One on the product owner's roles is to buy the pizza (or the sushi!)

One of the product owner’s roles is to buy the pizza (or the sushi!)

The product owner role, one of the three identified in Scrum, is deceptively simple. The product owner is the voice of the customer; a conduit to bring business knowledge into the team. The perceived (the word perceived is important) simplicity of the role leads to a wide range of interpretations. Deconstructing the voice of the customer a bit further yields tasks and activities that include defining what needs to be delivered, dynamically providing answers and feedback to the team and prioritizing the backlog. I recently asked a number of product owners, Scrum masters and process improvement personnel for a list of the four activities that product owner was responsible for. The list (ranked by the number of responses, but without censorship) is shown below:

      1. Makes decisions
      2. Attends Scrum meetings
      3. Prioritizes the user stories (and backlog)
      4. Grooms backlog
      5. Defines product vision and features
      6. Accepts or rejects work
      7. Plans for releases
      8. Involves stakeholders (included customers, users, executives, SMEs)
      9. Sells the project
      10. Trains the business
      11. Buys pizza
      12. Provides the project budget
      13. Tests features
      14. Shares the feature list with business
      15. Generates team consensus

The #1 activity of the product owner is to make decisions. Decisions are a critical input for all project teams. Projects are a reflection of a nearly continuous stream of decisions. Decisions that if not made by the right person could take a project off course. While not all decisions made by a team rise to the level of needing input from product owner, or even more importantly rise to the level of needing immediate input from a product owner, when needed the product owner needs to be available and ready to make the tough calls that are needed.

In the first major technology project I was involved with my company decided to shift from one computer platform to another. It was a big deal. In our first attempt the IT department attempted to manage the process without interacting with the business (I was the business). That first attempt at a conversion was . . . exciting. I learned a number of new poignant phrases in several Eastern European languages. The second time around, a business lead was appointed to act as the voice of the business and to coordinate business involvement. The business lead spent at least ½ the day with the project team and 1/2 in the business. Leads from all departments and project teams involved in the project met daily to review progress and issues (sort of Scrum of Scrums back in 1979). The ability to meet, talk and make decisions was critical for delivering the functionality needed by the business.

Making decisions isn’t the only task that product owners are called on to perform, but it is one of a very few that almost everyone can agree upon. Although buying pizza would have been higher up my list!

What would you add to the list? Which do you disagree with?

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