Who is the Product Owner?
The Product Owner (PO) is an important role within the Scrum Team. Great POs have amazing interpersonal skills. According to the Scrum Guide, the PO is accountable for maximizing the value of the deliverables of the Development Team. He maximises the return on investment (ROI) of the leadership team which he represents. The PO manages the Product Backlog (the prioritised list of features to be delivered), visibly articulating and ordering the items on the product Backlog in accordance with the business priorities. The PO makes certain that the Development Team adequately understands items in the Product Backlog. The PO acts as the ‘gatekeeper’ of the Product Backlog, therefore every member of the Scrum Team desiring to change anything must go through the PO.
The PO’s job description embodies a broad range of responsibilities and accountabilities which includes an all-inclusive mindset shift towards enhanced technical, business and strategy capabilities. The PO should not only be seen as the master strategist, but he should also be able to make decisions collaboratively with the team. A great PO will not push the team past their boundaries, he allows the team innovate and self-organise. He makes the Scrum Master and Development Team feel amazing by building an environment that makes them think out of the box. The PO needs to be available to the Scrum Team, he needs to communicate openly, understand the Scrum Team’s concerns, listen to the Scrum Team and guide the Scrum Team towards the realisation of the vision of the end product. The PO should definitely be accessible. A great PO attends team meetings and answers as many questions as the team would like to ask. The PO should be fully engaged in the project. He should work with the Scrum Team daily; responding to burning requests, and always be immediately available when problems which can delay projects come up.
When the role of the PO is filled by a team manager
When the role of the PO is filled by a team manager, especially in a ‘command and control’ (c2) environment. The possibility of collaboration with the team may be severed. This is common in many organisations where c2 management style is prevalent. There is a cause for worry when the behaviour of a PO does not help the Development Team become more autonomous and self-organising. Especially when micromanagement of the Delivery Team comes into play. Obviously, the PO should not add to the impediments, the role of the management including the PO, is to remove impediments. The role of a team manager in an agile domain ought to be that of a servant leader.
Team managers are very busy people, they have a lot to attend to. Generally, a Scrum Team does not need a too busy PO. A product owner who is too busy to adequately work with the team can be a tremendous impediment, one a good Scrum Master will work to remove as quickly as possible (Mike Cohn). The way most unavailable POs tend to address the issue is to delegate their duties to a team member, the Product Owner Proxy. Of course, this has its shortcomings. It often leads to delayed decisions. Most times, the proxy PO is not empowered to make decisions. And when the Proxy POs are empowered to make decisions, The PO can overrule the proxy’s decisions any time. The Development Team does not need a PO that does not make it to the planning meeting, refinement, reviews, and retrospective and daily stand-ups. It is important to note that the Team manager does not have to become the Product Owner.
A product owner who is too busy to adequately work with the team can be a tremendous impediment, one a good Scrum Master will work to remove as quickly as possible. Mike Cohn
How can the Scrum Master help?
There are several ways through which POs can be helped with their capabilities. The PO is a full-time job, especially with complex projects. The Scrum Master serves the PO in many ways including helping the PO understand his role. Through coaching, the PO will know that he ought to be an outstanding communicator and collaborator with excellent interpersonal skills. With the help of the Scrum Master, the PO should be able to align the Delivery Team with the project goal and focus their efforts on the end vision. Not only that, the PO ensures that the product and the project goals are clearly understood by the whole Scrum Team. If the Scrum Team understands the product, putting together a concise Product Backlog items will be much easily achievable. The Scrum Master can further help the PO to know how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximise ROI.
The Scrum Master input is needed with regards to the PO’s availability and the risks of assigning a Proxy PO; the possibility of the Delivery Team building the wrong product becomes higher with a Proxy PO. This is because the delegated authority may not have the foundational knowledge of the vision the way the PO does. The PO characteristically have long term vision through dynamic product backlog management and continuous customer interaction. The PO role is super important.