The Product Owner
Who should play the role of Product Owner?
Later in this book, more time is spent on the specific tasks and responsibilities of a Product Owner. This chapter stays at a more strategic level.
In Scrum, you need a Product Owner. But it obviously takes more than just filling the role. The effectiveness of that role, and of the overall Scrum implementation, depends a lot on the type of person in that role (see Figure 1-10).
Figure 1-10 Product Owner role types by expected benefits
A scribe is likely someone on the technology side who has been tasked with capturing requirements for the Development Team. This person is often seen as the team’s secretary and is asked to write everything down during meetings with the business. He has little to no decision-making ability, which severely impacts his effectiveness as a Product Owner and causes delays.
A proxy is still likely to come from the technology side but is seen as a representative of the business, maybe even for a particular product manager on the business side. She often has a business analyst or system analyst title. The problem is that a proxy creates an unnecessary indirection between the Development Team and the real influencers.
What is a likely response from the proxy whenever the team has a question for her? “Let me go ask,” resulting in more delays.
Could the proxy get protective of her role and shut down any direct communication between the team and the business? Very likely. You surely see it all the time.
Both the scribe and proxy are on the receiving side of what goes into the product. They get told what to do. At best, they work out the details.
A business representative is someone from the business side rather than the technology side. This role is a clear improvement over the proxy role, as it demonstrates a commitment from the business toward the product. In contrast to the proxy Product Owner, this role provides more direct access to domain knowledge and stakeholder expectations. However, there may still be decision-making delays, as the business representative often has limited autonomy over product management.
A business sponsor is a big improvement on the Product Owner role. A sponsor is someone who spearheaded the initial business case and acquired the budget. Consequently, he has the trust and the mandate to make financial and product decisions on the spot. This creates fewer hiccups, less context switching, and largely improved flow. The Development Team can then focus more and get more things done sooner.
The ultimate Product Owner is an entrepreneur. This is someone who is spending her own money to fund the development of the product. This gives her complete responsibility over all product management decisions for both business and IT strategy. Now while this may not be a realistic situation for many organizations, an entrepreneurial mindset is still something that Product Owners should assume. They should expect to see a return on investment (ROI) as though their own money was at stake.
The business representative, sponsor, and entrepreneur are more on the initiating side of the product. Because of their deeper business understanding and their two-way communication, they develop a stronger customer empathy. This empathy allows them to initiate rather than simply receive the right requirements.
Keep in mind that the closer a Product Owner is to a sponsor the further he may disengage from the Development Team. Finding ways to maintain that sense of connection with the product vision becomes even more important and is what is expected of an entrepreneurial Product Owner.
Figure 1-11 provides a summary of this discussion of Product Owner roles types.
Figure 1-11 Summary of Product Owner role types