In this series I aim to put a Product Owner perspective to the elements of the Scrum Guide. Where else can we start then at the definition? We’ll discover the most important elements for a Product Owner and what they mean in practice.
Definition of Scrum according to scrumguides.org
Scrum (n): A framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.
What I believe to be essential to being a great Product Owner begins with understanding the bold parts in this definition, as well as their relation to the rest of the parts.
First off, we encounter address complex adaptive problems. As a Product Owner, your role starts with understanding the problem your product is trying to solve. You are not simply the owner of a Product for the products sake, no more than a shoe is made for standing on the shelves. Although the sheer amount of shoes in any city center’s shopping district might point to the contrary. Just like the sheer amount of seemingly useless software products in existence. By investigating and investing in knowing the problem you’re trying to solve, you automatically get a step closer to understanding the customer and a better grasp on the choices you need to make to improve the Product you manage. Scrum helps you employ an empirical process, working with the Agile mindset and principles in a complex problem space. For more on Complexity and how to know whether you are in a complex problem space, look at Cynefin and/or the Stacey Model. Scrum’s iterative and incremental nature helps you as a Product Owner to continuously adjust your solution for an adaptive problem, your moving target.
Further along there’s products of the highest possible value. As a Product Owner, Scrum helps you focus on delivering value and minimizing risk. Scrum enables continuously reprioritizing according to new information, focusing the Product Owner’s goals by placing the most valuable items on top of the backlog. Another way Scrum enables delivery of highest possible value is through time-boxed Sprints, where the Scrum Team’s assumptions and hypotheses are validated or discarded in short iterations. Having a limited amount of time and a lightweight plan prevents waste and spending too much effort and money moving your Product in the wrong direction.
Those two parts are in my opinion the most revealing and valuable parts of the definition from a product owner perspective. However, since Scrum is a lightweight framework, you’ll be hard pressed to find any non-relevant information in the guide.
Let’s look at A framework within which people can… Scrum is not a complete methodology. For a Product Owner it is important to notice that Scrum won’t tell you how to manage your product. How to create a vision. How to collaborate with your stakeholders. Scrum simply helps you by providing events, roles and artifacts to enable creative value delivery with minimal waste. This is also captured in the wording of while productively and creatively delivering. In a complex problem space, the Development team needs to be creative to address the problem. The development team needs to be able to self-organize to reach high productivity and fast delivery. All to enable you as a Product owner to focus on optimizing value and quickly validate assumptions and hypotheses. So although Scrum does not describe how to manage a Product, it does help you by providing a minimal structure for turning ideas into product (features/functionality) and the way you as a Product Owner collaborate with the other members of the Scrum Team and the product’s Stakeholders.
In summary, for the Product Owner, Scrum helps people (the Scrum Team and the Stakeholders) address complex adaptive problems, enabling the Development team to be productive and creative, while you focus on optimizing value through managing the Product Backlog.