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What Product Ownership might entangle

January 5, 2016

What is a 'Product Owner'?

Scrum is a framework for product development, and specifically well suited for complex products. The Product Owner is the role in Scrum to bring the business perspective to the team(s) creating and sustaining a software product. The Product Owner acts as the single representative toward the Development Team(s) for all stakeholders, internal and external, whether they are users, sponsors, managers, key users, partners, customers, a combination or otherwise.

What does a Product Owner do?

Although a Product Owner is likely to have important product management tasks outside of Scrum, work that is not covered by the rules and roles of the Scrum framework, it is important that the Product Owner actively engages with the Development Team regularly and repeatedly, not only at the Sprint Review. It enhances holistic integration of all product management aspects into the actual development, and saves people from the old ways of hand-overs, separation, blame, and miscommunication.

The Product Owner assures that a Product Backlog exists, potentially gracefully employing requirement development skills from the Development Teams.

Incremental evolution of Product Backlog

Product Backlog shows the work currently envisioned for the product. This work may comprise initiatives, functional and non-functional expectations, enhancements, fixes, patches, ideas, updates and other desirements. If anybody wants to know what work is identified and planned for the product, it suffices looking at the Product Backlog. Product Backlog upholds transparency. Product Backlog belongs to the product, not a team.

The Product Owner manages Product Backlog based on the product vision as a longer-term view of the road ahead. A product vision captures why the product is being built, which is hugely important in driving forward iterative-incremental choices. It helps the Product Owner express the expectations and ideas captured in the Product Backlog to the Development Team.

The Product Owner orders the items in the Product Backlog to optimize the value being delivered. Lower value items are actively removed from Product Backlog (see the Tea Leaves Effect). Lower value functionality is actively removed from the product.

The Product Owner manages the product budget to optimize value against effort and time for the represented stakeholders.

The Product Owner maximizes value. Period.

The Product Owner invites the required stakeholders to the Sprint Review to come work with the Scrum Team; to collaborate over what got done, what didn't get done, what relevant market trends or competition moves are. The goal is to collaboratively identify the most valuable work to do next for the Product. This is captured in Product Backlog. Obviously.

There is no absolute guarantee that the presented work product at the Sprint Review makes a happy Product Owner. However, a Product Owner not being happy with the work product is not the same as the Product Owner rejecting the work product. There is no such thing as 'rejection' of performed work. In the iterative-incremental continuum there is only one way, and that is FORWARD. GO!

Looking forward the Product Owner might:

  • Not release the Increment
  • Update Product Backlog to better reflect her/his intents
  • Have the work be adjusted via an updated Product Backlog
  • Decide to increase his/her participation in the creation process
  • Look how to increase business skills in the Development Team
  • Not fund a next Sprint or release

If the Product Owner however decides to release, no additional work is required. The Increment presented at the Sprint Review, indeed, was releasable. If this is not your standard situation, have an interesting Sprint Retrospective identifying improvements that will move you closer to it.

What does it take to be a Product Owner?

Being a Product Owner requires specific skills and traits. There are too many to mention, but an entrepreneurial spirit is certainly a helpful aspect.

Regardless, you are employing Scrum if you have the Product Owner role in place. You are more effectively using Scrum if your Product Owner has full ownership of the product, the far end of our illustrated ScrumAnd thinking ('mini-CEO'). This implies recognition of the importance of the role and strong organizational adoption of the role.

ScrumAnd for the Product Owner

Being a Product Owner entangles being a servant-leader in working with self-organizing Development Teams. Being a Product Owner is not easy. Product Ownership might entangle more than some think. It may take some time to get there.


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