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How Is a Product Owner Like a Reporter?

26 October 2016

Paul Cencula
Camber Corp.

In working on a story, a good reporter tries to answer a set of basic questions, often referred to as the Five W's and One H (5W1H): Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How.

When developing a story in the backlog, a product owner in Scrum is responsible for finding answers to most (but not all) of those same questions:
  • Who is the work item for? This can be found within the standard Agile story format: As a {role}, I need {functionality} so that {a result is achieved}. The question of Who is addressed by the role in the story. Who exactly is going to be using this?
  • What is needed? Continuing with the above example, the question of What is satisfied by the functionality that the product owner is requesting. What is the function that is needed?
  • Why is it needed? In the story format, the question of Why is answered by the result that is desired. This is the purpose of the story. Why does the user need this function; what purpose does it serve?
  • Where is the change expected? This can be thought of as specifying what screen/report/field needs to be created or modified. Where within the application is the new or changed function expected? The team may come up with creative alternative solutions, but in describing Where, the product owner provides a good place to start.
  • When is the change needed? This is addressed through prioritization of the backlog, which is one of the primary responsibilities of the product owner. By prioritizing some items ahead of others, the product owner is providing direction on When the item is needed.
What about the one question that a product owner cannot answer?
  • How is the need going to be satisfied? This is clearly the responsibility of the team. The product owner may have an opinion, but it is ultimately up to the team members, working together, to come up with a solution. With creativity, the team may come up with a solution that the product owner did not even think about.
The role of the product owner is extremely challenging. It requires deep business knowledge, good technical understanding, and the ability to satisfy multiple stakeholders who often have conflicting interests. In addition, the product owner must think like a reporter, answering the five key questions: Who, What, Why, Where, and When. Once that is done, it's up to the team to creatively work out the How.

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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