The Product Owner accountability is critical for the success of the Scrum team. And yet, the characteristics of the Product Owner are not described in the Scrum Guide. Product Owners must understand the organization's business strategy and use that information to create the Product Goal. The Product Owner decides what is the most important thing to do next, and creates a single, ordered list from which the Scrum Team pulls its work - the Product Backlog. That might sound straightforward, but the Product Owner must weigh competing business needs carefully. It’s a position of strategic importance to the organization. A Product Owner needs excellent communication skills for continuous collaboration with stakeholders to update the product roadmap and list of most valuable items to complete next.
In our recent article, Characteristics of a Great Product Owner in Scrum, we described some of the characteristics of great Product Owners. In this article, we have crafted interview questions to help identify the best Product Owner for your Scrum team.
Relevant business experience:
It’s important that the Product Owner understands that their accountability is not just about product delivery; it’s about strategy, and that means understanding customer’s needs. The Product Owner doesn’t have to have experience in your particular industry, but it can be a big plus. The following questions can help you gauge whether the Product Owner candidate has experience in your industry.
Possible interview questions:
Can you describe your understanding of the product's marketplace, including customer wants, needs, and pain points?
How do you collaborate with the team and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to document the product's business model canvas?
Focused on Incremental Delivery:
Scrum relies upon incremental (usable), iterative (frequent) delivery to provide valuable products to customers sooner. Incremental delivery really is at the heart of Scrum. The purpose of each Sprint is to deliver a usable increment of product which meets the Sprint Goal. The Scrum team relies upon a well refined Product Backlog to make this happen. Each Product Backlog item (PBI) on the Product Backlog should be designed to deliver a unit of value to the customer. That means the Product Owner shouldn’t create separate “development” and “testing” PBIs, PBIs should not focus on a single technology layer - unless, of course, it would result in something usable for the customer. That means that if your product is a website, you wouldn’t create a database table unless it’s connected to a web form.
The importance of incremental delivery cannot be overstated. It is the ability to deliver value in smaller, usable pieces that is the power behind the Scrum framework. The following interview questions will help you gauge the candidate's understanding of incremental delivery.
How do you ensure that each Product Backlog item delivers value to the customer incrementally?
How do you help the team unlearn habits from older methods that hinder incremental delivery?
Updates the Product Backlog Frequently:
It is important that the Product Owner stays on top of the Product Backlog to ensure that the Scrum team has ready work for each Sprint Planning event. The following interview questions will help you understand the candidate’s interest in this important task while also testing to see whether the Product Owner collaborates well with Developers.
How do you ensure that the Product Backlog is frequently updated to maximize transparency and team collaboration?
How do you prioritize and right-size Product Backlog items to support successful delivery within a Sprint?
Has a Benefit Mindset:
A mindset focused on benefit is focused on purpose, and making valuable contributions which help the product to provide a benefit (whether societal or for the customer) through the medium of the product supported by the Product Owner. The following interview questions can help you understand whether the Product Owner has a positive mindset which is focused on product value.
How do you cultivate a benefit mindset within the Scrum Team to focus on the "why" behind each task?
Can you provide examples of how the benefit mindset has positively impacted your decision-making process?
Clearly Articulates Goals:
The Product Owner is accountable for the product goal, which serves as a target that the Scrum team can plan towards. The goal provides focus for the Scrum team. Without it, the Scrum team is like a ship without a rudder. The following interview questions gauge whether the candidate understands the importance of having a clearly articulated goal fo the Scrum team.
How do you create and communicate a clear, measurable Product Goal aligned with the product vision?
How do you ensure that PBIs support the Product Goal and contribute to the achievement of organizational strategic goals?
Thinks Like an Entrepreneur:
The more empowered a Product Owner is, the greater value that they can provide to the organization. Empowered Product Owners maximize value by thinking line an entrepreneur for their Product. These interview questions can help you understand whether the candidate has an entrepreneurial mindset.
How do you approach product ownership with an entrepreneurial mindset, considering long-term success and customer attraction?
How do you balance technical debt, stakeholder requests, and desirable features to ensure the product's viability over time?
Sometime the Product Owner needs to ‘make the call’. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. These interview questions gauge the candidates ability to make a decision under pressure.
How do you handle situations where you must say "no" to stakeholders while championing what is right for the product?
Can you provide examples of decisions you have made to prioritize technical debt and align with the Product Backlog content?
Works well with Developers:
In order to maximize the value of the product, the Product Owner must successfully collaborate with many types of stakeholders. It is especially important that the Product Owner must be able to collaborate well with the developers on the Scrum team. These interview questions can help you understand how well the Product Owner candidate will be able to work with the Developers on your Scrum team.
How do you collaborate and develop a good rapport with the Developers to maximize the team's effectiveness?
How do you incorporate valuable suggestions from Developers into the Product Backlog and decision-making process?
Great at Stakeholder Management:
Maximizing the value of the Product is not a one-person job. It requires establishing relationships and gathering information. Important perspectives can come from internal as well as external stakeholders. These questions can help you gain an understanding of the candidate’s experience in working with stakeholders.
How do you establish trust with stakeholders and manage their expectations effectively?
What communication plan do you use to ensure stakeholders receive the necessary information and provide feedback?
Creates a Reliable Forecast:
Creating a forecast can help the Product Owner guild trust and establish expectations. It is one of the first thing that many Product Owners focus on. These questions can help you understand the Product Owner’s experience in creating a forecast and setting expectations with internal and external stakeholders.
How do you collaborate with the Developers to create a reliable delivery forecast based on the Product Backlog ordering and team's delivery rate?
How do you communicate the forecast to stakeholders and ensure it aligns with the product's goals and timelines?
The Product Owner’s importance to the Scrum team cannot be overstated. It’s important to ensure that the Product Owner works well with your Scrum team and that they have the skills and background that will help them maximize the value of the product for your organization. By asking these interview questions, you can assess the candidate's alignment with the characteristics of a great Product Owner. The responses will help you identify a candidate who possesses the relevant business experience, prioritizes incremental delivery, demonstrates a benefit mindset, and exhibits effective collaboration and stakeholder management skills, contributing to successful product development and delivery within the Agile framework. Ensure the candidate's responses are backed by real-world examples and experiences to validate their effectiveness as a Product Owner.
To learn more about the Product Owner accountability in Scrum, signup for Rebel Scrum's Advanced Professional Scrum Product Owner course.
Join us at Madison's Scrum Day conference for an interactive Q&A session with Scrum leaders. We'll build and order a backlog of questions from the audience and take turns diving into your questions with Scrum experts and experienced practitioners.