Question: Chris just did a scrum workshop for us and it was GREAT–I learned a TON. I have a follow-up question about the scrum role of product owner, and how we should implement it in our organization. The way we are doing this, the Product Owner is also the Product Manager. Is this typical? This seems potentially like two different jobs to me–one who goes to customers and gathers requirements, and one who is available during the sprint to answer questions about how things should work. I asked one of our brand new POs how he was going to do this, and he said that once the sprint starts, he does not need to work with the team. This was not my understanding, but I’m not sure.
Answer: On very large projects, it is common to have a high-level product manager setting the over-all direction for a product. That product manager might work with several teams, each of which might have their own product owner. Each product owner would maintain the backlog for their team. It might be true that the product manager is a bit more customer-facing and the product owner a bit more team-facing. That said, you don’t want the product owner to simply be a pass-through between the product manager and the team; what value would they be adding? Instead, you want the product owners to work closely with the product manager, customers, and the other product owners in order to understand and prioritize (order) the stories in their team’s product backlog in way that supports the overall direction and goals.
It sounds like your new product owner has the common misconception that all they have to do is capture requirements and then relay them to the team. If only it were that easy. In reality, it’s a lot of work to truly understand the needs of users and customers, as well as the needs of our own business. Once a product owner has this understanding, it’s also a lot of work to help the whole team share this understanding.
The product owner will have many conversations with the team about each user story. Some are informal one-on-one conversations. Some are formal conversations with the whole team, such as during the regular story time meetings (A.K.A. backlog grooming sessions). During these conversations the product owner, along with the other members of the scrum team, will craft and refine a set of acceptance criteria for each story. These acceptance criteria are pass/fail, testable conditions, that define what it means for the story to be successfully completed.
The product owner will want to see demonstrations of work in progress on a daily basis, so that they can provide guidance and feedback to help the team build something that best serves the users’ needs. The more frequently the team gets feedback, the easier it will be to make the needed adjustments.
Additionally, it is useful for the product owner to be a regular attendee at the team’s daily scrum. They don’t need to be there all the time, but the more often they can attend the better. At the daily scrum, team members share impediments that are impeding their progress. Often these impediments are questions that need answering before the team member can proceed, and often the product owner can answer these questions.
You might want to checkout our downloads page, and print out a copy of “What is a Scrum Product Owner?” as well as “As a Scrum Product Owner You…” handouts. Pass them on to your new product owner! Better yet (here come’s the totally self-serving bit), sign them up for one of our upcoming Certified Scrum Product Owner workshops.