Less is more.

Less is more.

In terms of product owners, less is more. Any solution to the complications of scaling the product owner role for a specific piece of work should keep the product owner activities in the hands of a single person. For a single team, a single product owner should prioritize the backlog, and the team should hear the voice of a single product owner. However, as projects grow, eventually there will simply be too much for a single product owner. There will just be too many teams for a product owner to be effective. In that case, there are a number of techniques that can be used mitigate the complications so that the teams can tackle a larger effort.

  • A guidance team is a group of stakeholders that provide guidance to a product owner or group of product owners. A guidance team is also a ready-made pool of SMEs to provide product depth to the development team(s) as they flesh out, test and build functionality. The guidance team is conceptually similar to the classic steering committee used in many organizations as a governance tool; however the focus is on guiding the functional evolution of the project or product rather than acting as a mechanism to control the budget or to monitor status. The guidance team is a mechanism to consolidate guidance to a product owner or owners when there are multiple external constituencies. External constituencies can reflect the needs and wants of internal applications, functional department (eg marketing or accounting) or external customer groups.
  • Product management groups are like a specialized form of a guidance team that often exists in organizations that create products that are sold or are consumed by customers outside of the company. Typically, product management is a powerful force within product-oriented companies, and acts as the voice of the customer. Product management often guides product owners by developing an overall product roadmap that provides product owners, development and exteral customers with an understanding of how they intend the product to evolve. Roadmaps tend to be more specific in the short-term while more aspirational in the longer term. Note: Product owners are often members of the product management group.
  • The best ratio of scrum masters to product owners is 1:1. This increases the possibility of a close bond between the people playing the two roles. Every additional scrum master added to the equation requires the PO spread his/her attention and increases efficiency loss caused by switching between teams. One common coping mechanism in scenarios where a PO interfaces with multiple scrum masters is for the PO to be responsible for a single backlog. The product owner to backlog ratio of 1:1 provides an anchor for the PO’s attention. The anchor of a single backlog reduces the amount of overhead a bit so that a PO can support a few teams. The vagueness in the statement is intentioned as business and technical complexity and personalities affect whether a PO can interact with multiple scrum masters effectively.

Interactions between product owners and stakeholders, teams, scrum masters and even other product owners are part and parcel of how product owners work and a path for them to help to facilitate the delivery of value. As projects are scaled, the product owner’s role gets more complex. Finding a path to mitigate the complexity is rarely straightforward. Every organization adopts techniques that they feel will generate the most value by balancing overhead with outcome.

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