Jul 02

The hell with the Product Owner!

Last weekend I watched a rugby game on television for the first time in my life. I don’t normally watch much sports but I think that I watched it for a while because the teams were forming a scrum. This is an image we use for our presentations about the Scrum framework a lot. It’s a very nice picture: One team and one mindset.

In every day life things are often different. I picture that when the game starts one of the team members slips. The first time he slips there isn’t a problem but the second time the hands of the men on both sides of him slide from his back. Quickly these two men have a strong grip on each others shoulders and they continue pushing forward. There is an entirely different view now: One slightly smaller team and one man left behind, who will get most likely blamed if things do not work out.

This situation is very similar to how quickly teams leave a Product Owner behind when he or she slips. How quickly teams then tend to strictly follow a plan instead of responding to change.

“The hell with the Product Owner! We don’t have time for this. Don’t bother asking how he wants it and let’s just do it. He does not understand agile”

This is partly explainable. Teams are focussed on the processes within the project. They need this so they can improve as individuals and as a team. For the Product Owner however these processes are only a (small) part of the project. The team demands that he or she understands the processes and keeps up with the team. But he or she also needs to find out what has the most business value and as a bonus needs to get stakeholders together and explain the agile mindset to their management. This is still a very important, heavy and very underestimated role.

Here is a lot to gain for agile teams. In order to really create the most business value a Product Owner needs more help. It’s not about the last man standing. It is all about team effort. “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…..”.

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  • J. Koster

    I don’t really get the cited grayed text in your story. Who do you cite and what exactly does he/she want? Do they prefer to get rid of the PO?

    • Niels Talens

      The cited grey text is an illustration of the mindset in certain teams whenever they feel the PO is the bottleneck. The problem here is that they often do not even try to help the PO to get better or assist the PO were necessary and blame this person for all that’s wrong.