Should We Revisit Scrum's Product Owner Role?
Nearly 52 percent of agile projects are following Scrum or some variant, according to VersionOne’s state of agile development survey. I’m sure that the dollar value of this percent of Scrum projects would run into billions, if not trillions, of dollars. With so many business people betting their money on Scrum, my question to you is “Do organizations have the right set of people lined up to deliver these projects using Scrum?”
A detailed analysis of the roles and responsibilities of an agile project clearly states that the project owner (PO) is responsible for the return on investment (ROI) of the project in addition to being a backlog owner. With POs taking on such an important role on their shoulders, are they really skilled and empowered to do their jobs?
My own personal experience working on several Scrum projects says that POs are used more than anything else for defining, prioritizing, and maintaining the backlog. It’s more of a transactional role between the PO and the team. Many product owners don’t even know the business value of the requirements.
In typical Scrum projects, the business sponsors allocate the budget and share their vision with an experienced domain expert—the product owner. This domain expert in turn takes help from so called “business analysts” to write the epics and user stories that are shared with the team. The delivery teams work like horses as they churn out code and demo at the end of each Sprint.
I don’t see how the traditional way that Scrum projects are being implemented would produce any ROI to the business in the long run. Delivering ROI depends on more than just delivering the software code and deploying it to production with zero defects. In my view, the success lies in the end customers actually using the product effectively and buying or using more of it.
Some people recommend forming a product owner team that includes business analysts and a marketing and sales team as well. However, I don’t think this is going to solve the ROI problem defined above. I am getting more questions than answers.
Will the world change and will POs be empowered to really drive ROI? Should we separate the ROI responsibilities from the product owner and call them “backlog managers?” Maybe we should look at redefining Scrum roles.