ownership is arranging your standup around the cards, not the individuals (it’s the stories that are important, after all). Team ownership is NOT just a manager emoji-bombing Slack when a feature is released (and even less so specific individuals).

That said…

Individual ownership is fine. If it sucks so bad, why do so many companies do it? Well first of all, it doesn’t suck so bad. Most software is written in this model, and there’s a lot of perfectly adequate software out there in the world, so that’s some testament to it.

Secondly, true team ownership is really, really hard. It takes a while for teams to gel enough to be able to manage themselves. I’ve said for years that specialization is what allows civilization to exist (I may rant on the weird state of “everyone should do everything” startup/devops fascination at some point), and not every team can be “The A-Team”, so having a specialized cat herder comes in handy.

Also, it doesn’t scale well. As teams grow, sub-teams form, and they don’t always agree. When companies get of a certain size, fiefdoms form and actively sabotage each other for the juiciest projects, so in those cases it’s good to have some Dictator to say who can be doing what.

The software industry “management model” seems to have its roots in manufacturing, where workers are cogs in a wheel so managing the PEOPLE is way easier than the whole. And humans are selfish, they like to be recognized for work they do, as themselves, not necessarily as the team.

So why do they SAY the do it? It’s a nice sound bite; it gives some notion of agency to people, and people like to think that’s how it works, even when it isn’t working that way. And to be fair, some companies honesty believe they ARE doing it and just don’t know any better.