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Top Challenges for Product Owners

29 August 2017

Product owners routinely face difficult challenges as they handle complex projects, which can vary widely depending on the product life cycle and its time line. Below are common challenges and strategies for handling them.

Backlog grooming

Challenge: Projects affect cost across an organization's business units. Project owners often feel the pressure from senior management and customers alike when they find themselves falling behind in prioritizing the product backlog items, which focus mainly on changes to customer requirements. These often require urgent, critical decision making. These factors can lead to neglecting product backlog grooming and missing the sprint planning, sprint reviews, and retrospectives.

Strategy: Do not commit to a larger workload than you can deliver in a sprint. Scrum allocates 10% of the team's availability to the product owner to decompose and refine the product backlog items.

Acceptance criteria

Challenge: Defining clear acceptance criteria that cover all of the customer’s requirements.

Strategy: Get consensus from both the customers and the Scrum Teams. This requires understanding. You must put forth an enormous effort to bring senior management, customers, and the Scrum Team into alignment.


Challenge: The degree of authority granted to the product owner in terms of decisions about major projects. Whatever the degree of authority, it is often diminished because of lack of trust from management or other involved project stakeholders.

Strategy: Know what your organization's expectations of you are at the start of the project. Determine how much of a support structure will be necessary for you to deliver successful projects. At the beginning of the project, set a clear project vision among the Scrum Team members and other project stakeholders. A common understanding among the project stakeholders plays a vital role in project success.

Distributed teams

Challenge: Handling requirements while coping with distributed teams in different time zones.

Strategy: Good-quality videoconferences, or face-to-face communication if possible, are much more effective than indirect modes of communication such as emails, which are more time-consuming and often lead to ambiguous situations.

Scrum is a great blessing — when it is implemented properly and with clear guidelines that satisfy all stakeholders.

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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