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Product Owner doesn't want to participate actively in Sprint Planning

Last post 11:54 am September 20, 2023 by Jacek Markiewicz
6 replies
02:11 pm September 24, 2019


I'm a Scrum Master and have hard times about our Product Owner. He doesn't want to participate in Sprint Planning and doesn't explain how the product must behave. Dev team doesn't know which user story/task must do. This creates conflict between dev team and product owner.

My question is how can I influence or motivate the PO to participate in this event?

Thank you, 

03:56 pm September 24, 2019

How does your PO expect the Dev team to build the right increment if he/she is not participating? The only way that Scrum works is if we have equal participation from all roles. My suggestion would be to ask your PO how the team is able to do their job correctly if they are not given the information? I also like to use analogies a lot to help with these situations. 

If you go into a restaurant for dinner. You're the customer, the server is the PO, the expediter is the SM, and the chefs are the Dev Team.

Server (PO) after you've looked at the menu: What would you like to order for dinner?

You (Customer): I'd like a Dry Aged Ribeye Steak, Medium-rare, steamed vegetables, and a loaded baked potato. I'd also like a side salad with Ranch dressing please.

Server (PO): Sounds great Dry-aged Ribey Medium Rare, steamed vegetables, loaded baked potato and a side salad with Ranch. I'll put the order in right away.

Server (PO) Goes to the kitchen and tells the expediter (SM) and Chefs (Dev Team): Table 45 needs a steak, veggies, potato, and a salad.

Expediter (SM) and Chefs (Dev Team): Wait, what cut of steak and what temp? Sauteed or Steamed vegetables, mashed or baked potato? What dressing for the salad?

Server (PO): I have other tables to attend to, I don't have time to answer these questions. Here is the ticket (Backlog) figure it out.

On the ticket (Backlog) he wrote "dry aged, perfect cook, rabbit food, spud, more rabbit food with Ranch" 

How in the world do you think you as the customer will receive the order the way you requested? How can the PO expect the team to know all of that info if he does not share it? 

By your PO not participating in the sprint planning, he is basically doing the same thing. The team cannot create a product that the customer deems valuable if they don't know what the customer deems valuable in the first place. In a scenario when the PO will not participate, the rest of the team is faced with 2 options: (1) build what they think is the right thing or (2) don't build anything until they get more info. Neither scenario works well for the customer. All roles on the team need to participate or the team as a whole is destined for failure. 

04:03 pm September 24, 2019

@Curtis, love the analogy. 


Even if the PO is involved in backlog refinement with the team and works to keep the Product Backlog 'DEEP' - (detailed, estimated, emergent, and prioritized) it's still important for them to help the team construct and understand the Sprint Goal during Planning. 

What does the PO believe they should be doing in lieu of Sprint Planning? I'd start with helping them understand the importance of their involvement to the success of the Sprint. If they get that...perhaps there's another underlying symptom at play. 

Or...perhaps this individual is not the best suited for the role. 

05:58 pm September 24, 2019

My question is how can I influence or motivate the PO to participate in this event?

Why is Sprint Planning allowed to happen at all, if the product is not important enough for its owner to attend?

07:25 pm September 24, 2019

Thank you for all your helpful answers.

@Curtis love your analogy. I'll definitely try it. Now we are in the (1) option that you mentioned. Normally, I totally agree with your (2) option but the main reason this project is still going is the top management. Unfortunately, this is company-wide problem.

@Tony, I like to explain how the things should go on and what is the benefit of it. Sometimes verbal actions works, sometimes like this situation, PO has resistance. I think this happens because of his old habits, he doesn't want to get out of his comfort zone because he must answer whenever dev team asks and so on.

I convince the dev team like "if we show some outcome with this new frame, so maybe he can believe the actual benefit of it, don't give up" By the way I'm not sure this approach is right or wrong.

@Ian, the top management wants this project because of agile transformation. But designated PO doesn't want to do or participate anything. Dev team takes initiaves and they do their understanding.

03:02 pm September 19, 2023

Hi Curtis Slough 

I like much this comparison with Server, this is exactly how I feel it. What is the role of BA in such situation ?

11:54 am September 20, 2023

There might be plenty of reasons for this behavior. The PO might not believe in and oppose Scrum altogether. The PO might not feel accountable for the product. The PO might not be in agreement with where the Stakeholder is about the product but doesn't have enough authority to oppose etc... 

I suggest trying to get the trust of the PO and have an honest conversation to uncover his views and worries and try to help him.

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