Product Owners have a hectic existence. They’re called upon to make important decisions constantly. The world is swarming with ideas and opportunities competing for attention. One of the favorite parts of my job as a Scrum Master is working with Product Owners. When I can help my Product Owner to find a focus that leads to our team delivering better things, I know that I am delivering good value as a Scrum Master.
“The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from work of the Development Team.” This is a quote from The Scrum Guide. Maximizing value is a big responsibility, and it is all on the Product Owner to lead this.
Notice that I said “to lead this”, and not “to do this”.
The Product Owner needs to be able to express the results of their very important decision making around the product, but then they need to leave it up to the development team to work out the details of implementation.
The whole Scrum team needs to understand the big picture product vision, so they can work on things meaningfully. I’ve worked with Scrum Teams where the Product Owner took too much responsibility for details of implementation, and fed the development team what were essentially tasks disguised as user stories. Imagine the value that was lost to the organization due underutilizing the intelligence and creativity of every member of the development team!
As a Scrum Master, I have an outsider perspective. When I notice a Product Owner is distracted from focusing on value, I talk with them to try to steer them back on track.
One Product Owner I worked with had a Business Analyst background and was so interested in well crafted stories that they lost sight of the larger context of what we needed to deliver. Over a period of time, through discussions, I opened the way for them to see that the value is not in the stories, but in the work that makes it into production, and is actually put to use. It’s not easy to get out of a comfort zone, and this former BA struggled with letting go of details.
I encouraged them to write “shell” stories, and to involve the team more in discussions around the shells. The results of the team discussions could be formalized later by entering them into the story tracking tool. The important activity is the discussion and mutual understanding. The team should understand why we are doing something. The Product Owner should be able to explain that to a development team. The fastest and best way to do that is from talking to them about it, not by writing a detailed spec.
“Scrum Master service to the Product Owner … Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible … Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;“— The Scrum Guide
As a Scrum Master, I talk to my Product Owners about all aspects of getting the best value from our team.
We talk about value streams. How do stories come in to the team? How are they transformed into user value?
We talk about end users. Who are the people who will consume this product? How do they use our product now? Can we anticipate other uses? Can we imagine them in the act of using our product? Have we observed them using it? Can we categorize our users into broad archetypes or personas?
We talk about metrics. I always question the metrics that are already in place. Does looking at these numbers affect the value delivered to the end user? How? If we are looking at quality metrics, then how important is that aspect of quality to our users? Is there a more direct way to ferret out the thing that will bring more business in? Does this metric that we are tracking actually mask something that is more valuable to the user and therefore potentially much more valuable to the organization?
There is always a lot to talk about. And there are always a lot of decisions to be made when you are a Product Owner. It’s my job as a Scrum Master to assist you with better ways to manage the product backlog, so that the value is very clear to everyone who is working on the product, and it is delivered to the user in its highest fidelity form.
Call me when you need a Scrum Master / agile coach who’s attentive to a Product Owner’s need to focus on value. (407) 223-9964