Product Owners – The Guardians
I just read an article (blog posting) on the Scrum Alliance Website that discusses the role of Product owner in an Agile Scrum project. The author, Roman Pitchler makes some great points regarding the critical importance of the role of the Product Owner on the scrum team. As you might surmise he discussed the close relationship to the scrum team in order to provide guidance in the molding of the end result. In addition, he describes the Product Owner as the one that prioritizes what will be done next as it relates to the needs of the business. He discusses the idea of proactive stakeholder management, gathering the thoughts, opinions, desires and expectations of all the various stake holders of a project to ensure that the software system is “hitting on all cylinders” if you will.
The most striking comment that I believe summarizes the primary role of the Product Owner was contained in one sentence:
“The product owner should express what value is from a customer perspective and focus the development efforts toward providing that value.”
This I believe is the true essence of the Product Owner role. Product Owners should be considered “the guardians” of the customer/business value dimension. The Product Owner is the anointed one that needs to decide if a feature on the feature/function list (product backlog) provides REAL value to the business, and that means quantifiable value. Will it streamline processes and save time (by how much?), will it make work easier and contribute to worker productivity (how much easier and by how much?), will it increase revenues (by how much?), will it reduce operating expenses (by how much?), will it increase our visibility as a company (by how many people, how often?). And, the Product Owner must be completely in tune with the overall corporate objectives to ensure that these REAL business value measures are in sync with the overall business directions and goals.
It is all too easy to proclaim a business analyst or program/project manager as Product Owner only to be influenced by the wishes and desires of strong willed personalities, authority figures or favored peers. The Product Owner, therefore, needs to be fully trained and experienced in the role of Product Owner, walk in lock-step with the corporate executives (in fact I would suggest a direct reporting relationship to the business executives), embrace the overall corporate objectives, justify the selection of target features and functions based on real value, be granted sufficient authority and accountability to ensure that business value is delivered, and be recognized and rewarded for eliminating extraneous “fat” (non or low business value contributors). Selecting and preparing the right Product Owner that will diligently and passionately drive business value should be the number one critical success factor in making Agile-Scrum work.
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