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Ownership of Product Backlog Items

Last post 07:08 pm January 19, 2020 by Mark Adams
7 replies
06:05 pm January 16, 2020

Consider a team that has selected a set of PBI's and committed to a Sprint Goal. In such a team, should the ownership of each PBI become the responsibility and accountability of a single individual, or the collective responsibility and accountability of the whole Development Team? If for a certain PBI, a certain individual who was responsible for completing the work slacks, potentially risking meeting the Sprint Goal, then how should the Development Team react? What if the Development Team doesn't take any action? 

06:20 pm January 16, 2020

The role is Development Team and not Developer. Perhaps that indicates the answer.

09:07 pm January 16, 2020

@Ian Mitchell, Would the Scrum Master be accountable in such a case?

10:29 pm January 16, 2020

The development team is accountable. 

What if the Development Team doesn't take any action? - Then they have a different perception of what is committed.

It is not always about the items you did not completed, it is also about understanding why it was not completed. In your example,  you said, the word "slack". You need to understand and align to the team of what you describe by that word.

If the team also observed that one of their team mate is slacking, why? You need to understand why is he not doing work or why he is slacking.

12:48 pm January 17, 2020

Why do we run a Sprint? Does it run only for making a set of PBIs done or to achieve goals of the Scrum Team?

I think that the difference is in terms of who and when is responsible for something, and who and when is accountable for it. As a Development Team member, I can take responsibility for something, like doing this PBI, however, the whole Development Team remains accountable for it and all work that is considered during the Sprint needed for Increment.

That is for PBIs that you mentioned. As we should remember, Sprint Backlog is barely a forecast - not a commitment. What we commit to is a Sprint Goal, and commitment belongs to the whole Scrum Team, not only to the Development Team.

IMHO at least three of Scrum Values supports that regardless of that the Development Team is responsible for creating a "Done" Increment, the whole Scrum Team is accountable for all outcomes of the Sprint:

  • Commitment: People personally commit to achieving the goals of the Scrum Team.
  • Focus: Everyone focuses on the work of the Sprint and the goals of the Scrum Team.
  • Openness: The Scrum Team and its stakeholders agree to be open about all the work and the challenges with performing the work.  

05:21 pm January 17, 2020

First.... I give first prize to @Piotr Górajek for a wonderful explanation!!!!

Since you titled this with the word ownership and not responsibility I'll focus on that.  The entire Scrum Team owns the items that are in the Product Backlog.  Since the Sprint Backlog is a subset of items from the Product Backlog, I tend to believe that the ownership remains with the Scrum Team for the items in the Sprint Backlog.  Ownership does not neccesarily equate to responsibility or accountability. But all 3 of those are related.  

For example.  The company, for which I am a sole proprieter, owns has a fleet of cars that I have my employees drive. I do not own them, the legal entity of my company does.  Since I receive a salary from the company I am an employee. The employees that drive the cars are also responsible for the car while they are in possession.  They are also accountable for anything that occurs while they are in possession. But ownership resides solely with the company. If Bob has an accident are Mary, Tom and Sumit responsible or accountable? No but the company for which they work is so there is potential impact to them so they should be concerned about the situation. Can they fix it? Most likely not but because Bob's car is out of commission, they will most likely need to help him get his work done in order for the company to feel less impact.  Now put that into Scrum perspective where the company is the Scrum Team. 

 A Scrum Team is not a group of individuals. It is a group of people working towards a common goal. No single individual succeeds or fails.  The entire team succeeds or fails together. 

11:34 pm January 18, 2020

What if the Development Team doesn't take any action? 

How might the Scrum Master make this lack of action transparent to the Development Team? Might it be time to choose the Scrum Values to guide them to bring trust, where the Development Team can embrace conflict to work through this issue with the slacking developer?

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team might be a good read.

07:08 pm January 19, 2020

This is my pragmatic opinion based on what I have seen this before.

Assessment: How bad is the situation? Is the first time this team member has missed on their responsibilities? Or is it a pattern of behavior?

Ideally, the Development Team needs to meet collectively and address this with the Development Team member. If they can't resolve it, they should ask the Scrum Master to facilitate a conversation. Training, mentoring and coaching are all options that an experienced Scrum Master and/or Agile Coach can utilize.

Worst case scenario, if a Scrum Team member is not doing their job, and training, mentoring and coaching has been exhausted, management would need to take action. The team member's manager would need to be made aware by the Scrum Master and/or the Product Owner. 

Businesses cannot operate profitably if every person doesn't contribute to the collective.

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