One Product Owner Only or More Than One?
Once every few months, debate on “Whether there is a case for multiple product owners” comes back in Scrum and Agile Community. Most often, the response by Scrum Community is – No. There should be only one product owner and there CAN NOT BE more than one product owner. There are some [like me], who suggest that after the very first releases out, the product becomes too big and complex and multiple directions emerge and one person does not have full knowledge or expertise or even time to be able to do the job of a product owner effectively.
Let’s start by looking at the role of a product owner. Product owner is the main decision maker on behalf of the stakeholders, users, customers and clients. Product owner decides what is to be built and when. Product owner is not the only contact but most likely the primary contact for the team. If the team has only 01 product owner, it should theoretically move faster. One person would make faster decisions and team will get used to working with one person after a few sprints, fostering increased collaboration and more agility. This works fine if the product owner is available and qualified to make these decisions. However, this might not always be the case. As the product grows, there would be multiple directions, sub-products and large development teams. One product owner might just not be qualified or even available to take the product further. Hence, if 01 product owner is the bottleneck [does not have time, does not have competence], adding a product owner might be a good or only option. This is not always smooth and not without its problems. However, this is the only option available. And like scaling development teams and Scrum Master role, Product Owner Role also needs to be scaled.
The main argument against why there should not be multiple product owners, is that in Scrum, Product Owner is the single wringable neck. So, once you have more product owners, you won’t know whose neck(s) to wring? This according to me is a no starter argument in the first place. I have never understood the concept of single wringable neck at all. How can one person be so powerful as to be responsible for the overall success of the product? Product Owner trusts various people to give the right input. Product Owners listen to various people who give their own input and then prioritize features. Success or failure of these features [some of which can take time to reflect], are dependent on the advice. It is a collaborative, snyergestic relationship between domain heads and product owner. Both are in it together, and not separate. Further, the idea of single wringable neck goes against the ideals of Agile as well. What is the use of wringing someone’s neck after product fails? Why not start with “Everyone did everything in their power to make the product successful” thinking to the product owner as well? And, most importantly, can “we need 01 single wringable neck” potentially overpower a solution that can work [and works] of scaling the product owner role further?
In my next post : Scaling Product Owner Role in Scrum : Potential Issues and Workarounds