Scrum Rules: Your Product Owner Avoids Telling the Team How to Solve a Technical Problem

September 23, 2020
3 minute read

Solving technical problems is the job of the product developers on the Scrum Team, not the Product Owner. The Product Owner is responsible for the product from a business and user perspective and has authority over the team only in this limited realm.

By overstepping the bounds of authority to solve a technical problem, the Product Owner becomes an obstacle for the team by reducing its ability to self-organize. A Product Owner who is part of a team that has reached a high-performance state may be able to safely make technical suggestions, but should always be careful not to push the team to accept those suggestions.

This is mostly a problem for Product Owner who have strong technical backgrounds related to the product that the Scrum Team is developing. For these people, the challenge is mostly around ego. The technical background a person has often leads them to believe they can solve technical problems better than any number of other talented technical contributors. Overcoming ego is an age-old philosophical challenge – but there are a few environmental conditions that can help a Product Owner who is willing to give up making technical decisions:

  1. Ask the Scrum Master for help ensuring that the Development Team is self-organizing by “blocking” this behaviour.
  2. The organization officially gives the Product Owner responsibility for business results! This will help ensure that the Product Owner is focused on non-technical concerns.
  3. Likewise, relieving the Product Owner of any technical authority can help. This is often necessary in the case where the product owner used to be a Business Analyst or a Business Systems Analyst. In this case, it is critical that that authority be explicitly replaced with Product Owner authority in order to ensure that the change is not seen as a demotion.
  4. Provide a leadership coach for the Product Owner. The Product Owner is a leader, not a micro-manager. Many people are given leadership positions without the support do do well in those positions. A coach can make a huge difference with both skill development and encouragement to let go of old behaviours.

Development Teams have the following characteristics:…

They are self-organizing. No one … tells the Development Team how to turn Product Backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality

— The Scrum Guide

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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