Mike is a certified PMP project manager and a certified ScrumMaster. Mike was involved with the creation of the DSDM Agile Project Leader certification, holds this certification at the Foundation, Practitioner, and Examiner levels. Mike was named an honorary member of the DSDM consortium and served on the board of APLN and the Lean Software and Systems Consortium. He currently co-leads the PMI Agile Community of Practice. Mike is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 148 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile
At the risk of being accused of bashing Scrum for the second time this
week, I want to talk a little about the Product Owner role. What I want
to explore a bit is why the Product Owner is such an important
construct in Scrum... and furthermore, why it is difficult for so many
organizations to really fill it well.
The Product Owner is the
person responsible for determining what the team is going to build. This
is an important construct in Scrum because it unifies the voice of the
business for the team. The Product Owner gives the team unambiguous
direction and ensures they don't have to worry about conflicting
As a community, we seem to be backing away
from the idea of a Product Owner as the single wringable
neck... but that's really the whole point, isn't it? We need to have
ONE person that is RESPONSIBLE for telling the team what to build.
Without it, how are we sure we are building the right product? How do
we know the person defining the backlog can singularly and
authoritatively guide the output of the team?
In reality though,
how often does one person really own a product? If there really is one
person that owns the product, how often does that person have time to
sit full time with the team? Is it realistic to ask the real Product
Owner serve as Product Manager, Project Manager, and Analyst? Is it
realistic we can have one person own the vision and guide the execution
in any but the most trivial of organizations?
As Scrum goes more
mainstream, there seems to be acknowledgement that most of the time, we
have multiple people filling the role, most of whom are merely proxies
for the real decision makers. If this has become the norm, if we don't
have a single authoritative voice to guide the team, if we don't have a
single person that decides what to build, what is the point of having a
role called Product Owner anyway?
I wonder if most of us are even
honoring the basic principles behind why the Product Owner role was
created in the first place? Are we bending Scrum because the demands it
places on us are just too great?
So again, I find myself asking
questions like... if the PO doesn't really OWN the product, are we
bending Scrum past it's acceptable limits? If we have several
stakeholders in a PO team, are we doing Scrum-but? Do I REALLY have to
empower a SINGLE person to be ACCOUNTABLE for telling the team what to
build? If I don't am I really doing Scrum? Where are the limits? What
defines acceptable adaptation?
So... I think what is nagging me
here is a growing dissonance between what you might call textbook Scrum,
and Scrum as practiced in most organizations, by most people I talk
with. I don't want to bash Scrum, I want to reconcile how we teach it,
how we certify it, with how it is generally practiced. And by all
means, if we are going to certify these adaptations, I'd like to see us
start including them in our body of knowledge, however lightweight or