Scrum Rules: Your Product Owner Has No Duties Outside the Product Owner Duties

September 9, 2020
4 minute read

The Product Owner duties make up a full-time job on a Scrum Team. The Product Owner should not be a manager, a developer or have any other partial duties outside the role of Product Owner.

This focus allows a Product Owner to complete their duties with complete focus and commitment to the success of the Product. Of course, in the creation of a Product and its vision, there are many things that need to be done with customers, users and other stakeholders, not just working with the Scrum Team directly. If the Product Owner has other duties outside of Product Owner duties, then one or more of the Product Owner duties are compromised, the Product Owner job is not being done and the team suffers. An individual who feels unable to serve as a full-time Product Owner should not accept this position or should work with their management to enable it to become a full-time position.

The way to make this position full time depends on where your Product Owner is starting. If the Product Owner is shared among multiple teams, then the first step is to get other Team Members in all but one of the teams to become “apprentice” part time Product Owners. It is better to be a Product Owner who is part time on a single team than to be a Product Owner full time but for multiple teams (due to focus). If your Product Owner has part time responsibilities and is a member of a single team, then the next step is for the Product Owner to recognize this condition as their own obstacle and to treat it like any other obstacle for a team.

In many organizations, the root cause of this problem is a lack of belief that the team deserves the investment in a full time Product Owner. In a typical team, this is an investment of less than 20% (1 out of 5 team members) in the future of the product. Since there are many organizations that understand the necessity of investment in product development and innovation, this may be a way to obtain the buy-in of your organization. The investment pays for itself quickly in business results, morale improvements and quality improvements as the Product Owner uses the time gained to remove other solve business problems, innovate and try creative experiments with the product.

Another common cause for a lack of a full-time Product Owner is the difficulty in giving the necessary authority to someone so “low” in the organizational structure. The Product Owner has the final authority on the contents of the Product Backlog and therefore on the work of the Scrum Team. This authority often resides at the Vice President level or higher in an organization. Officially delegating this authority down the a delivery team member requires changes in understanding about authority and accountability and power in the organization. It also requires that senior leaders “give up” authority that they wield comfortably and unconsciously. Leadership coaching may be necessary at the senior level just to create the cultural space for true Product Ownership.

The Product Owner is one person, not a committee. The Product Owner may represent the desires of a committee in the Product Backlog, but those wanting to change a Product Backlog item’s priority must address the Product Owner. — The Scrum Guide

For the Product Owner to succeed, the entire organization must respect his or her decisions. — The Scrum Guide

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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