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Building a Strong Relationship with the Product Owner

We’re all in it together

16 August 2016

Alex DiPasquale
Transamerica

After reading Dr. Swapn (Sam) Sinha’s May 11 article, The Different Layers of the ScrumMaster Role, I too reflected on many of the facets of this role.

Our formal training teaches us the framework with which we will lead our Agile team, but our experience and willingness to learn help us hone the nuances of our role. One of these nuances is creating a strong, collaborative relationship between the team and the product owner.
 

How the product owner fits in

The Scrum Team/product owner relationship is crucial for the success of the Agile team. Agile only mentions three roles: the product owner, the ScrumMaster, and the development team. The limited number of roles encourages a flat organizational structure.

My Scrum Team’s relationship with the product owner is based on the Agile principles of transparency, individuals and interactions over processes and tools, and customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Think of it like a three-legged stool: Remove one of the legs and it falls down.
 

Nothing up my sleeve

Our team, most of whom have never worked with Agile, addressed transparency early on. As I led us through our first few sprints, I drilled the point that our product owner is a member of our team and that we could say anything to her. She attends most of our Daily Scrum calls, is invited to our Scrum ceremonies, and is on our team email distribution list.
 

Part of the solution

When we uncover a problem, our product owner is involved and engaged in the conversations — she is part of the solution. True, engaging the product owner early on was difficult at first. When working on non-Agile projects, I remember the development team uncovering an issue, finding a solution, then presenting the business owner with the problem and our proposed solution.

In Agile we work it differently. Transparency allows the product owner to get involved when the issue is first discovered and to work with us or to be in the loop as we find the solution. It helps the product owner understand the team’s perspective and the team understand the product owner’s.
 

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

In our team, customer collaboration means the customer, our product owner, is part of our team. While she sets the priority and has the authority to accept or reject our work, our relationship is not authoritarian; it is collaborative. She’s involved in all phases of a user story, from discovery to production. Conversations such as, “Let’s write a separate user story for that,” “That’s too big for this sprint,” and “Let’s add this to the sprint” are routine and acceptable.
 

Valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Embracing this principle evolved as our team evolved. In our first few sprints, we saw that processes that were implemented in Waterfall development just did not work well in Agile. So we collaborated with the product owner to find what worked. For example, we reevaluated how we handle production defects, balancing time and complexity with an end goal of delivering valuable software.

Being held to a departmental SDLC, we still conform to processes. However, we stopped using processes that we could not justify as adding value. Through our sprint retrospectives and daily interactions, we are constantly revisiting processes with an eye toward improvement.

Agile is a loose framework that allows the ScrumMaster to lead a successful team. Mastering the nuances is what helps us become successful ScrumMasters.
 

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.



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