This article explores the critical role that Product Owners play in a Scrum project, highlighting their key responsibilities as well as some potential pitfalls for inexperienced Product Owners.
What is the Scrum framework?
The Scrum framework is a popular Agile methodology, used globally to enable high-quality, swift and efficient product deliveries when managing and delivering complex projects. Comprising of a series of iterative sprints, each sprint produces a product increment that adds value to the users. At the centre of the Scrum team lies the Product Owner (PO), who plays a critical role in defining and driving the product vision, ensuring that the ensuring that the development team builds the right product and is focused on delivering value to the customer.
Who is a Product Owner?
The PO is the single point of contact between the development team, the specialists who have the responsibility of building the product, and the business stakeholders, who are the Subject Matter Experts.
The PO is responsible for defining the product vision and communicating it to the team. The PO works closely with stakeholders and customers to understand their needs and requirements. They determine precisely what gets built and in what order, focusing on the business value that is delivered. A scrum team cannot function without a dedicated PO.
What are the responsibilities of a Product Owner?
An effective PO will be skilled, empowered and have the bandwidth to do all the required work. At a high level, these are the main responsibilities:
- Product Vision: The vision acts as a quick reference or a guide to the entire team and interested parties. It summarises the basics (Who, What, How?) and should provide the following details:
- Target group – Who is this product built for? Who are the primary users?
- Goals – What are the goals and why do users buy the product?
- Needs – What do the users need to achieve the goal?
- Value – What value does the target group expect to receive for the product?
- Key features – How are the user needs met? What are the main features that the product will have?
- Product Backlog: The PO compiles the backlog of requirements and prioritises them with the users in accordance with the product goals. The backlog is a dynamic list and needs to be updated regularly in response to changing requirements as the development progresses. Prioritisation of the backlog is very important to keep the list of requirements relevant with the most value-generating requirements kept at the top of the list.
- Oversee development & appraise progress at each iteration: The PO has the responsibility of choosing which requirements (PBIs – Product Backlog Items) are selected for an iteration. While the Specialists/Development Team refine the PBIs (elaborate the requirements), the PO supports them with the required details. The PO should be available to respond to all the team enquiries and consider suggestions for enhancing the goals. Significant time must be spent on evaluating the progress of the product and accept the work done during the iteration.
- Demonstrate the work and continue user research: The PO has the duty of showcasing the increment of the product to the appropriate stakeholders and obtain feedback. An active PO will obtain feedback and continue user research, while the development team works on the next set of priorities
What are some of the pitfalls for a Product Owner?
The most common pitfalls that an inexperienced PO could land into are:
- Insufficient engagement with stakeholders: The PO needs to work closely with stakeholders to understand their needs and expectations. Without proper engagement with stakeholders, the product may not meet their needs, and the project may fail.
- Inability to make hard decisions: The PO needs to make tough decisions, such as rejecting work that does not meet the acceptance criteria or reprioritising backlog items. Inability to make tough decisions can impact the quality of the product and delay the project.
- Lack of prioritisation: The PO needs to prioritise the backlog items based on customer needs and requirements. It is important to consider both internal and external stakeholder needs while prioritising. Without proper prioritisation, the team may end up working on low-value items, which can delay the delivery of the product.
- Inadequate refinement prior to sprints: The PO should have the most granular items at the top so that the items picked up into the sprint have sufficient amount of detail for the development team to progress. An inexperienced PO might take the high priority items into the upcoming sprint without sufficient granularity and adequate detail, potentially causing the development team to struggle to achieve the sprint goal.
- Not learning from results of previous sprints: The Scrum framework strongly suggests holding a retrospective at the end of each iteration. This is a learning session that provides an opportunity for the entire team to inspect and adapt to the previous iterations. Although facilitating this event is not a PO responsibility, an astute PO would be keen to understand leanings from the previous sprint and take them forward to aid the next set of increments.
- Poor communication: The PO needs to communicate the product vision, goals, and backlog items clearly to the team and stakeholders. Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings and delays in the project.
- Lack of vision: The PO needs to have a clear understanding of the product vision and goals. Without a clear vision, the team may end up working on the wrong things, and the product may not meet the customer's needs.
So, why is the Product Owner so critical?
The utmost responsibility of a PO is to “deliver value” to the client through the product increments.
Not having an PO who is empowered to be the final arbiter of requirement questions and make key decisions can lead to some of these outcomes:
- The delivery or increment isn’t something that the client needs
- Rework required
- Delayed product delivery
- Poor quality
- Scope creep
How NextWave can help
NextWave’s consultants have extensive industry experience, knowledge, formal training and qualifications that enable them to run and deliver agile programs successfully, as well as devise clear strategies for growth companies.
Our senior leadership teams have implemented control frameworks across large organisations that can monitor how mature the existing model is by measuring key metrics, such as the business outcomes and epics associated with each product. We can then tailor training sessions on Agile, providing practical advice on using Agile well and suggesting improvements to your existing ways of working.
Speak to us to further to understand how we could manage your product rollouts effectively.