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Is the Product Owner a Chicken?

19 April 2016

Before I tell my story, I will review the naming conventions used in this article:
  • PO: Product owner
  • SM: ScrumMaster
  • Core team: Developers, QAs, and anyone else who works on the sprint backlog
  • Scrum team: PO + SM + core team
When I was first introduced to Scrum in 2010, I was told the fable about the chicken and the pig. It goes something like this:

A pig and a chicken meet one day and start talking about starting a business together. The chicken says: "Hey pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!"

The pig replies, "I don't know. What should we call it?"

The chicken responds, "How about Ham-n-Eggs?"

The pig thinks for a moment and says, "No thanks. I'd be committed, but you'd only be involved."

Back then I was told that while the PO was the chicken, the ScrumMaster and the core team would be the pigs. As such, only the core team and the ScrumMaster would be "allowed" to speak during Daily Scrum meetings and even attend the sprint retrospective meeting.

Today, I firmly believe that this interpretation (the PO being a chicken) is a huge mistake, because leaving the PO out of any Scrum ceremony is basically losing brainpower and discarding a different perspective of the sprints and the team. If you think about it, we are actually hurting the team in the sense that we are creating a gap between team members (in this case, the PO and the rest of the Scrum team). How can we expect to be a successful team (or even a high-performance team) when we have issues among us? I even venture to say that a team that treats the PO like a chicken is probably a team that will never leave stage two of Bruce Tuckman's stages of group development.

Every time I hear the team's reasons for kicking the PO out of sprint ceremonies (or to forbid him or her from speaking during Daily Scrums), I know that those are the exact reasons why I believe that the PO should be there (or speak in the Daily Scrums) in the first place:
  • Does the rest of the team have an issue with the PO? Let's discuss it openly and fix it.
  • Does the PO overtake Daily Scrums? Let's educate him and keep him/her in the meetings.
  • Is the core team displeased with the PO's performance? Let's make it visible and help the PO improve.
Imagine for a second that the problem was not the PO but a developer or a tester. Would that person be forbidden from speaking during Daily Scrums? Or would he or she be kicked out of sprint retrospectives? It doesn't make any sense, does it -- so why should the PO be treated differently than any other member of the Scrum team?

To me the PO is not a chicken. At least I haven't seen any with feathers (I haven't seen one with a pig tail either, but you get the idea). Chickens are stakeholders, managers, and other people who are indeed only involved. They work in different work streams and, as such, they aren't committed at all. They typically don't have any work assigned in the sprint backlog.

The PO is committed to the Scrum team's success as much as the ScrumMaster or the core team. Although all of them have different responsibilities (or a different focus, if you like), they all have their success tied to the Scrum team's success. This is exactly what makes them all involved and hence pigs. For these reasons, I believe that the three roles prescribed in the Scrum Guide are all pigs; none of them is a chicken.

Tuckman, Bruce W. "Developmental sequence in small groups," Psychological Bulletin. Vol. 63, no. 6, June 1965, pp. 384-99.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.4 (7 ratings)


Araujo Tadeu, CSPO, 4/20/2016 9:54:13 AM
Hi Pedro, good article. But if I understand are you saying the PO need be always at the daily and and be "part of the team", this can be good in the case of the development of an internal project or product, where the PO works really near the team but for an external no. And if the team need to discuss something with the PO this should be done any time, right? not necessarily at the Daily? if this happens what's the purpose of the Review Meeting?

I agree that some time the PO at the Daily can be useful but only sometimes and maybe depending of the situation, the team should not consider the PO a strange or someone to supervise the team, but be part of it.

I had bad experiences creating the rule "the PO will be at the Daily always".

* My objective is not criticise, but raise some points to discuss.
Tim Baffa, CSM, 4/20/2016 4:00:50 PM
The Daily Scrum is a meeting to allow the team to get on the same page regarding sprint progress and issues. It's purpose is not to be a discussion forum for all interested parties. It's to be used as a daily touchpoint for the Scrum team - no more, no less.

I personally welcome the PO to attend the Daily Scrums (open invitation), but only with the understanding that they are a fly on the wall, to listen in on the team discussion.

This has nothing to do with conflict or personality issues. The rules for the Daily Scrum have everything to do with focus and purpose in supporting Scrum Values.

The concerns around PO involvement in the Daily Scrums gets into discussions around trust. Does the PO "trust" the team to get the work done that they forecast in the sprint? If so, then there is no need to speak up at the Daily Scrum unless there is a sprint issue that the PO can directly help out with.

If the PO does not trust the team, that is a much bigger issue for the SM to address.
Rene Wiersma, CSM, 4/21/2016 1:51:28 AM
The Absent Product Owner is an anti-Scrum pattern. The Product Owner should not be some manager type who dumps his requirements on the team during sprint planning, then disappears for the remainder of the sprint, only to reemerge for the sprint review.

The Product Owner should be involved in all Scrum ceremonies, just as any other team member. During the Daily Scrum she answers the same questions as any other team member. The Product Owner should be there for the retrospective. Oftentimes many improvements the team can make are related to the functioning of the Product Owner or the state of the backlog.

During the sprint the Product Owner should be around clarifying backlog items, reviewing "done" items, and refining upcoming items with the team on a regular basis. Besides that the Product Owner could do some test work, write some test cases, review some UI designs, or whatever it takes to finish the work.

The purpose of the sprint review is for the team, including the Product Owner, to show the "done" backlog items to stakeholders and report on progress with the goal of gathering feedback. The demoed items should not come as a surprise to the Product Owner during the sprint review.
Praveen Kumar Katiperi Ramanathan, CSM, 4/21/2016 5:36:15 AM
In my case, the PO is not co-located. So we meet him weekly twice (Tuesday and Thursday) for one hour each to clarify questions. He is also part of all the ceremonies (planning, review, and retrospective). This worked well for us.
Tim Baffa, CSM, 4/21/2016 8:35:25 AM
@ Rene

Agree with all of your comments, with one small caveat.

I have always questioned the purpose of the "roundtable" approach suggested for Daily Scrums. To me, it represents more of an individual status than anything (what I did, what I have planned, what issues I'm having... Next!).

I ask my teams to conduct their Daily Scrums by walking the board and speaking directly to the stories in the Sprint Backlog. It places the focus on the work being done for that sprint, instead of checking to see if everyone is busy.

Because of that, I invite the PO to the Daily Scrum meetings, to listen to the team discussions and story progress, and to be present if there are any questions or issues that they can help with.

I make it clear however that the purpose of the Daily Scrum is as a team checkpoint and action plan for the day, and therefore it isn't required for the PO to contribute.

There are plenty of other occasions where the team can interact with the PO (grooming, planning, retrospective, review). I even ask the PO to participate in story estimation, as a way to increase their familiarity with how the team is working.
Pedro Gustavo Torres, CSD,CSM,CSPO, 4/25/2016 4:29:09 PM
Hi all,

Thank you so much for all the feedback.

I'm really happy with the insights generated here. :-)

I think the key points here are:
- try to make sure that everybody attends the cerimonies (regardless of their role)
- make sure everybody understands the purpose of each cerimony (regardless of their role)
- don't forbid anyone from speaking during a cerimony (regardless of their role)


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