This blog post, which will actually become a “series” as I keep adding references to it, was inspired by Bhavani Rao. Bhavani is a Product Manager who lives in my neighborhood. He’s trying to make the transition to Agile Product Management (Ownership) and is finding it difficult to gain entry without real world experience. So a catch-22 if you will.

The focus of this blog is to provide a lean (but robust) set of references for “would be” Scrum Product Owners and “newbie” Product Owners to help them in their journey. But don’t expect it to be easy or to only read a few blog posts. The role of Product Owner is deep, broad, challenging and downright intimidating. That is – if you want to be GREAT.

I hope you do and I hope this helps…

Bhavani – this one’s for you ;-)

(1) The Basics

Introduction to Scrum and the role of Product Owner

The first place to look is at the baseline references for Scrum. It used to be that folks would reference one or several of the Scrum books by Ken Schwaber. But now there are some excellent short references that provide a sufficient overview of Scrum.

1. From a Scrum Alliance perspective, you’ll want to read the Agile Atlas. Cover all aspects of the role, but pay particular attention to the Product Owner role and responsibilities. The atlas is the central reference for “Core Scrum” and provides the baseline for any Scrum Alliance based certification tests.

2. From a perspective, and that of Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the Scrum Guide is the central reference for “Core Scrum”. It’s around 18 pages, so it’s a fairly easy read. This is the basis for the certifications.  Again, pay attention to the Product Owner role and responsibilities.

We’re lucky to have Henrik Kniberg working in our agile community. Not too long ago, he contributed an excellent 15 minute video that does a fabulous job of exploring the role of the Product Owner. Don’t take it too lightly because of the animation or delivery format. It’s provides a well nuanced and subtle look at what it takes to be an excellent Product Owner.

Finally, I did an interview with InfoQ in 2010 at the Agile Conference where I discussed some of the nuance of the Product Owner role. It aligns with many of the themes in my book.

Books focused on the Role

There are three books on the market that focus on the role of Product Owner. From my perspective, each has its own perspective or view of the role. That makes them complimentary.

1. Agile Product Management with Scrum – Creating Products that Customers Love, by Roman Pichler was written in 2009. It covers all aspects of the role, but I think it excels in the areas of customer interaction, value determination, and envisioning. It’s a short book (~130 pages) and it can be slightly esoteric or generic in its advice. How to actually bring the advice into teams in the real-world. For example, what does solid release planning “look like” with a real backlog. If you are a Product Owner or aspire to be one, this is a must have for your bookshelf.

2. Agile Excellence for Product Managers: A Guide to Creating Winning Products with Agile Development Teams, by Greg Cohen, was written in 2010. It too is a relatively short book (~ 150 pages). What’s unique about this book is its perspective. Greg comes at the role not as an agilist or Scrum proponent. He’s got a strong, traditional Product Management background. So his lens is looking at Scrum and the role of Product Owner through the lens of the role and responsibilities of a Product Manager. Again, this is a must have for your bookshelf.

3. Scrum Product Ownership  – Balancing Value from the Inside Out, by yours truly, was first published in 2009. The 2’nd Edition was published in early 2013. Out of the three, this is probably the best book for an overview of the role within Scrum teams and leveraging traditional agile concepts like technical debt, user stories, acceptance tests, etc.  The second edition is relatively long (~ 250 pages), but its chock full of real-world stories and has a solid focus on scaling Scrum and the implications to the Product Organization. If you ask me, all three books should be on your bookshelf, but this should be your “go to” reference on a daily basis.

Certified Scrum Product Owner – CSPO

It’s not clear to me whether it’s a basic requirement to take the 2-day CSPO certification or not as “entry” to preforming in the Product Owner role. My experience tells me that the most important part of the role is on the Product Management side of things; that and understanding your customer and what they need/value.

That being said, it might be helpful to review the CSPO Content Outline that’s on the Scrum Alliance site. It’s a solid list of the skills areas for effective Product Ownership. And certainly, if you have the time and budget, going for your CSPO would be a solid way of level-setting your knowledge.

Wrapping Up

Look for additional study recommendations in the following topical areas in future posts:

  • User Story Writing
  • Estimation, Sprint Planning, Release Planning & the role of the Product Owner
  • Scrum at Scale & the role of the Product Owner
  • Advanced Themes in Product Ownership

I’d also love to see recommendations for coverage. In the end, I envision this series providing a thorough study guide for students of Product Ownership. I hope you find use in it.

Thanks for listening,