Should The Product Owner Attend The Retrospective?


Should The Product Owner Attend The Retrospective?


One question I get asked a lot is:

Should the product owner attend the retrospective at the end of the sprint?

The word “should” makes this a multi-dimensional question, so first, I want to address a slightly different question.

Can the product owner attend the retrospective?

This one is easier to answer, because according to the Scrum Guide:

“The Sprint Retrospective is an opportunity for the Scrum Team to inspect itself and create a plan for improvements to be enacted during the next Sprint.”

Since the Scrum Guide also states that the Scrum team = product owner + Scrum Master + development team, we can deduce that (officially at least) the product owner is allowed to attend the retrospective.

Now whether they should attend is not as easy. Having worked with many many Scrum teams and seen many, many retrospectives, I have noticed two patterns:

  1. The best Scrum teams tend to have their product owner attend their retrospectives
  2. The worst Scrum teams tend to have their product owner attend their retrospectives

What I have determined from these two patterns is that the product owner attending a retrospective tends to have a big impact on the development team in one way or another. In the positive examples, it is a very clear symbol of everyone acting as one team, working together collaboratively to improve the overall situation with true transparency and respect.

In the other cases, I see teams avoiding issues, scared to speak up and customers looking for individual SMART goals for improvement and targets for velocity growth.

Going back to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master is responsible for “removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress,” and if the product owner being present at the retrospective is proving to be an impediment to the team feeling comfortable and exploring their situation, reflecting upon it and identifying ways to improve their process, then you could argue that the Scrum Master should remove that impediment.

As a coach, the Scrum Master would most likely coach the product owner in the impact they are having on the team, and how that is ultimately affecting the results they are receiving from the development team. This is because, in an ideal world, having the product owner present at the retrospective has got to be better than not having them there.

As the Scrum Guide points out, the retrospective is for the Scrum team, and any decisions that are made in order to improve the Scrum team’s process will inevitably impact the product owner. Making decisions is an important part of our THEMED structure of facilitating retrospectives:

Topics to help everyone focus in on a specific area
Hooks to engage all attendees as soon as the meeting starts
Events of the last sprint or iteration using interactive exercises
Meanings behind the events
Else - exploring variations on the exercises or considering alternative perspectives or things they might be missing
Decisions they need to make as a team to move forward

You can find out more about this structure and get some ready-to-use templates for retrospectives in my newest course with agile coach Paul Goddard -- the "THEMED Retrospective Handbook" -- here.



 

Geoff Watts is one of the leading Scrum thinkers in the world, and one of the few to hold both the Certified Scrum Trainer and Certified Enterprise Coach designation. As well as the popular agile books Scrum Mastery and Product Mastery, Geoff is a sought after leadership coach and has also authored the award-winning The Coach's Casebook: Mastering The Twelve Traits That Trap Us.

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