When you’ve got a software product, it is composed solely of items like the code, static assets, supporting architecture and infrastructure (hereafter referred to as 'the tech'). These items are often thought of as being a necessary part of the product, but really they are the product and trying to separate them is a logical fallacy similar to trying to separate the food from a meal.

I think it's worth pausing and thinking about that for a second because it is an important concept to understand and embrace: in a software product the "tech" is the "product", and vice versa.

Things that are truly good for the tech are ultimately good for the product, and for the product to succeed the tech must itself succeed.

So why then, do team continue to treat the two as entities that are somehow distinct? Even the notion of things like 'tech debt' shouldn't exist. Let's explore that…

Of course code, architecture, infrastructure, etc. matter but not for the sake of themselves; none of these things can stand alone. If things are unstable, unscalable, or difficult/slow to update, that directly impacts the product value that can be delivered. ‘Technical debt' therefore, is more accurately labelled as ‘product debt', or even just 'debt'. Technical issues that have no impact over the product (or the future development of the Product) are completely irrelevant. There are surely no exceptions to this.

If a codebase requires refactoring because making changes is error prone and therefore slow, this has direct influence over the product value that can be delivered. If issues such as this go unaddressed, the rate of product value that can be delivered will decrease (probably exponentially) over time. If product value cannot be delivered, that's a product concern first and foremost.

It’s probably not for the Product Owner to specify specific implementation details, but they do have a very significant stake and interest in how their product is built since the decisions made can have significant influence over the success and possible speed of iteration.

A common over-simplification is that the Product Owner has responsibility over “what” and the Development Team have responsibility over “how”, and while this may be true at a very high level, The Scrum Guide reminds us that "The Product Owner is responsible for maximising the value of the product and the work of the Development Team". If architectural and 'debt' style tradeoffs will influence the delivery of value, the Product Owner should be part of such decisions. They may or may not have the technical knowledge (or the interest) to know whether a Product should be written in Python or C#, but they may care about the advantages of each. They may also care whether a new feature is implemented in a generic way, or hard-coded, especially if there is a big difference in implementation time.

I think that many of these issues have roots in legacy ways of working where there was a more distinct divide between Product Management and Engineering disciplines, and where product changes were captured in lengthy and detailed specification documents. In the agile world, where we’ve come to value things like valuable working software, and individuals and interactions we can do a lot better than handoffs of specifications. We can communicate, collaborate and negotiate with honesty about different solutions and the pros and cons that they bring because we’re now one team with one goal.

We must never lose sight of the importance of good technical practices, but only in so far that they can support the product. "Being agile" is never an excuse for cutting corners, but it does challenge our long-held beliefs about how teams can work together to satisfy our users and customers through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.