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Product Owner Anti-Patterns You Should Be Aware Of

Product Owner plays a very critical role in the success of Agile/Scrum implementation in an organization. The entire effort of transforming teams with Agile ways of working is bound to fail if the role of a Product Owner is not understood clearly. Listed below some of the anti-patterns seen while the person is playing the role of a Product Owner in a team- Busy or Missing Product Owner, not being part of the development team Working software demo to the PO during Sprint Review Expressing the backlog in Technical user stories instead of focusing on business-related user stories Writing detailed user stories (no scope for negotiation) Questioning the estimates given by the Dev Team Not having a clear acceptance criteria for every story Too large user stories Not questioning the customers while collecting the requirements Not allowing the Dev Team to work on Technical Debt Not validating the customer’s idea before implementing the idea Not allowing Development Team members to talk with the Stakeholders directly Not empowering the Proxy POs Lack of vision on the product being developed Delivering more features than valuable features Not having well-defined prioritization mechanism in delivering user stories Changing priorities or requirements during the Sprint No single Product Owner, required governance missing in case of multiple POs Missing in Scrum Ceremonies Relying on mail communication for answering queries from Dev Team No emphasis on Quality Treating estimates as deadlines Instructing team on what needs to be done, acting as a Manager Expecting user stories to be created by team, considering SM and PO to be there only to review the stories Pushing team to do extra work for finishing everything forecasted during Sprint Planning Holding the team responsible for any rework post feedback from stakeholders during Sprint Review  Not showing interest in answering team queries for clarifications after Sprint planning Task monitoring Not coachable by Scrum Master Unable to prioritize the work Consistently changes priorities during the Sprint Accepting partially completed PBI’s Allowing dev team to change the Story points of a user story post implementation Not saying “No” to the stakeholders and allowing the product backlog to grow in size   There's nothing more paralysing than a Scrum team with a bad Product Owner! The characteristics stated above lead to nothing but a Product Owner “Fishbowl” where new ideas and innovative thoughts pertaining to Scrum processes find no entry at all.  The Product Owner  is... The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team. It’s a one-person role that brings the customer’s perspective of the product to a Scrum Team.  The Product Owner is responsible for:  Developing and maintaining a product vision and market strategy Product management  Ordering and managing the Product Backlog  Involving stakeholders and end-users in Product Backlog refinement and backlog management  Alignment with other Product Owners when needed from an overall product, company or customer perspective.  #MostPopular in 2017: "Product Owner Anti-Patterns — 31 Ways to Improve as a PO" https://t.co/sryCdoxVKu pic.twitter.com/q5Sxj9kF6F — Stefan Wolpers (@StefanW) 22 December 2017 A GREAT PRODUCT OWNER…  Grasps, shares and spreads the product vision: A great Product Owner acts as the client's voice (also called a proxy-client at times) and makes a product vision together with the stakeholders. Each choice is taken on account of the product vision. This guarantees sustainable product improvement, gives clearness to the development team and expands the chances of product success definitely. Understanding the customer’s goals: A great Product Owner truly understands the customer’s goals with the product and is able to outpace its expectations. After all, pleasing the customer is the ultimate goal. Is a good decision maker: A great Product Owner is an authorized person to take product-related decisions. It may take some time to support his/her decisions, but this is an essential condition for an economical pace of the development team. Manages the product backlog: A great Product Owner comprehends that the product backlog should be in sequence. Priority, risk factor, quality, getting to learn and dependencies are all considered and balanced with each other. Prefers one-to-one communication: A good Product Owner believes in one-to-one communication to convey information. User stories are used as a medium of conversation. Knows modeling techniques: A great Product Owner has a knapsack full of worthful modeling techniques. Actually, the PO has an idea about when to apply a specific model. Based on the model application he/she drives the project success.  Shares experiences: A great Product Owner offers experiences with peers. This may be inside the organization, and outside it. Additionally, courses and meetings are the great approaches to share experiences and garner information. Furthermore, recording your lessons can be significant for other Product Owners. Claims user story mapping: A great Product Owner should ace the idea of user story mapping. It is a method that enables you to add a second dimension to your backlog. The visualization empowers you to see the master plan of the product backlog. Keeps an eye on functionality: A successful Product Owner keeps an eye on functional as well as on the non-functional aspects of the product. The motto of the Product Owner is to exceed the quality expectations the customer and enabling functionality that provides value to the product. So, the functionality is the main focus of the Product Owner.  Is knowledgeable: A great Product Owner has a deep product knowledge and comprehends the technicality. Larger products might be difficult to understand and scale. In this case, the PO should know the formula to solve the large queries.   Comprehends the business domain: A great Product Owner knows the ins and outs of his domain. A product should be built with a clear idea of every aspect being dealt with. This not only entails understanding the organization and paying for the development but also being aware of the current market trends. No matter how great your product is, shipping it after the window of opportunity closes is a waste of time and barely of any value.  Acts on different levels. A great Product Owner is capable of acting on different levels. These levels are popularly denoted as- strategic, tactical and operational. At the board level, a PO should know how to demonstrate the product strategy. Thereafter, he should create a strong support at middle management and facilitate the development team to cope with their daily challenges.  Knows the 5 levels of Agile planning. Within Agile, planning is done continuously. Every product needs a vision (level 1) which will provide input to the product roadmap (level 2). The roadmap is a long-range strategic plan of how the business would like to see the product evolve. Based on the roadmap, market conditions and status of the product the Product Owner can plan releases (level 3). During the Sprint Planning (level 4) the team plan and agree on Product Backlog Items they are confident they can complete during the Sprint and help them achieve the Sprint Goal. The Daily Scrum (level 5) is used to inspect and adapt the team's progress towards realizing the Sprint Goal.  Is available. A great Product Owner is characterised by his availability to the stakeholders, customers, development team and most important, the Scrum Master. This helps important questions to be answered quickly and valuable information to be provided on time. The Product Owner always makes sure that his availability never becomes the bottleneck of the progress of the development team.  Is able to say 'no'. A great Product Owner knows the best time and way to say “no”. This indeed is a difficult trait to master. While it is easy to give any new idea or feature the nod, there is a flip side. Good backlog management necessitates creating a manageable product backlog with items that will mostly get realized. Appending non-productive items to the backlog will only create false expectations.  Acts as a "Mini-CEO". A great Product Owner basically is a mini-CEO for his product. He has a sharp eye for opportunities, focuses on business value and the Return On Investment and acts promptly on all possible risks and threats. Every growth aspect such as size, quality, market share of the product is taken into consideration.  Knows the different types of valid Product Backlog items. A great Product Owner can clarify the fact that the Product Backlog consists of more than only new features. For example, technical innovation, bugs, defects, non-functional requirements and experiments, should also be taken into account.  Takes Backlog Refinement seriously. A successful Product Owner spends sufficient time refining the Product Backlog. Backlog Refinement is essentially the act of adding detail, estimates and order to items in the Product Backlog. The result should be a Product Backlog that is granular enough and easily understandable. On an average, the Development Team spends no more than 10% of their capacity on the refinement activities. There is no such prescribed approach. The Product Owner can also involve stakeholders and the Development Team in backlog refinement. Each for a valid reason. The stakeholders are given the opportunity to state their expectations. The Development Team can clarify functional and technical implications. This will ensure a holistic understanding and enhance the quality of the Product Backlog considerably. Consequently, the opportunity to build the right product with the desired quality will also increase.  Concluding Thoughts: A Product Owner is indispensable for a functional Scrum team. He not only bridges the gap between the development team and the client but also ensures a streamlined product delivery. Ill-defined Product Owner roles and some of the critical PO anti-patterns are some of the impediments many of the Agile organizations are battling at present. The only long-term solution to such persistent issues is a clarity of PO roles and a proper understanding of the end-to-end Scrum processes. 
Product Owner Anti-Patterns You Should Be Aware Of
Sandeep Kshirsagar
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Product Owner Anti-Patterns You Should Be Aware Of 488
Product Owner Anti-Patterns You Should Be Aware Of

Product Owner plays a very critical role in the success of Agile/Scrum implementation in an organization. The entire effort of transforming teams with Agile ways of working is bound to fail if the role of a Product Owner is not understood clearly.

Listed below some of the anti-patterns seen while the person is playing the role of a Product Owner in a team-

  • Busy or Missing Product Owner, not being part of the development team
  • Working software demo to the PO during Sprint Review
  • Expressing the backlog in Technical user stories instead of focusing on business-related user stories
  • Writing detailed user stories (no scope for negotiation)
  • Questioning the estimates given by the Dev Team
  • Not having a clear acceptance criteria for every story
  • Too large user stories
  • Not questioning the customers while collecting the requirements
  • Not allowing the Dev Team to work on Technical Debt
  • Not validating the customer’s idea before implementing the idea
  • Not allowing Development Team members to talk with the Stakeholders directly
  • Not empowering the Proxy POs
  • Lack of vision on the product being developed
  • Delivering more features than valuable features
  • Not having well-defined prioritization mechanism in delivering user stories
  • Changing priorities or requirements during the Sprint
  • No single Product Owner, required governance missing in case of multiple POs
  • Missing in Scrum Ceremonies
  • Relying on mail communication for answering queries from Dev Team
  • No emphasis on Quality
  • Treating estimates as deadlines
  • Instructing team on what needs to be done, acting as a Manager
  • Expecting user stories to be created by team, considering SM and PO to be there only to review the stories
  • Pushing team to do extra work for finishing everything forecasted during Sprint Planning
  • Holding the team responsible for any rework post feedback from stakeholders during Sprint Review 
  • Not showing interest in answering team queries for clarifications after Sprint planning
  • Task monitoring
  • Not coachable by Scrum Master
  • Unable to prioritize the work
  • Consistently changes priorities during the Sprint
  • Accepting partially completed PBI’s
  • Allowing dev team to change the Story points of a user story post implementation
  • Not saying “No” to the stakeholders and allowing the product backlog to grow in size
     

There's nothing more paralysing than a Scrum team with a bad Product Owner!


The characteristics stated above lead to nothing but a Product Owner “Fishbowl” where new ideas and innovative thoughts pertaining to Scrum processes find no entry at all. 



The Product Owner  is...

The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team. It’s a one-person role that brings the customer’s perspective of the product to a Scrum Team. 

The Product Owner is responsible for: 

  • Developing and maintaining a product vision and market strategy
  • Product management 
  • Ordering and managing the Product Backlog 
  • Involving stakeholders and end-users in Product Backlog refinement and backlog management 
  • Alignment with other Product Owners when needed from an overall product, company or customer perspective. 


A GREAT PRODUCT OWNER… 

Grasps, shares and spreads the product vision:

A great Product Owner acts as the client's voice (also called a proxy-client at times) and makes a product vision together with the stakeholders. Each choice is taken on account of the product vision. This guarantees sustainable product improvement, gives clearness to the development team and expands the chances of product success definitely.

Understanding the customer’s goals:

A great Product Owner truly understands the customer’s goals with the product and is able to outpace its expectations. After all, pleasing the customer is the ultimate goal.

Is a good decision maker:

A great Product Owner is an authorized person to take product-related decisions. It may take some time to support his/her decisions, but this is an essential condition for an economical pace of the development team.

Manages the product backlog:

A great Product Owner comprehends that the product backlog should be in sequence. Priority, risk factor, quality, getting to learn and dependencies are all considered and balanced with each other.

Prefers one-to-one communication:

A good Product Owner believes in one-to-one communication to convey information. User stories are used as a medium of conversation.

Knows modeling techniques:

A great Product Owner has a knapsack full of worthful modeling techniques. Actually, the PO has an idea about when to apply a specific model. Based on the model application he/she drives the project success. 

Shares experiences:

A great Product Owner offers experiences with peers. This may be inside the organization, and outside it. Additionally, courses and meetings are the great approaches to share experiences and garner information. Furthermore, recording your lessons can be significant for other Product Owners.

Claims user story mapping:

A great Product Owner should ace the idea of user story mapping. It is a method that enables you to add a second dimension to your backlog. The visualization empowers you to see the master plan of the product backlog.

Keeps an eye on functionality:

A successful Product Owner keeps an eye on functional as well as on the non-functional aspects of the product. The motto of the Product Owner is to exceed the quality expectations the customer and enabling functionality that provides value to the product. So, the functionality is the main focus of the Product Owner. 

Is knowledgeable:

A great Product Owner has a deep product knowledge and comprehends the technicality. Larger products might be difficult to understand and scale. In this case, the PO should know the formula to solve the large queries.  

Comprehends the business domain:

A great Product Owner knows the ins and outs of his domain. A product should be built with a clear idea of every aspect being dealt with. This not only entails understanding the organization and paying for the development but also being aware of the current market trends. No matter how great your product is, shipping it after the window of opportunity closes is a waste of time and barely of any value. 

Acts on different levels. A great Product Owner is capable of acting on different levels. These levels are popularly denoted as- strategic, tactical and operational. At the board level, a PO should know how to demonstrate the product strategy. Thereafter, he should create a strong support at middle management and facilitate the development team to cope with their daily challenges. 

Knows the 5 levels of Agile planning. Within Agile, planning is done continuously. Every product needs a vision (level 1) which will provide input to the product roadmap (level 2). The roadmap is a long-range strategic plan of how the business would like to see the product evolve. Based on the roadmap, market conditions and status of the product the Product Owner can plan releases (level 3). During the Sprint Planning (level 4) the team plan and agree on Product Backlog Items they are confident they can complete during the Sprint and help them achieve the Sprint Goal. The Daily Scrum (level 5) is used to inspect and adapt the team's progress towards realizing the Sprint Goal. 

Is available. A great Product Owner is characterised by his availability to the stakeholders, customers, development team and most important, the Scrum Master. This helps important questions to be answered quickly and valuable information to be provided on time. The Product Owner always makes sure that his availability never becomes the bottleneck of the progress of the development team. 

Is able to say 'no'. A great Product Owner knows the best time and way to say “no”. This indeed is a difficult trait to master. While it is easy to give any new idea or feature the nod, there is a flip side. Good backlog management necessitates creating a manageable product backlog with items that will mostly get realized. Appending non-productive items to the backlog will only create false expectations. 

Acts as a "Mini-CEO". A great Product Owner basically is a mini-CEO for his product. He has a sharp eye for opportunities, focuses on business value and the Return On Investment and acts promptly on all possible risks and threats. Every growth aspect such as size, quality, market share of the product is taken into consideration. 

Knows the different types of valid Product Backlog items. A great Product Owner can clarify the fact that the Product Backlog consists of more than only new features. For example, technical innovation, bugs, defects, non-functional requirements and experiments, should also be taken into account. 

Takes Backlog Refinement seriously. A successful Product Owner spends sufficient time refining the Product Backlog. Backlog Refinement is essentially the act of adding detail, estimates and order to items in the Product Backlog. The result should be a Product Backlog that is granular enough and easily understandable. On an average, the Development Team spends no more than 10% of their capacity on the refinement activities. There is no such prescribed approach. The Product Owner can also involve stakeholders and the Development Team in backlog refinement. Each for a valid reason. The stakeholders are given the opportunity to state their expectations. The Development Team can clarify functional and technical implications. This will ensure a holistic understanding and enhance the quality of the Product Backlog considerably. Consequently, the opportunity to build the right product with the desired quality will also increase. 

Concluding Thoughts:
A Product Owner is indispensable for a functional Scrum team. He not only bridges the gap between the development team and the client but also ensures a streamlined product delivery. Ill-defined Product Owner roles and some of the critical PO anti-patterns are some of the impediments many of the Agile organizations are battling at present. The only long-term solution to such persistent issues is a clarity of PO roles and a proper understanding of the end-to-end Scrum processes. 

Sandeep

Sandeep Kshirsagar

trainer

Sandeep is an Agile mentor with more than 12 years of experience as a Developer, Test Engineer, Automation Engineer, Scrum Master and an Agile Coach. He is presently working as an Agile Coach at Knowledgehut Solutions Pvt Ltd. Up until this point, he has prepared 800+ programming experts and trained more than 450+ programming experts in Agile journey at different organizations.
 

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