While I would love to take credit for this question, it actually came from a client. After attending our Agile for Operations course to learn more about Agile practice in a Lean Operations environment, this is exactly what this client asked. It was an especially pertinent question considering we had just spent two days exploring concepts of bringing value to customers on the operations side of the organization. Surely, the Product Owner whose defined role is to maximize value should be highly visible in any organization.
But what did he mean?
We explored his question together. Why is it that everyone in the Agile world (which for many translates as the Scrum world) seem to be interested in Scrum Master Certification and very few by Product Owner’s? Indeed, I had already made the same observation in attendance levels at our certification courses for both roles. Professional Scrum Master generally has two to three times the participation levels of Professional Scrum Product Owner, even when the location and trainer were the same!
But how could teams ensure the value of their product without someone directly accountable for that function? The Scrum Master can ensure that every ceremony is completed to a point of mastery and that all the project’s artifacts are completed with skill and even genius. The HOW can be completed with perfection but who is controlling the WHAT is produced?
I decided to extend the conversation to some of my coaching clients. One jumped on my observations with his own experience. As part of his company’s Agile journey, he had worked with his Human Ressources department on creating standardized roles and responsibilities for Scrum Team Members. He reported that he had been successful in creating roles for all the development team members and for the Scrum Master, but when he had reached the Product Owner’s role, the HR department had refused to create a role with this title.
But why? I wondered…
Is there something in the lexicography of the words Owner and Master? The thesaurus provides the following synonyms for Owner:
And for Master it provides:
Perhaps there is some implication of hierarchy that would place the role of Product Owner at a higher pay grade or compensation level than an Expert or Chief?
I was most intrigued by the historical definition of Master as “a man who has people working for him, especially servants or slaves.” Perhaps this was first a deterrent to wanting to define the role within the organization. But then what happened?
So I referred back to my training in both these functions and considered the depth of the role we ask the Product Owner to play. While the Scrum Master’s role requires the artful interpretation of the Agile Manifesto, the values and principles are fairly straightforward and practice of the art can begin with a single team of 3 to 9 people.
The Product Owner’s role is so much more complex. One must understand the market, the product and the customer, both in a historical AND forward looking manner. He needs to be an entrepreneur at heart.
Maybe my own story could shed some light here. I am now one year into my journey as the entrepreneur at the helm of Pyxis Great Lakes. I can state unequivocally that nothing in my 29 year career with a large organization had required me to think entrepreneurially!
When we think of the great entrepreneurs of recent history, we think of startups such as Steve Jobs building Apple computers in his garage or Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with his college roommate plugging away on their computers in their dorm at Harvard University. But what about large pre-existing groups like banks and telecommunications companies? Have they grown too large to sustain the entrepreneurial spirit required to need the Product Owner’s role?
I am sure that there are countless observations on the subject beyond my own which have barely touched the surface of my client’s question “What about the Product Owner?” So I open the discussion to you, my readers:
- How is the Product Owner’s role played or promoted in your organization?
- Do you share my observations?
I look forward to following this learning journey with you. After all, learning daily is a big part of what it means to be an “Everyday Agilist”…