The overly busy or absent Product Owner is a common anti-pattern in agile organizations.
This can have serious consequences for the teams we work with as Scrum Masters.
Additionally, Product Owners that are spread too thin may not even have time to be in the Scrum meetings because they serve many teams or handle several products, or because they have so many other meetings with C-level, or other stakeholders. Missing critical Scrum meetings (e.g. Sprint Review, Sprint Planning, Grooming) will quickly lead to a de-motivated team, as well as lack of trust and potential conflict between the team and the Product Owner. In my own experience, when the Product Owner starts missing critical Scrum meetings, the team will quickly start asking: “why do we even do these meetings”, which quickly leads to the meetings being dropped.
How do we help our Product Owners overcome these challenges? Read on…
The life of a Product Owner is not easy either. Some Product Owners are themselves C-level people. With lots of things to worry about. I once worked with a CEO who had so many other business problems in mind that it was very hard for him to concentrate on the product we were developing. For example, he was worried about where to get the next sales opportunity so that he could pay the salaries. Wouldn’t you worry about that too?
Additionally, Product Owners are also asked by sales, marketing, and management to participate in many different meetings, workshops, calls, etc. Now imagine that this Product Owner also serves two teams. He will have to attend two different Sprint planning meetings, two daily meetings every day, two Sprint reviews.
To add to the time-burden, the multi-team Product Owner will also have:
- Two teams asking questions
- Two sets of stakeholders asking questions
- Two status reports to complete for their superiors
- Two sets of business problems to focus on
- Two business models to understand
- Two sets of customers to take care of and research
- Two or more sales groups or people to support
If you add on top of that, that the Product Owner is probably new to Scrum, and doesn’t yet know where to focus his time, you have the right mix for the perfect storm in the Product Owner role.
How do we solve the problem of the overly busy Product Owner, who is absent because of all of his other responsibilities?
We need to find an approach that helps the Product Owner focus on what they are really good at, but at the same time gives support to the teams that they serve, and communicates with the critical stakeholders he needs to engage for the product to succeed.
Here’s a set of problems that we need to tackle:
- We need to help the product owner define and manage their tasks and responsibilities so that they solve the most critical questions/problems for the teams they serve and fulfill the expectations of the most critical stakeholders
- We need to help the Product Owner organize their time so that they can participate in the most critical ceremonies
- Finally, we need to help the Product Owner prioritize their work, so that none of the teams or products he serves is left without the critical support they need.
Let’s tackle each one of these problems at a time starting with the first one.
Sign-up to receive the full article as well as the Sprint Checklist, and Sprint Calendar that will help you plan the Sprint work with the Product Owner. With these 2 tools you can help the PO manage their work, and clarify his priorities.
I’ve used these tools as a coaching tool when working with Product Owners, and gotten great results in terms of clarity and common agreements that ultimately helped the teams I was working with.
In the full article, we cover:
- Sprint checklist: Helping the Product Owner respond to the most critical needs, without increasing the time they spend
- Sprint Calendar: Helping c-level and multi-team Product Owners ensure they are not abandoning the team that will make their product a success
- Prioritize EVERYTHING: how to help busy Product Owners maximize their impact, without increasing their time commitment
You will also receive an example Calendar (XLS template with example data), which you can customize for your Product Owner, and the Sprint Checklist (XLS template) you can use to help your Product Owner plan their focus for the Sprint.