As Bob rightly says there’s not a lot of coherent writing on the role of the Product Owner in Agile. One of my previous blog posts outlined the importance of the role, but then also provided links to find more information from guys like Roman Pichler, Mike Cohn and James Sutherland. Scrum Product Ownership: Balancing Value from the Inside Out is one of a couple of books that attempt to give pragmatic advice on the role of this pivotal and important part of the agile machinery.
Pragmatic is the operative word. Bob sensibly applies the knowledge and thoughts of others including current sparring partners Ken Schwaber (Scrum.org) and Dean Leffingwell (SAFe). All ideas are up for grabs it seems including his own. He quite obviously, to me at least, doesn’t remain dogmatic to one particular point of view and applies ideas as appropriate to the context at hand. This is a good thing, and in such a guide the reader needs to be informed of the best thinking from all points view.
Bob is candid also about previous writings shortcomings as well. For instance, the role of Product Management is quite large and Product Ownership only deals with a portion of the activities of Product Management. Therefore it’s important that there be symbiosis between the two roles and not a hand-off.
I also like the idea of no single wring-able neck. The PO can be assumed to be person in the gun when things go wrong. I also do not hold this view as it’s the team who are collectively accountable and in fact usage of the term in my opinion is an anti-pattern and indicative of something wrong in organisational culture.
And to further add to the pragmatic nature of the book, there are many practical tips. Bob talks a lot about management of the backlog more than the a list of items. For example, I like his 20/30/50 rule for backlog refinement. That is the top 20% or product backlog items should be at or near a level of detail for it to be immediately pulled into a sprint when required. Meaning work to groom these items is constantly occurring driven by the PO with expected assistance from the entire team. And by near enough ready there are 30% left during the sprint to fine tune and make new learning as work progressing which lines up with Scrum Guide statements.
Overall, the book emphasizes the immersive and totally involved nature of the PO role. This is backed up with concrete examples of the types of activities required for success. From this it can be seen that it is a full time role that needs firm backing and support from management. I’d recommend it for the reading list of upper management as well. It’s easily read and not overly long so can be read in a few sittings.