Scaling Product Owner Role in Scrum : Potential Issues and Workarounds
In the previous post on “Multiple Product Owners or Not“, I analyzed if there is a case for multiple product owners. As per me, there can be grounds and case where this is a necessity. Now let’s see if we did indeed have 02 product owners, what will happen. The potential problems [I have seen these] could be:
- Product owners have power – they influence the product direction. As long as 02 or more product owners agree on the direction, it is fine. However, product owners also influence product execution [user interface, test cases, priority]. These are soft areas and different people can interpret these differently.
- Each product owner is likely to have more appreciation for their own features and their importance, than of the other product owner. If both of them feed a common development team, there would be issues of working together at some stage or the other.
- If you have product owner depending on expertise [horizontal slices than vertical slices], there will be even more potential for disaster striking soon. Let’s take an example. Something which is good from SEO perspective, might not be so great from user interface perspective. If we have 02 product owners, one for SEO and one for user interface, major conflicts will arise.
- Having a whole lot of people influence product direction can mean paralysis in decision making, where almost the bare minimum everyone can agree on, only gets done and anything exciting and challenging, will never even be attempted.
There are some things one can try, to make multiple product owners work together. Let’s look at some possible solutions:
- One way to work around this is to have all the members of the team as stakeholders, but have a Chief Product Owner to have the final responsibility of prioritization. Hence, depending on the size and nature of your product, one might have group of people responsible for grooming the product backlog [design, SEO, user acquisition, interface, development, marketing] but only one person should be responsible for overall prioritization as well as decision making in case of conflict. The problem in this case is to identify such a person. Typically, such a person would be someone with great knowledge about the product, marketing and strategic objectives. This is the typical approach and this takes along specialists in various domains together. Although, this is against the idea of generalists not specialists, it is needed. I personally believe specialists have their place and very important one too. I have benefited as a Product Manager from people advising me on aspects I will overlook or most likely not even know. Specialists give me insight from marketing perspective – Internet Marketing (paid), Internet Marketing (organic), Offline Marketing Channels, User Behavior … one which [A] I won’t ever get time to analyze in detail or [B] would need enormous training to even get started.
- Another approach is to divide the product in multiple sub-products. The Chief Product Owner can divide work to other Product Owners depending on their expertise, experience and importance of the features. This is commonly called feature teams. Organizations and products which spend time on this, reap benefits. We are getting started on this and this is streamlining our processes. There will always be areas where the Chief Product Owner would step in, but mostly delegation and scalability of product owner roles is supported through this model.