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[Select Repost] The Elusive Product Owner

The Product Owner's responsibilities are expansive and can sometimes last a year or more. How do you find someone who is ideal for "maximizing the value of the product"? Here are a few tips, written by Jim York in this FoxHedge Ltd. blog post.

 


 

Every Scrum Team needs a Product Owner. You know you need one — a good one preferably. Where are you going to get one? Why are they so hard to find?

To start, recognize that the bar for a Product Owner is pretty high. The Scrum Guide™ says "The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team... the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog."† These simple words convey a lot of responsibility. Let's consider the implications and how these implications might help you identify your best candidate for the role.

"Responsible for maximizing the value of the product"

Hmmm... when does the responsibility for maximizing the value of the product begin and end? The Scrum Guide™ does not explicitly tell us, but there are some pretty clear hints. For example, the statement that "The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog."† combined with a later statement that "As long as a product exists, its Product Backlog also exists."†† imply that the Product Owner's tenure of responsibility for maximizing the value of the product coincides with the existence of the product.

How long is that for your product? Some products have lifespans that span decades, or longer. The Product Owner is not maximizing value for a segment of the product's lifecycle, but rather for its entire life. Is your Product Owner going to be around that long? If not, perhaps we're looking for a Level 5 leader to fill the Product Owner role — someone who builds enduring success even when they are no longer present.

In a different dimension, where does the responsibility for maximizing the value of the product begin and end? To explore this dimension, let's look at the second part of The Scrum Guide™'s statement.

"Maximizing the work of the Development Team"

In addition to maximizing the value of the product over its life, the Product Owner is responsible for "maximizing the value of the work of the Development Team." Yes, a Product Owner supports the Development Team, helping them be the best that they can be, but this responsibility extends beyond the Development Team.

Keep in mind that the Development Team does not exist in a vacuum. The Development Team is a single element on a potentially complex value stream. The work of the Development Team creates no value if the output of that work is blocked by other elements on the value stream.

So, if the Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the work of the Development Team, by extension, the Product Owner is responsible for the whole value stream. This holistic perspective implies that we're looking for someone who sees the big picture as well as the discrete elements that constitute the whole.

A VERY big responsibility

Recognizing that the Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the product value in both time and space. The time extends over the life of the product. The space extends across the value stream. Little wonder the role is so difficult to fill and execute well.

Based on these implications, who do you believe is best suited to fill the Product Owner role on your Scrum Team? What can you do to help them be the best they can be?


† Schwaber, Ken and Sutherland, Jeff. "The Scrum Guide™". Scrum Guides. http://www.scrumguides.org. 22 March 2016, p.5

†† ibid. p.13

 

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