The Product owner, scientist or magician ?

Last post 10:38 am July 1, 2021
10:38 am July 1, 2021

Science, in its results, is more magical than magic: it is proven magic! ”.
ADIAFFI Jean-Marie. 1995. La carte d’identité (Id card). Hatier Edition


The product owner's approaches
The Product Owner (PO) is the CEO of the product[i]. His vision takes risks and opportunities into account, which is beneficial now or later[ii]. As such, he is responsible for the following elements:
« The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.
The Product Owner is also accountable for effective Product Backlog management, which includes:
- Developing and explicitly communicating the Product Goal; 
- Creating and clearly communicating Product Backlog items;
- Ordering Product Backlog items;
- Ensuring that the Product Backlog is transparent, visible and understood

The PO believes in principles, which are materialized by the structure of the objects making up the backlog. They are ordered according to their importance, risks, dependencies, issues.
The PO's approach depends on the authority and freedom conferred on it by its organization. He can have the role of a simple scribe up to that of an entrepreneur[iv]. It is this autonomy that will determine whether the PO can drive a scientific approach (favored by Scrum) or confine it to a role of magician by a bad application of scrum or a deformation of the V-cycle.
The PO of a liberated structure[v] is a field scientist who comes out of his laboratory to confront reality. He uses Evidence Based Management metrics to base his experiences on factual and quantifiable goals. If we add the X function, our goal is to increase the T indicator by Y% within Z months. These figures are verified at the end of the production cycle by AB or AZ testing[vi] via tools which measure the reality[vii]. Making the functionalities available to users is the best possible test. These quantified returns allow the PO to inspect the assumptions in different ways. he draws conclusions as to the degree of achievement of the goal. He adapts his achievements by focusing on factual results from his discussions with the market and stakeholders[viii]. In the future, PO entrepreneurs will focus more on the reproducibility or falsification of tests to validate or invalidate the hypotheses[ix]. To summarize, a scientific product owner[x]  makes hypotheses, experiments and checks his results to adjust his choices. He works in a transparent framework, he is able to demonstrate the causes and their effects.


What is the difference between science and magic?
Since prehistoric times, humans have observed their environment and acquired principles.

If lightning strikes a tree then it ignites. Depending on the context, this fire that fell from the sky generates a negative feeling or comfort. Touching a flame burns, but transporting that fire to a cave provides light and heat. With this empirical observation of reality[xi], Man has associated beliefs to justify these cause-and-effect relationships. By beliefs we mean certainties believed to be true without proof. Primitive medicine, by its feeling of mastery of reality, is the best example of this[xii].

Magic is based on special knowledge[xiii]. In the context of medicine, the mastery of pharmacopoeia, the dosage and association of plant or animal substances made it possible to create remedies or poisons[xiv]. Magic brings beliefs to life, it gives them a physical consistency which is guided by the performance of often collective rituals. During these ceremonies, through gestures and words, nature seems to obey the magician who has the power to command it. She may comply or refuse to listen to him. In case of success nature must be thanked, in case of failure it requires redress for belief to function again.

Science, on the contrary, tries to explain phenomena with evidence. It aims to demonstrate why, under identical conditions, the same causes produce the same effects.Critical thinking, hypothetico-deductive reasoning and reproducibility are means of verifying reality. Hypotheses are made, they are verified or invalidated following the performance of experiments. In the Scrum structure[xv], the product owner positions himself as a scientist.


Why is the product owner opposed to the magician?
The Product Owner uses a scientific approach which is transparent. His interactions with other team members, stakeholders, objects (the 3 artifacts) and events (scrum ceremonies) are revealed in the scrum guide. As a man of science he is able to explain his choices factually and can demonstrate the results he produced unlike the magician.

Magician means "Man who has powers"[xvi]. The magician is based on beliefs, his knowledge is esoteric, that is, he is taught and understood only by initiates and his followers. His knowledge has a practical purpose. By magic formulas (gestures and words), he manipulates his environment to provoke an illusion of reality. The magician believes he has the ability to act on things to make them look whatever they want. His occult approach positions him in some cases as an oracle predicting the future. By manipulating language and his way of transposing reality, he reaps listening and success.

The old industrial and predictive world offered a privileged position for the magician. The most eagerly awaited sentence in a steering committee was “this project is a success”. This phrase, often given on the basis of goals set during a committee, meant supreme achievement. The proofreading of the deliverables written by the person concerned was generally based on specifications or metrics validated in previous expert committees[xvii]. These contractual and sacred elements provided a prediction on the future state of the project imagined by the members of the steering committee and their management. The perception of the product delivered to users (the market) was simply not taken into account.

The success of the committee was based on the charisma of the project manager, his ability through words and actions to create truth. The good magician dressed in his ritual clothes (his suit and tie), ideally wearing a beard and white hair, symbols of reassuring seniority and hypothetical expertise, acted as master of ceremonies. Even if he did not necessarily keep his scope, costs, or deadlines, he was worshiped, or heckled by an assembly of followers at the orders of the processes of the organization. he told, during expiatory ceremonies why the project had come to this, by finding the culprits to punish in the event of disappointments or by obtaining rewards if it happened, by artifice, to make the participants validate that the commitments were kept . Much like the old-time magician, V-cycle project manager, or PO of a Scrum Zombie organization[xviii], explains phenomena based on the beliefs of people they know how to manipulate. His success is a function of his expertise in telling a story.


I therefore invite you to position yourself as a scientist as soon as possible rather than as an apprentice magician.




[i] Edited by VERHEYEN, Gunther. 2020. 97 Things every Scrum practitioner should know. Edition O’reilly. RAITNER, Marcus, The trinity of agile leadership. P188.

[ii] SUTHERLAND, Jeff et SUTHERLAND, Jeff J. 2014. Scrum the art of doing twice the work in half the time. P234. Edition Currency New York.

[iii] SCHWABER, Ken et SUTHERLAND Jeff. 2020. Scrum Guide.

[iv] SCHUURMAN, Robbin. 2018. Growing as a Product Owner: Five Product Owner Maturity-Levels.

[v] MCCANDLESS, Keith et LIPMANOWICZ, Henri. 2014. The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash A Culture of Innovation by Keith McCandless. Voir les interprétations agiles de ces descriptions :
OVEREEM, Barry. 2019. The value of liberating structures for scrum masters.

[vi] Regarding the relationship between l’Evidence Based Management and AB testing, see MANGIORAKOS, Francois. 2021. Agile conference Paris By Night 2021 : Evidence Based Management and AB testing (speakers).

[vii] As a tool we can think of Kameleoon, Hotjar, Fullstory, but there are many others.

[viii] SCHWABER, Ken et SUTHERLAND, Jeff. 2020. Scrum Guide. « The sum of the Increments is presented at the Sprint Review thus supporting empiricism ».

[ix] MANGIORAKOS, Francois. 2021. Scrum a scientific revolution underway.

[x]  NORDSTROM Innovation Lab. 2013.

[xi] MANGIORAKOS, Francois. 2020. Scrum an empirical philosophy "Empiricism groups together philosophical doctrines that affirm that the source of knowledge is sensitive experience, that is, information perceived through our senses. The term comes from the Greek empeiria, it means "experience".

[xii] SAINTYVES, Pierre. 1920. « Therapy was originally entirely empirical, instinct and chance were the first teachers of the doctor. And this other: Medicine was at first exclusively mystical, it was born from religious ideas in the shadow of sanctuaries, took its source in oracles and revelations».

[xiii] This knowledge is said to be esoteric, it is a secret teaching known only to initiates. See MANGIORAKOS, Francois “Scrum an empirical philosophy”.

[xiv] The Pharmakon designates both the remedy and the poison, it's all a question of dosage and context.

[xv] Scrum is defined as a framework. The most suitable French translation is not framework but structure. Indeed Scrum is more than a framework, it is a structuralist approach.

[xvi] Etymologically, comes from the Latin magus, itself taken from the Greek Magos, itself taken from the Persian Magu.

[xvii] SUTHERLAND, Jeff et SUTHERLAND, Jeff J. 2014. Scrum the art of doing twice the work in half the time. Edition Currency New York. P1 à 22. Chapter 1 « The way the world works is broken » et chapter 2 « Fixing the FBI ».

[xviii] VERWIJS Christian, SCHARTAU Johannes et OVEREEM Barry.2020. Zombie scrum survival guide. The Professional Scrum series, Scrum Org.