Tuesday, November 10, 2015

3 things you won't get from me as a Product Owner

The Product Owner is the "single wringable neck" in Scrum. Their understanding of the product and the vision combined with their ability to decide determines success or failure of a product development team.

So, it's only fair that the Product Owner should be able to provide every information about what's going on? No.

Here are 3 things which you will not get from me when I'm a Product Owner.


If you are a team member, do not ask me to give you an assignment.

I don't assign stuff because I couldn't. I could. Easily. But I don't. Here is why:

Even before the Sprint, I determine what matters most to the Product. During Sprint Planning, we mutually agree on the team's priority. Your top priority is visible on the Scrum board. It's the topmost item that is not in the "DONE" column.

If you are uncertain which task to pick, you have team members to help you out. Again, during Sprint Planning, the team has agreed on the necessary work items required to get the Stories or Features properly done. I let you, as the team, break it down because you know your trade. And I expect that when you do that, you know what's most important and what is the next step from where you currently stand.

If you don't understand the context of something you work on, I'll gladly discuss with you. If you don't know if something is necessary in order to deliver the value, I'm also open. But I won't tell you what to do - or how to do it.

If you, as a team member, don't know what to do next, I see a serious impediment in team communication. That's something to discuss with the Scrum Master or cover in the next Retro. But the Product Owner is really the wrong person here.

Gantt Charts and Reports

If you are a manager, don't ask me for a Gantt Chart or a % progress report on your backlog items.

I don't produce these because I couldn't. I could. Easily. But I don't. Here is why:

I decide what gets done and when the team engages. I can't tell you when it's guaranteed to be done. You wouldn't want a trash product - you want quality.
Percent Progress Reports are a distraction. You already know from Windows Installer, "The last 1% may take longer than the first 99%". It takes as long as it takes.

I can tell you how big your chunk is and where it sits in my backlog. I can give you an estimate if we'll tackle it in the next sprint, within this quarter - or not.

If you're not satisfied with my answer, we can re-negotiate priority and scope, thereby getting your stuff through the door faster, but we can't negotiate quality or delivery date. Sorry.

Performance Appraisals

If you are Human Resources, don't ask me for individual performance appraisals of developers.

I don't give you an assessment because I couldn't. I could give you my opinion. Easily. But I don't. Here is why:

First, because it's just my opinion. It's tainted by how much I have interacted with that person. It does not reflect total contribution.

Second, is the team producing significant value or not?
If not, that's my problem. If they do, they are doing a good job and then that's your assessment.

Third, let me ask: Why do you even need individual appraisals? Is it "rationalization"?
Let me be witty here: You don't ask your dentist which of your teeth works best, so that you can pull those out that contribute least. You'll want to keep all of them, unless you want to reduce your diet to pulp and soup.

A team is a team. Teams have very complex mechanics. Teams work as teams. If they don't, ask the Scrum Master what they are doing. If they do, then each person has their part.

If you want any information about the team, ask the team. They know best.


As Product Owner, I will give you the most valuable product in the shortest possible time. I am not the Team Leader or a Project Manager, despite the fact that I have significant experience in those things.
We will never get anywhere as long as I act as if I were the brightest bulb in the lamp.
I trust the self-organization of highly competent individuals to do what is right.
If that is not happening, that's something to improve upon - not to undermine.

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