Monday, May 3, 2010

The Most Important Role in Scrum: The Product Owner

The product owner has a lot of responsibilities; one of them is to address 3 out of the 5 generally cited levels of planning. He or she is responsible for the Vision, Roadmap and Release Planning.

"The vision describes why a project is being undertaken and what the desired end state is (Schwaber 2004, p. 68 [2])." Without the vision, projects drift from release to release never fully achieving any significant ROI, and eventually being cancelled. I find it to be a smell when the team can't describe why a project is being undertaken.

Much has been written about the vision, and you can find more in this great article by Roman Pichler [1].

A product owner is also responsible for the product roadmap. This important artifact lists what high level features will be available on each release. The roadmap also creates a cadence to customers on how often and what to expect in a new release (if/when it is made public). The knowledge of the roadmap creates a sense of security on customers and can lead to a better rate of acquisition and retention.

The Release Plan lists all the minimal marketable features in a lower level of detail than on the roadmap. The product owner balance between the release and the time it takes to produce it. Release externally too often and you might fail to generate excitement about it, release not often enough, and risk losing your customer base to your competition.

A product owner's job doesn't end at the release planning, he/she will have to help the team break down the features into smaller stories so that they can be estimated, define success criteria, etc. In projects I have seen where the development teams were most productive (hyper productive?), the success definition or acceptance criteria was so clear, that the team was able to estimate the story with accuracy. The design and testing was simple, and the number of defects low. It is important to note though that this type of backlog grooming sometimes requires the whole team. The product owner should be able to rely on other team members to help.

In Summary, the product owner is the role that can make or break a product or project and a team as a consequence. It is not only responsible for making sure that the team is producing high ROI, but instrumental in helping achieve hyper productivity.




[2] Schwaber, Ken. Agile Project Management with Scrum. Microsoft Press. 2004.

Pragmatic's Product Management Framework


Devon said...

So true... I can attest to this.

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