This is a continuation of Bad Product Ownership anti-patterns that I’ve seen all too often. And that I would encourage you and your organizations to avoid.
Without more context setting, let’s get onto the patterns –
You might be a BAD Product Owner IF you…
Too often revert to explore how and how long, over focusing on the what
It’s probably human nature.
When I ask a contractor to come over to my home to estimate fixing a problem. I usually focus on how long it will take them and how they will approach the repair.
Mike Cottmeyer has been one of my longer-term colleagues in the agile community. He’s built a nice coaching business in the Atlanta area and has been contributing his ideas for quite some time. He’s someone that, when he writes something, I usually read it.
I don’t always agree with Mike. But that’s ok. He always makes me think (or rethink) differently and that’s quite valuable to me. I like to be challenged.
He recently wrote a blog post entitled: Kanban Isn’t The Answer To Bad Product Ownership. In it, he made the case the title implies. And he made it quite convincingly. But the post also made me consider a couple of things:
How fundamentally important the Product Owner role is. Specifically, in Scrum, but generally in agile teams. I’ve seen the difference that an excellent Product Owner can make to a team. And conversely, the damage “bad ones” can do.
And lament the number of bad product owners (organizational, group, and individuals) that I’ve seen in my own coaching travels.
So, in this piece, I want to explore some of the You might be a bad product owner, IF… patterns that I’ve seen. In the hopes that we might be able to avoid some of them.
Often agile organizations take the position that the Managers, Leaders, or the Scrum Masters are responsible for keeping the team focused and energized towards their work. And yes, these roles can play a part in keeping the teams passion and energy focused towards doing great work.
But I’ve found that another role can really make a difference here as well. One that is rarely suggested for this sort of nuance. That role is the Product Owner.
To make my point, I’d like to share a dozen “opportunities” for a Scrum Product Owner to make a difference within their teams. Is the list exhaustive? Probably not. But that’s not the intent. The intent is to get Product Owners thinking outside the role of backlogs, user stories, and delivery. And instead thinking about ways where they can play a key role in the engagement, joy, energy, passion, focus, and results of their teams.
Yes, I just added another large responsibility to an already overwhelming role. Sorry about that.
In 2009 I first published Scrum Product Ownership. In 2013, I followed it up with a second edition. The book has been a popular read for those who are looking for a solid overview of what it takes to be a competent and craft-focused Product Owner.
Here’s what a new Product Owner from Spotify had to say about the book:
“I was recommended your book “Scrum Product Ownership - Balancing Value from the Inside Out” by senior colleagues at Spotify as the one book to read when new to product owning. After recently finishing reading it, I fully agree and will keep recommending your book to anyone getting started as a product owner.
I just wanted to say thank you for making the start of the ride less bumpy and for great advice that I will keep returning to as I gain experience.”
I share this because it helps to set the stage for this article and where my inspiration lies.
If you don’t know, I’ve got some opinions about Scrum, the Product Owner role, Backlogs, and User Stories. I’ve written a book about Product Ownership and I spend a great deal of my time up to my eyeballs in stories and backlogs at various clients.
One of the things that frustrates those clients is that there are very few “prescriptive rules or firm guidance” when it comes writing stories and crafting Product Backlogs; in many ways, it’s more art than science. It’s also a practiced skill that gets better the more you actually do it—of course as a team, which is also true of agile estimation.
I presented at a local professional group the other evening. I was discussing Acceptance Test-Driven Development (ATDD), but started the session with an overview of User Stories. From my perspective, the notion of User Stories was introduced with Extreme Programming as early as 2001. So they’ve been in use for 10+ years. Mike Cohn wrote his wonderful book, User Stories Applied in 2004. So again, we’re approaching 10 years of solid information on the User Story as an agile requirement artifact.
My assumption is that most folks nowadays understand User Stories, particularly in agile contexts. But what I found in my meeting is that folks are still struggling with the essence of a User Story. In fact, some of the questions and level of understandings shocked me. But then when I thought about it, most if not all of the misunderstanding surrounds using user stories, but treating them like traditional requirements. So that experienced inspired me to write this article.
I’m sorry but I need to vent. I’ve been encountering these
patterns a bit too often lately and I just need to get these thoughts off my
The patterns are these:
- Organizations and teams consider it the Product
Owners role/job to write every aspect (word) of every User Story. And,
if the stories aren’t “complete enough” the team kicks it back to the Product
Owner to do a better job.
- User Stories are too robust. I’m being kind
here. The Product Owner / Analyst writing the story writes a complete
requirement (pages, all information) before ever showing it to the team.
From my perspective, these are both agile requirement
anti-patterns, you shouldn’t be doing it this way, and I’ll try to explain why.
In both cases, I think it goes against some of the very core principles of the
agile methods. It’s not changing your Waterfall views and while, you’re saying you’re
agile on the outside, on the inside you’re still handling your requirements the
same old way.
If you've been listening to our Meta-casts lately, Josh and I have been talking about the role of the Product Owner quite a bit.
We've been discussing questions like:
- Do you need one?
- If you do, what is the 'profile' of an excellent Product Owner?
- What do they do all day?
We've then been talking about a view I have about the role and the four key areas that you need to cover in order to do the role justice. I talked about them in my Scrum Product Owner book:
- the role is part Product Management
- part Project Management
- part Leadership
- and finally, part Business Analyst
I wish I would have come up with the "quadrants" notion when I was working on the 2'nd edition of the book...but, I didn't. But now I AM talking about the nuances of the role from a quadrants perspective.