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Scrum problem – Making sure that the Product Owner is empowered to take decisions, especially the tough ones

In a typical organizational structure of a product development organization, the Product Manager has a fairly powerful role. It is the Product Manager who looks at the features that are to make it into the Product. This is done based on various factors such as competitor analysis, various interactions with customers and industry experts, analysis of new technology trends, as well as some imaginative ideas for new features and customer interactions. Now, when you have all these factors, it is difficult to make the exact decision of which feature will have higher priority; and that is where the Product Manager makes the decisions about which feature is most important (or which set of features are the most important). The team depends on the expertise of the Product Manager to take such decisions, given that it is the product manager who is in maximum contact with the customer base and the industry.
When you get to the role of the Product Owner in Scrum, the role envisions a person who represents the customer and the requirements, but also works on close conjunction with the engineering team, typically spending much more time with the team. As a result, because there was no increase in the number of people working on the Product Manager / Product Owner role, we were able to see that there were time issues in terms of being able to spend more time with the customer base and with various industry associations (the time available for this was much less than in the earlier development methodology).
Because of this, in one specific case, we could see that several stakeholders were somewhat hesitant about how much authority to give to the Product Owner, considering him somewhat tainted with a much higher degree of exposure to the development. As a result, a senior Product Manager type of role was also brought into the picture to oversee (more of a consultative nature); but the net result was that there was a resultant image perception that the Product Owner was more relevant to help the Product team and the senior manager was the person who had the clout to take the different decisions. So, when there was a case where the Product Owner decided to decline one of the features that the team had built and wanted to focus the team on another direction (because of feedback from an early set of users), the team actually wanted the senior manager to listen to them and then finally take a decision.
This was a very dangerous situation, since the entire authority of the Product Owner was at risk. We had to ensure that the senior manager declined to listen to the team (since he was deeply involved with the Product Owner, he was convinced about the position of the Product Owner), and there was a reinforcement of the authority of the Product Owner to take the required decisions.

1 comment to Scrum problem – Making sure that the Product Owner is empowered to take decisions, especially the tough ones

  • Interesting article and scenario here. The senior management did the right thing by not listening to the declined features and this situation shows the importance of the product owner and how the senior manager really has to trust the product owner.

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