The Nokia Test (4): You know who the Product Owner Is

In this series, we are going over each question in the Nokia Test.

The first section of the Nokia Test is a quick determination: are you doing incremental development? Then second section is: are you doing Scrum?

We are now up to the first question in the second section is: Do you know who your Product Owner is?

Clearly, it is not just “do you know his or her name?”

The Product Owner has these responsibilities in Scrum:

  • Defines the features of the product, decides each release date and content – gets product backlog ready
  • Is responsible for the profitability of the product (ROI)
  • Prioritizes features according to market value
  • Can change features and priority at next Sprint
  • Accepts or rejects work results

A few comments.

The Product Owner is the main voice of the business side into the Team. She is responsible to assure that the team understands everything the business can tell them about the effort (high level and low level).

The Product Owner is the main risk manager, since most risks are business risks, and must be managed as trade-offs against other things (values, risks, etc). At the same time, the team members are seen as business people also (they signed up to deliver business value), so in some ways managing risk is a collaboration. But when the final decision must be made, she must decide (at least, if it is decided within the team).

The Product Owner is part of the team. (This was debated for awhile in the Agile/Scrum community; the best advice now is to treat the PO as part of the team.)

The Product Owner also has outward facing responsibilities. Most of the team members work within the team. She is also responsible for understanding the customers (eg, end-users). This takes constant work, since the customers are always changing.

The Product Owner manages the stakeholders. The stakeholders are people outside the team who have a stake or a say in the product being created. Maybe the product is mainly for external customers, but operations must use it also. Maybe Legal or Compliance has some say, etc, etc. In large corporations, these stakeholders take a lot of work (or so it seems to be required). A key area in managing the stakeholders is getting down to one prioritized Product Backlog, at least the Product Backlog items for the next Sprint.

So, how much time does the Product Owner spend with the Team? There is no precise answer to this question; it depends and it varies. But the Product Owner should work with the Team at least as much as the Team wants. And the Team should want the PO as much as having her will improve the product (speed, accuracy, more value, better, cheaper, etc). It is seldom that one can learn too fast or too much.

The typical situation I find is this. The Product Owner person and the Team start out not used to working together. And not seeing a lot of value in working together. But they learn about the value over time. Toward the end of the first effort, the PO will usually say “Wow, this takes a lot of my time to be with the team, but it pays such great benefits! It is well worth the effort.”

Perhaps this Nokia Test item should read: “The Product Owner and the Team collaborate well”

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