How to make a good Product Owner

How do we make good Product Owners

At my Teched talks this month (Australia and New Zealand) I talked about Product Owners. After my session there were lots of discussion around the Product Owner Scrum role, and what makes a good one. I loved hearing the stories of dysfunction about Product Owners who have not done their job well.

The client is generally the Product Owner (PO). They should read the Scrum Guide, watch my new Product Owner video  and communicate an understanding of their role. It is so important to the success of their project.

What does a good Product Owner need to do?

  1. Be available for Sprint ReviewsRetrospectives and Sprint Planning meetings (approximately half a day for these 3 meetings, for each 2 week sprint).
  2. Order the Product Backlog. The important things will be done first, in order to maximize the ROI as the budget will run out one day.
  3. Be available, at least remotely, to unblock a developer if he has questions/impediments. A good PO has a feeling of urgency.
  4. Ideally listen in on Daily Scrums. This is optional but means that the PO will have daily insight into the team’s progress.
  5. Understand Product Backlog Items (PBIs) and be able to explain what they want using Acceptance Criteria. This is the main way that developers and POs sync their understanding of what needs to be done.
  6. Agree on a Sprint Goal for each sprint.
  7. Not influence (or anchor) developer estimates with comments like “this one will be easy” and allow the team to come up with converged estimates.
  8. Respect the Sprint Goal. Understand that the team will only work on things in the Sprint Backlog and don’t expect other things to be done as well. Most things can wait for the next sprint.

Who should be the Product Owner?

It’s hard to give guidance on who in the company would make a good PO. The usual candidate is often extremely busy. It should be:

1. someone with a personal stake in the success of the project.

2. someone who is available

3. someone with a clear vision of the product,

4. someone who has authority with budget
e.g. They could authorise adding a designer to a sprint for a couple of days
5. someone who has read the Scrum Guide and watched the Product Owner video  and understands the role.

It’s possible to outsource the role of PO to someone in the development consulting company, but this is not recommended. Don’t put the fox in charge of the chickens.

During my session I said:

        “Most dysfunction I see in Scrum teams is caused by a bad Product Owner”


This statement is based on my experience. I wonder if it rings true of what *you* are seeing?  Let me know in the comments…