Senior Product Owner. Confused?

Last post 11:09 pm December 7, 2014
by Joe Stewart
4 replies
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07:50 pm December 1, 2014

I’m a fairly new Scrum Master, having completed my CSM course + exam about 3 months ago. My organisation, which traditionally has been a conservative waterfall organisation, has chosen our department to lead the charge adopting Agile.

I have a question – where does Senior Product Owner fit? Our organisation has hired a few Senior Product Owners, and I don’t know where they fit. My Scrum Team now has a Product Owner and a Senior Product Owner.

From what I’ve informally learned, the Senior Product Owner seems to have authority over the Product Owners, and seems to have authority over multiple Scrum Teams. Apart from that I’m scratching my head as to the difference between them and a Product Owner?

We just had a mid-sprint backlog refinement, the Product Owner was silent and the Senior Product Owner did everything, however it seems the Senior PO is a re-badging of the Project or Programme Manager?

I’ve done a search for a better understanding or definition of a Senior PO, but in my limited time doing so haven’t had any real answers.

09:22 am December 2, 2014

Hi Joe,

I'm not sure if I can help you, as I'm new to Scrum either. But as no one else has reacted yet, I'd like to share my thoughts with you:

From this Forum and the Scrum Guide I've learned:
- a Senior Product Owner isn't a role in Scrum
- big products can be split up in smaller product parts
- in this case, several Scrum Teams can work on the same product - either having a shared Product Backlog and Product Owner or having their own Backlog and Product owner (Scrum of Scrums)

And these are my conclusions from that regarding your situation:
- in the latter case it could be sensible to have some "Senior Product Owner" who coordinates the different Product Backlogs and Product Owners
- every Development Team should have only one "contact person"-Product Owner who prioritizes, explains and orders their (part of the) Product Backlog

What do you think?

12:47 pm December 2, 2014

> Our organisation has hired a few Senior
> Product Owners, and I don’t know where they
> fit. My Scrum Team now has a Product Owner
> and a Senior Product Owner. 

In Scrum there's no notion of seniority in regards to the Product Owner role.

It may well be the case that you have an aggregate Product consisting of component Products, the backlogs of which articulate into a backlog for which the "senior" PO is accountable. However, this does not mean, and should not be taken to mean, that this PO has authority over the others. Rather, the PO of the aggregate product should be seen as one of the stakeholders with whom the other PO's are expected to liaise.

The principle in Scrum is that each PO must be wholly accountable for the Products they represent and must wholly own the associated Product Backlogs. They cannot defer this accountability to any other authority.

01:07 pm December 2, 2014

Incidentally, there is a related question in the "Scrum at Scale" assessment. The correct answers (B and D) show that while there is only a Product Owner role and with no notion of seniority between PO's, it is reasonable for the responsibility of owning specific products to be delegated.

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A multi-national company, which has five major products, is using Scrum for product development. Which statements are the two best alternatives for how many Product Owners exist? (Choose 2.)

Correct answer: B) D)
You chose: B) D)

A)

As many as are needed to communicate expectations and requirements with Development Teams.

B)

One specific Product Owner is responsible for all five products. This Product Owner may delegate to others for specific value, capabilities, and functionality within each product.

C)

One and only one. The Product Owner may not delegate to others for specific value, capabilities, and functionality.

D)

One specific Product Owner is responsible for each product. This Product Owner may delegate to others for specific value, capabilities, and functionality within the product.

11:09 pm December 7, 2014

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the replies. Given the size of the organisation, I think I now see where the Senior PO sits. We have around 16 teams, all with their own backlogs and features to deliver. All of their work ends up in the one application. We have 3 or 4Senior PO's, my guess is they co-ordinate the input of the 4-5 PO's they're assigned to and filter that up to the business.

@ Ian: Thanks for the questions for Scrum at Scale, that actually explained a lot.
@ Anke: Thanks, that helped clear things up a little.