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Jun 01

The toughest mudder of them all

It came to my attention, or better said, I came to the conclusion that being a product owner in scrum is a very tough job. From one side you have to be able to deal with stakeholders and business. And on the other side you have to try to get the team build stuff that makes sense. It is tough because if you go by the book, the product owner is not allowed to manage the team. The team is protected by a scrum master and by some rules. And product owners have to negotiate with stakeholders who, in most cases, don’t give a ratsass about agile abracadabra and just want to get their projects delivered. Most of them are still wandering around in waterfall country.

If a product owner is lucky he or she can rely on the team and with help of a coach or trainer, overcome the obstacles on the path to success. But in most real live businesses the PO has to do it al alone. They might have mandate but in most cases I have seen they where easily overruled by the manager above them. Also in most companies the product owner role is not taken serious enough. It is sometimes something that someone has to do beside their normal job within the company. Sometimes he or she is also a project manager, or a designer or a manager of some sort and with that there is a lot of extra responsibilities. And it can even be worse. Because of the different priorities a PO can have due to these various roles. Commitment and focus can become a big challenge.

So how can this be solved or made less tough. How can a PO become more successful within the scrum process?

First of all, businesses will have to realize that the product owner is a very important role and a big part of the process. It is not something that you can or should do on the side. It is a dedicated job done by someone who does so willingly. It is not a very good idea to just pick someone in the company and urge them to be also the PO. Dedication and commitment is very important and companies should do everything within their power to give a product owner authority and freedom.

Second of all is that a product owner is not a stand-alone entity. The product owner is part of the team. It is in the best interest of everybody to work together to get things done. Often I hear teams respond to questions with a simple response “I don’t’ care, go talk to the product owner” this is wrong. There is a difference between talking as a team to, for instance, the business or stakeholders and actually picking up work outside of the sprint. The “talk to the po” is often used as an excuse not to take responsibility. As it is the entire teams responsibility to get work done and deliver valuable software it is up to everyone within the team to help each other. Including the product owner. Everybody should work together to get user stories ready and to get priorities clear.

Finally, stakeholders and business should realise that a product owner has it in his or her best interest to do the thing that is best for the product and therefore the business. I have seen stakeholders that look at the product owner as an obstacle between them and the team. If this happens something is wrong in the perception of these people. The product owner is there to get the upmost value out of the product. Stakeholders will have to convince everybody that the priorities they have decided on will bring profit in any sort of way. Stakeholders sometimes have the tendency to fight amongst each other to get their project pushed forward and this because they have some sort of promise they made to someone else. They often only see their own little world and not the big picture. It is up to the product owner to let them work together and show them the bigger picture. This is a hard job and for that he or she needs authority and freedom.

You can say that the product owner needs to be CRACK.

C: Committed (to the team, the project and the business)
R: Reliable (has time and is available when needed)
A: Authorized (can have the final decision and can have it fast)
C: Communicative (knows how to bring the message across)
K: Knowledgeable (needs to know what it is all about)

CRACK is a simple rule that can help a lot. Try to get a product owner in your business that has these abilities and you might get far. A product owner is not just something you do in between. It is a serious and tough job. It is a job that can be fun when done the right way. And that can bring a lot of value when executed in the most powerful way.

 

Image: MUddernation

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