The role of the Product Owner when scaling Scrum


A Scrum team is made up of a Product Owner, a development team and a Scrum master. This model works incredibly well at the team level. But what happens to the role of Product Owner as we grow?

Product Owner at the single team level

The Scrum Guide is a model of precision and clarity. In just 17 pages (16 if you exclude the endnote and acknowledgments), it describes the roles, events and artifacts of Scrum and the rules that bind them.

Regarding the Product Owner, it is said “The Product Owner is the only person responsible for the management of the Product Backlog”. and “The Product Owner is a person, not a committee.”

Victim of its own success?

For a single Scrum team, these role requirements are no problem. But driven by the positive results of these teams, organizations want more. The obvious way to get more is to add scrum teams, right? It is possible, but do not consider this option if you are late. All you’ll do is reinvent an agile variant of Brooks law.
Organizations have struggled with Scrum on a large scale for years. There are a number of solutions offered. Most of them share the opinion that when it comes to Product Owner, we have one per product. Not one per team. As I say in my Scrum courses “There can only be one! Flashback cue from the 1980s and the movie “Montagnard”.

But this poses a problem. A Product Owner working with a single team is easily achievable. But how do you change the role of Product Owner when working with three or more teams?

Delegation & Automation

Scrum is not a quick fix. It’s a framework on which we overlay our chosen tactics and techniques. One technique that has stood the test of time, and is inherently nimble, is delegation. We trust others and empower them to act on our behalf.

There is no shortage of examples of successful delegation:

– Organizations have only one leader. They bear a great responsibility and cannot do everything themselves. They have to delegate the work to others.

– The armies have only one general. With lives at stake, Army generals probably bear the greatest responsibility of all. They cannot guide the work of every soldier in a battle. They must delegate this work to others.

In our Scrum context, the Product Owner has full responsibility for his product. When delegating their work, they should be careful not to try to delegate their responsibilities. This means that we do not create roles like “Assistant Product Owner” or “Chief Product Owner”. Instead, we delegate some of the work that a Product Owner could do. For example:

– Writing of the elements of the product backlog: generally best done by the development team.

– Publication and maintenance of the product backlog.

– Providing value estimates for product backlog items – usually best done by stakeholders or customers requesting the feature (s).

Another way to lighten the Product Owner’s workload is through automation. We integrate some of the Product Owner’s tasks into the product. For example:

– Create an easy-to-use, in-product, online feedback / suggestion form.

– Automate reports on key usability metrics from logs to identify trends in what people use most and least.

– Open feedback / suggestion / reporting tools to the whole team and involve them more in the creation of PBI.

Summary

In a nutshell: when scaling Scrum, remember that a single product may well have multiple teams working on it, but it still only has one Product Owner. To ensure the role can scale successfully, we are investing in delegation and automation to lighten the workload of Product Owners, while maintaining their overall responsibility for the product.

If you would like to learn more about Scrum, find Scrum training, or take a Professional Scrum certification assessment, you can visit Scrum.org.

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About Byron G. Fazio

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