Who should maintain the health, content and structure of the Product backlog? SM, PO, Dev Team, Everyone?

Last post 05:48 pm February 14, 2019
by Steve Matthew
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11:15 pm February 13, 2019

Hi everyone,

In a rather interesting conversation with a fellow SM, we had a difference of opinion on who should be responsible and accountable for the product backlog.

I advised that, as per the scrum guide, it is the PO who is both responsible and accountable for the health, content, availability and structure of the backlog. I further advised that the scrum guide also says that the PO can delegate some or all of this work to the development team, however, it is ultimately the PO's accountability that the backlog reflects the interests of the stakeholder.

I was challenged and was told that, no where in the scrum guide does it say that the scrum master cannot take up this activity (fair point) and this could be considered as the SM's service to the PO and Dev team. The other SM feels that the scrum master role can pitch in to any aspect of the scrum team as needed to help the team and to be more agile.

Now, whilst I cannot disagree with what has been said, one of the issues that arises is that this responsibility eventually gets dumped onto the scrum master to the extent that the team does not self organize, the PO gets disengaged and the role of the SM ends up touching other areas. Further, if the SM is not close to the business requirements, then is it a fair expectation that the team asks the scrum master to be accountable and responsible for the content and structure of the backlog.

I believed I was coaching the right thing but this counter statement threw me off balance and I am now in a state of flux. I'd like to understand if I was right/wrong and how others feel about this?

If this is a valid statement, then why do we even need to have the 3 roles? Everyone can be cross functional right?

 

 

11:56 pm February 13, 2019

Steve - I feel your understanding and coaching was correct, and your advice is inline with the Scrum Guide.  If the Scrum Guide intended for the Product Backlog work to be delegated to the Scrum Master, it would have stated Scrum Team, not Development Team.  The Scrum Guide also makes it clear how the Scrum Master serves the Product Owner. 

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:

  • Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
  • Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
  • Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
  • Understanding and practicing agility; and,
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.

And if the Scrum Master steps in to do things for others, that could impact self organization.  

12:12 am February 14, 2019

Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible

It is perhaps the above line that is being interpreted as the SM can do the backlog work too, because if he knows all the above, then he knows what needs to be added. The above line states the Scrum Team should have understand of the goals scope and product domain.

I understand the guide does not explicitly mention that the work be delegated to the SM neither does it say the SM cannot do some work of either the PO or the Dev role. Take for example the case where the SM is one of the member of the development team. Then it can be delegated right as per the scrum guide?

 

09:58 am February 14, 2019

The other SM feels that the scrum master role can pitch in to any aspect of the scrum team as needed to help the team and to be more agile.

This is an interesting theory. When a Scrum Master is helping the Development Team to create the increment by doing concrete work like coding, writing documentation she is leaving her Scrum Master role and is switching to be in the role of a Development Team member. If the product owner is delegating Product Backlog work to the Development Team, is she delegating this work to a person or to a self-organizing team? Isn't the Development Team member who has the Scrum Master role also a part of an self-organizing Development Team when it comes to Development Team work?

Is a Scrum Master a person or a role? How healthy is it for a person being in these two roles and switching between them?

 

 

 

 

10:41 am February 14, 2019

I was challenged and was told that, no where in the scrum guide does it say that the scrum master cannot take up this activity (fair point) and this could be considered as the SM's service to the PO and Dev team.

...

I believed I was coaching the right thing but this counter statement threw me off balance and I am now in a state of flux.

Personally, I never cease to be amazed by the contorted positions which are adopted in order to avoid change, and having to implement Scrum well. However the fact that contortions occur is not surprising. Such antics are often seen to be the path of least resistance. The responsibility of a Scrum Master is to put transparency over these contortions and their likely consequences.

A Product Owner can delegate the management of the Product Backlog to the Scrum Master, or to the office cleaner for that matter. This does not make it a good idea, nor is any supposed delegate obliged to accept. The Product Owner will remain accountable for any consequences to the delivery of product value. A Scrum Master can offer to coach a Product Owner in how to better fulfill his or her duties, as part of a wider service, but such a service would not include taking those responsibilities over. Rather, a Scrum Master would make it clear that it is the Product Owner who will be held derelict in their duty should product ownership fail.

 

04:31 pm February 14, 2019

The very first statement from the Scrum Guide section on the Scrum Master.

The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.

The entire list of bullets under the "how a Scrum Saster serves the Product Owner" states ways to help.  Not ways to do their work. 

Helping everyone understand does not mean doing their job.  The Product Owner is the one responsible for the Product Backlog. As many have stated, they can delegate to the Development Team but they are still responsible. In most cases I have encountered the delegation to the Development Team was so that they could enter stories that helped address technical debt. But it was up to the Product Owner to order them appropriately. 

Product Owners own the activities of defining the problems that need to be solved and providing order to the identified problems in order to deliver the best value at the right times. The Development Team owns the technical solution to those problems. The Scrum Master is there to help the Product Owner, Development Team and outside entities fully appreciate the benefits of Scrum and how all interactions (in team or out of team) impact (positively or negatively) the benefits of following the Scrum Framework. 

As you have stated there is no where in the Scrum Guide that says a Scrum Master can't do the work of the other roles.  But it does state that each role has their own responsibility to the rest of the Scrum Team. One of the things that the Scrum Master is responsible for is helping other appreciate Scrum. It never says that the Product Owner can't write code. However, I'd be surprised if any Development Team wanted the PO to do this and it contradicts the role that Scrum describes for the Product Owner.  It never says that the Development Team can't coach the rest of the organization on it's Scrum adoption.  But I have seen it pretty common for a developer to describe and coach other disciplines in the company on how it works and the best way for them to provide input to the work that is being done. I like to think that is because I have done my job as a Scrum Master. 

I believe your original position is the right thing to be coaching. I see the other Scrum Master as trying to implement a pretty solid version of Scrum-but in order to fit into a version of their old way of doing things and avoiding change.

05:48 pm February 14, 2019

The way it was put to me was that, the scrum master should not take a rigid stance and cause the formation of silos, these silos being the roles i.e. SM, PO and Dev team, and should be flexible enough to promote agility. How? Well, according him, if the scrum master does whatever it takes to help pitch in (I think he's relating this to the concept of swarming) and help increase the productivity of the team, it would help promote agility. In this regard, it could be things like development work (if the SM has the technical skills), it could also mean writing the user stories, being responsible to add it to the backlog, and it could also mean arranging the product backlog in a way that its structure, content and health is up-to-date as required by the stakeholders. In essence, the ideal SM should be a know-it-all or should strive to become one.