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    August 25, 2015

    ”There’s no “I” in Team, but there’s “US” in Success”

    Being a Product Owner is a really hard job. I have been hearing this for a long time and it has come out in almost all of the retrospectives in one way or the other over the years.  Here are a few recurring themes I hear:

    Product Owners and decision – making
    I often hear things like – “My Product Owner doesn’t make decisions quickly enough or by themselves. It feels like they have to check with their leaders even before making even the most trivial decisions.”

    My questions or thoughts revolve around – is it really a person thing, or is it pointing to the management not providing Product Owner the authority to do so? Is it the management’s mandate for the Product Owner to seek approvals before making any decisions?

    If that’s the case then not getting the questions answered in timely manner can impact the completion of work and eventually has a significant impact on Time to Market. It is probably how the organization is structured and the organization probably needs to shift from a Do Agile to a Be Agile mode.

    Product Owner is not technical
    When did the requirement to be a Product Owner become technical?  A Product Owner doesn’t need to be technical. They need to answer the team’s what’s not really the how’s.

    Going back to the Agile Principles: The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

    Product Owners should not be the ones providing teams the technical direction. They should be able to provide the vision to the teams.

    Teams are the ones who make the technical decisions around the design and architecture. The entire team and the Product Owner can look into the various design options and discuss the trade-offs but it is the team that is responsible for the how the implementation will take place and how long would it take.

    Product Owner is not available to make the decisions
    Being a Product Owner is a full time job. A Product Owner should have ample time to sustainably carry out their responsibilities. If the individual is overworked, the team’s progress suffers and the resulting product may be suboptimal.

    At a workshop this week many of the Product Owner attendees were overwhelmed with the length and breadth of the Product Owner role.  They said things like, “As a Product Owner should I be making all the decisions?”, and “Are they really a single- wringable Neck…..but why??”

    This role is by no means is an easy role. They have to be constantly engaged in conversations with the stakeholders, keeping a check on the pulse of the market, looking at trends and innovation but at the same time be available with the team to answer all the questions.

    I feel very strongly about the Product Owner making the decisions – at a team level the Product Owner is expected to make the decisions. They are responsible for providing the answers to the team. Be the single point of query or decision making body for the team. The Product Owners should be available to the team at least for some dedicated team time or core hours every day.

    You should be that leader for the team so the Team does not have to look any further.  The Team can just ask questions of you and get an answer and be sure what is required off them to fulfill the commitment that they made during the sprint planning or the PI planning.

    But in all honesty is it Team Vs Product Owner….not really
    The memories of best teams that I carry in my heart are the ones in which all of us worked together. We were open enough to call out ‘hey, need you for this and that,” or “I need …….this from you,” and “you need to show up for this meeting and be available at this time…”.

    The team (onsite and distributed), Scrum Master and Product Owner all were available during core hours and would address things as they came. Does the level/seniority of Product Owner in the organization matter in the quality of decisions they make? Or is it how much confidence and trust their team and leadership places on them?

    Before we start to worry if we have the best Product Owner in the whole world, or if we can be the best Product Owner, it’s important to remember that Product Owners, like the rest of the team, need time and support to acquire the necessary skills.

    Everyone has their unique strengths and weaknesses and that’s what we bring to the team. A Product Owner might be great at providing the vision for the product, interacting with the team and stakeholders, but may not be the best at writing user stories.  In areas of inexperience or weakness, the team would pitch in, helping with the work and enabling Product Owner growth.

    So, ultimately what matters is the ‘We’ as in team not ‘I’ as a Product Owner.

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