Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

There is no (Scrum) product owner

One of the most difficult aspects of Scrum is the role of the product owner. Most software vendors have a product management function, typically split into strategic and technical product management. Technical product management is usually equated with Scrum’s product owner role, that is, the guy or gal who writes business-value-oriented user stories and epics, grooms the product backlog, and then some. This is separate from breaking down business-oriented features into technical tasks, which is left to the engineering team.

The problem: A person who can do this well is hard to find. It is easy, though, to find someone who believes they can be a good product owner. In practice, most successful software vendors I have seen have a business-oriented strategic product manager for a given product or major component, and have a senior engineer play the product owner role, reaching all the way into product development, that is, not only writing users stories but also breaking them down into tasks.

I’m a strong believer in product management. It is the most critical function in product development. It took me many years to accept that good Scrum product owners cannot be groomed from MBA or other business-oriented degree programs. Almost always will you need someone with a technical background to fill that role or it will go off the rails. However, there are really few people who’d like to take on that job; they’d rather be programming. Therefore, you’ll have to ask a senior engineer or other engineering leader to collaborate with the strategic product manager and turn the roadmap into features that can go into a product backlog.

So, as I said there rarely is a (stand-alone) Scrum product owner; usually it is a senior engineer adding to their busy schedule to make things work out.

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  1. […] steer development. Throw in a strategic product manager (but no technical product manager, that is, no Product Owner), and the disconnect to Scrum proper becomes […]

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