The Role of a Product Owner (Part 2): Life in the Fast Lane


The Role of a Product Owner (Part 2): Life in the Fast Lane


Freeways

In part one of this series of posts on the role of a product owner, we explored the responsibilities and characteristics of the product owner. In this second post, we will explore the day-to-day activities of a product owner within the context of a sprint to further investigate the role.

For the sake of brevity, I have chosen to focus on a single Scrum team performing two-week sprints as the basis for this post. This is just an example, and every team is different. I’ll cover standard Scrum events (shown in italics) plus additional common activities.

Day 1: Sprint Planning

The Scrum team attends the sprint planning collaborate and agree on a plan of what will be performed during the new sprint. In part one of this event, the product owner discusses the goal for the sprint and the product backlog items that are required to achieve it.

The product owner clarifies product backlog items and answers questions from the development team who make the final decision on what is included within the sprint. Working with the development team, the product owner helps to craft a sprint goal to provide a cohesive objective to be met by the sprint.

The development team continues in the second part of this event to determine how the selected work is to be completed according to the definition of done. The product owner does not need to attend part two of sprint planning, but should be available to answer questions when required.

Day 2: Stakeholder Discussion

The product owner meets with high-level stakeholders within the organisation to update them on progress and to ensure that the development roadmap remains aligned with the business strategy. The stakeholders within this organisation are unable to attend sprint reviews so receive their information directly from the product owner.

In the afternoon, the product owner reviews any completed product backlog items against the definition of done and accepts them as completed, or rejects them back to the development team. The product owner collaborates daily with the development team to progress work and answer questions.

Day 3: Product Backlog Refinement

The Scrum team attends the product backlog refinement to review, estimate and split items within the product backlog. The product owner presents product backlog items and answers questions from the development team to ensure that there is an accurate forecast and a common understanding. The aim of these weekly meetings is to ensure there are three sprints worth of product backlog items that meet the definition of ready.

Day 4: Daily Scrum

The daily scrum is a development team event to aid coordination and collaboration. Although the product owner does not need to attend this synchronisation activity, it is worthwhile if they can attend whenever possible. Generally, the product owner is there as an observer but should be allowed by the Scrum Master to answer questions if required.

Day 5: Mid-Sprint Review

For some new Scrum teams, a mid-sprint review (or sanity check) can be useful to gauge progress and discuss any remedial activities that may be required. This meeting should not be required as the product owner works daily with the development team answering questions and resolving problems. In this example, the Scrum team has decided this meeting is useful for their current stage of development.

The product owner and development team discuss progress, review the sprint burndown chart and decide if they are on track to complete the forecasted work. They also identify impediments and agree on actions to ensure work is finished for review at the end of the sprint.

Day 6: Customer Feedback Sessions

Regular feedback sessions are organised to gain valuable customer feedback on the product being developed. These range from facilitated supplier workshops, exploratory customer interviews, usability test sessions and analytics reviews. The aim of these sessions is to guide the development of the product to maximise business and customer value.

The product owner’s role is to fully understand the target market and create strong customer relationships so the best possible outcome can be achieved.

Day 7: External Reviews

When working as a single Scrum team in a traditional organisation with external suppliers and internal departments, the product owner must ensure alignment is maintained. In this case, the product owner has arranged a rolling series of meetings with third-party suppliers, security, quality assurance and operations.

The long-term goal is to pull these capabilities within the Scrum team to provide an end-to-end service, but this will be an incremental improvement.

Day 8: Product Backlog Refinement

The product owner attends the weekly refinement session to work with the development team on preparing product backlog items for the upcoming sprints. This includes adding required detail, ensuring dependencies are addressed and preparing acceptance criteria. Items are prepared according to the definition of ready to ensure that they can be accepted by the development team into a future sprint.

Day 9: Daily Scrum

The product owner attends the last daily Scrum of the sprint to ensure that they understand how the development team is progressing and can support them with any last-minute issues. Additionally, the product owner volunteers to help address any actions and prepare for the sprint review. 

Again, the product owner is not required at this development team alignment event but it is a positive team-building behaviour and should be encouraged as long as the product owner is only present to watch.

Day 10: Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective

On the last day of the sprint, the Scrum team meets for the sprint review with interested stakeholders and customers. This is an informal review where participants inspect what was completed during the sprint and agree on what to do next.

The product owner identifies the work that has been completed within the sprint and any items that were forecast but not done. The development team then discusses progress, demonstrates work completed and answers questions from attendees. The product owner clarifies and records any feedback to maximise the value of this event.

The product owner ends the sprint review by discussing the current product backlog, updating the release burndown chart and presenting forecast completion dates based upon the progress made.

Following a break, the Scrum team attends the sprint retrospective to reflect upon the previous sprint and identifies potential improvements. This is the key event within the “inspect and adapt” sprint cycle enabling collaboration to identify and prioritise improvements. It is for the product owner to agree on which potential improvements will be included into the next sprint.

Conclusion

The product owner role is varied and demanding with focus required upon stakeholders and customers plus strong and continual support needed for the development team.

Although not noted above, the Scrum master is also an integral part of the Scrum team and supports the product owner with managing the product backlog and facilitating events.

While the product owner role is generally considered a half-time role, it is often a full-time activity when all of its many aspects are covered.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

 



 

Peter Hyde (CSP, CSM, CSPO, SA) is an enterprise agile coach who resides in West Sussex, UK.

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