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The Product Owner's View

Scrum in the world of the product owner

20 July 2017

In recent weeks I've been spending some dedicated time talking with product owners from various industries and levels of experience. The goal was to try to better understand the challenges they face. Below are some of the takeaways summarizing common perspectives shared by most of the product owners I spoke too.

The product owner is not the enemy

Sometimes when product owners are talking, it’s easy to forget that most of them actually care about their product. Anyone who has spent an extensive period in the world of Scrum has either been a part of or has witnessed a prickly conversation with a product owner. One consideration that was a personal revelation is that many of the product owners I spoke to felt that they were being encumbered with the project manager role. Looking back, this makes sense. Product owners effectively control the time and cost by way of backlog ordering and deciding when to release. What's important is to bring the conversation back to the issue of value. Even the most stubborn of participants became open to the idea of Scrum when they saw how it could add value to their product. Remember, people are often only using the best strategy they know to deal with the situation at hand.

Not all product owners are interested in Scrum

Hold on to your sticky notes, this one might be a shocker. None of the product owners I spoke with had an appetite to learn more about Scrum then they had too. Many of them simply wanted to understand how the role of product owner translates to achieving their objectives in their organization. This isn't inherently a negative outlook. Ordering a backlog and liaising with stakeholders are already daunting tasks. For some people, overlaying that with becoming vanguards of agility becomes too much, particularly if they're new to the trade. This isn't to suggest that they can willfully be ignorant to the team's cadence, only one shouldn’t judge their attitude solely according to their desire to learn more about Scrum.

Product quality can be intimidating

A quote from a fairly candid product owner: "My reputation is directly linked to the quality of my product." Often a product's quality relies heavily on the technical work that sits behind it. While the team drives its own technical practices, the product owner is the one who will have a difficult conversation when defects occur. Even if a product owner has the background to understand the team's technical practices, he or she still isn't the one doing the work. This situation ultimately means that for at least some product owners, they are trusting the team with a portion of their personal reputation by way of the product's quality.

Product ownership can be a demanding role. The better we understand their challenges, the more effectively we can support them.

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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