The Role Of A Product Owner As Per The Scrum Guide

Of all the Scrum roles, the product owner plays the most significant part. Besides understanding and promoting the client’s product vision to the team, the PO also fosters a healthy working environment and ensures that the project is completed well on time. Above all, the PO is also held responsible for the success and failure of the project. Therefore, the person appointed as a PO should possess certain characteristics that constitute a great leader – the product owner leads the entire Scrum team.

So what makes a good product owner? What virtues should he or she possess? The best way to know about the kind of role a PO should ideally play is to revert to the official Scrum guide and discover what it has to say regarding the role of a product owner

Create the product backlog items or user stories in the backlog

One of the biggest responsibilities of a PO is to decide what product features should be developed in the project, and to represent those features in the form of user stories or product backlog items in the backlog. The product owner is responsible for the product backlog and “owns” it on behalf of the stakeholders and clients. It is not necessary for the PO to personally create the user stories and define them in the backlog. The official Scrum guide states

“The Product Owner is responsible for the Product Backlog, including its content, availability, and ordering.”

While the guide further generalizes the role of a PO as

“The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog.”

It is not necessary for the PO to create the product backlog all by himself/herself. The PO is held accountable for the backlog. He/she can take the help of team members and the Scrum master while creating the backlog. In certain types of Scrum implementation, the PO supervises the backlog creation while the team actually defines the product backlog items as per the PO’s instructions and guidelines. Since Scrum is a framework, its core principles have to be applied to a project before its benefits can be availed. Moreover, Scrum should be implemented in accordance with the requirements of the project, and so there is a lot of scope as to how the PO can fulfill his/her responsibilities.

Order and prioritize the product backlog

In its most fundamental form, a product backlog is simply an ordered list of everything required to develop the product. The list functions as a single source of requirements for developing the product in totality i.e. it includes the functionality, acceptance criteria, description, and documentation aspects needed to make the product shippable. The guide states

“The Product Backlog lists all features, functions, requirements, enhancements, and fixes that constitute the changes to be made to the product in future releases. Product Backlog items have the attributes of a description, order, estimate, and value.”

In real life, the product backlog is dynamic in nature, and never complete.

The Product Backlog is an ordered list of everything that might be needed in the product and is the single source of requirements for any changes to be made to the product. Product Backlog is never complete. The earliest development of it only lays out the initially known and best-understood requirements. The Product Backlog evolves as the product and the environment in which it will be used evolves. The product backlog is dynamic in nature – it constantly keeps on changing to identify what the product actually needs to be appropriate, competitive, and useful. As long as a product exists, its product backlog also exists.

1. Design and plan a proper sprint goal

Since the product backlog is primarily “owned” by the PO, he or she is responsible for delivering a stable and bug-free product release, and ensure that the project is completed in time. In Scrum, since the entire development activity is carried out through the daily sprints, it is very important to design a sprint such that its goal is properly satisfied, and met, at the end of an iterative cycle. The PO conveys the product vision to the team, and one of the important duties undertaken by him/her is to design and plan a proper sprint goal. The guide says:

The Sprint Goal is an objective set for the Sprint that can be met through the implementation of Product Backlog. It provides guidance to the Development Team on why it is building the Increment.

The sprint goal is decided during the sprint planning event. The main objective of having a well-defined sprint goal is to ascertain that the development team remains focused upon how it should develop the user stories, and what criteria the stories should fulfill to be considered as “shippable”. The sprint goal includes the acceptance criteria – conditions specified in the product backlog items that have to be satisfied so the product feature developed by the team can deliver a certain business value to the client. As the PO is the person most conversant with regards what the final product should ideally deliver in terms of functionality, the success of the sprint depends a lot upon how the PO has defined the sprint goal. A lot depends upon how well the team understands the product vision and the sprint goal, and it is the PO’s responsibility to ensure that the team understands user stories up to the levels required to deliver a useful and important product increment to the customer.

Ensuring the Development Team understands items in the Product Backlog to the level needed.

2. Be available to the team

Agile Scrum advocates self-organization and self-management. Scrum teams are cross-functional and capable of working independently. In practice, the Scrum master oversees Scrum implementation and makes sure the team does not face any impediments. However, if and when the team faces a problem or a technical situation, the Scrum master may seek the guidance of the PO and ask for a solution if the team cannot resolve the issue on its own. Moreover, for issues pertaining to client or stakeholders feedback, the PO liaises between the team and the management to bring forth an acceptable solution.

The PO should remain accessible, if not physically, at least be accessible using electronic communication devices and online chats facilities to resolve issues. The team should be able to communicate freely and convey the issues to the PO when required. The PO should be available when the team needs his or her presence.

If possible, participate in the daily scrums

The daily stand up or the daily Scrum is more of a development team-Scrum master event in which the SM does what he/she is supposed to do in Scrum – oversee that basic Agile principle are properly followed by the team and the information-feedback cycle is maintained. The official Scrum guide does not suggest anything regarding whether a PO should attend the daily scrum or not. It is not mandatory for the PO to attend this event, however, if the PO does take the initiative and attend the daily Scrums, it would enhance the Scrum experience, because if such were the case, the team would be inclined to take the process more seriously. The best way to lead a team is to set an example by doing something yourself first and motivating the team to follow you.

Moreover, there is an added advantage if the PO attends the daily Scrum. It is possible to avail of a much better idea regarding how the team is performing, and what kinds of issues the team is currently facing by attending the stand-ups. The PO stays better informed, and as a result, the inspect and adapt principles can be made more effective.

Source: The Scrum GuideTM

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