Chapeau! to the Product Owner

Chapeau! to the Product Owner

Introducing Scrum in a company usually consists of the following steps:

  1. Having a Scrum Basics workshop with as many people from the company as possible to make sure everybody understands the new way of working and is familiar with the basic terms and artefacts.
  2. Working with at least one team operatively as a Scrum Master, to not just tell them about Scrum but to actively live Scrum with them. Usually this comes with the role of an Agile Coach for the whole company.

As a Scrum Master as well as an Agile Coach I tell Product Owners from my particular perspective how to fill their role appropriately. But now something changed: Recently I became a Product Owner myself. This experience changed my perspective on the work of a Product Owner significantly.

You know, as a Scrum Master it’s simple:

  • The Product Owner isn’t well prepared for the Sprint Planning? Explain to him how to write User Stories, make him put on regular Backlog Groomings with the team, support if necessary.
  • The Product Owner is afraid to decide something being asked by the team? Tell him it’s his job to take decisions.
  • Oh, he wants to cover his ass doublecheck with the Head of Product who’s not available until the day after tomorrow? Make sure the Product Owner understands that he’s in charge and that the team needs answers now. “Straighten your back! Take responsibility!“.

As a Coach its’s quite similar but less demanding:

  • Given this situation a good Product Owner does it as follows: …
  • Did you consider …? In my experience this worked quite well.

Having passed the two steps above and given the Scrum Master role to an internal colleague, I was still working as an Agile Coach for my current client. Unfortunately a Product Owner quit on short notice and no one was around to take over the role, that’s why I offered to jump in. Given my knowledge and my experience this shouldn’t be a problem. And indeed: Regarding anything related to Scrum it wasn’t. But in terms of workload and nuts and bolts I got a completely new perspective of the Product Owner role.

Still being a Coach for the whole company I expected myself to lead by example.

  • I tried to write perfect User Stories for my team, thinking them through before presenting them to the team, including acceptance criteria and a How-to-demo-section. You won’t believe how time-consuming this can get. And you will never be perfect, there will always be questions from the team. The challenge is finding the fine line between preparing a User Story without wasting time and getting into Story-writing with the team.
  • I try to be around for my team all the time. But being a Coach for the company at the same times requires my presence in some other teams and meetings as well. It’s nearly impossible to be a Product Owner by the book if you aren’t dedicated full time to this role.
  • My team sometimes has detailed questions for me. I know I’m in charge to decide which way to go but sometimes I just can’t, because I don’t have the domain knowledge. And before I take an unqualified decision I ask someone for advice.

In nearly all companies I got to know the Product Owner didn’t have the competencies requested by the Scrum Guide. There’s usually some Head of Product taking decisions for the overall product.

My current role as a Product Owner doesn’t even include stuff like deciding about features, running user experience test, talking to the customer, getting to know my market. But even with this reduced taskset I can see some of the challenges a Product Owner is confronted with each day.

Don’t get me wrong: I really like working as a Product Owner and I’m grateful to be given a chance to look at this role from the inside.

With my new experience and perspective as an operational Product Owner I now understand the needs and fears of my coachees much better and will hopefully be able to support them in a better way in the future.

On that note: Chapeau! to all the Product Owners doing a great job, fighting for awesome products every day!

This article is also available in german.

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