Leveraging Scrum in a Non-IT context has challenges, as the origin of Scrum is developing software products and IT systems. In a previous post I’ve explored the definition of Increment in a Police context. In this post I would like to explore the role of the Product Owner in a non-IT context. Specifically, to answer the question: what exactly does a Product Owner own, if there is no easy-to-identify Product?

The definition of Scrum supports multiple products

Scrum (n): A framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.

Scrum Guide, 2017

Before we dive in to examples and what a Product could look like in a non-IT context, like police work or marketing, I’d like to share my working definitions for the product in the Scrum context.

  1. Looking at the above definition of Scrum, the framework supports working on products, plural. There can be more than one product.
  2. What is a product, in a Scrum context? A product is valuable output, created by the development team, based on the ordered backlog by the Product Owner (and input from various Stakeholders).

When we stick to the above two points, a Product Ower can ‘own’ a marketing stream (delivering many smaller products in the form of campaigns and other outputs). Sales I find harder to productize but may be possible too.

In my current situation, Police case files are products, as are prevention campaigns, instruction and education for other police officers (lacking our specialization).

Going from this, the Product (aka the Increment) is simply the sum of potentially valuable outputs (aka Product Backlog Items delivered) of a Sprint plus previously delivered value.

The Increment is the sum of all the Product Backlog items completed during a Sprint and the value of the increments of all previous Sprints.

Scrum Guide, 2017

1 Product Owner = 1 Product

In Scrum, we maintain that for any one Product, we need a single person (the role of the Product Owner) who is accountable for maximizing the value of the work of the Development Team. To find out the reasoning, join a Scrum.org course or read the Product Owner section of the Scrum Guide.

1 Product = 1 Product Owner = 1 Product backlog

Scrum trainers around the globe

There is no rule in Scrum that states any one Product Owner can only ‘own’ a single Product. Any one Product Owner can ‘own’ multiple products. Just like any one Scrum Team can work on multiple Products. Although this will make it harder to focus, admittedly. Mostly for reasons of Transparency, one Product should not be spread over multiple backlogs nor should multiple Product Owners co-own any one single Product. Side note: In cases where one team works on multiple products, it is generally a good idea to have one Product Owner on this team. The Scrum Guide however gives no guidance on this and it is not ‘against’ the rules to have two Product Owners, one for each Product, for a single Scrum Team to work on. Although it seems foolish to add this complexity in any given situation.

The Product Owner in Police work owns the output of the team

In Police work, the Product Owner ‘owns’ the output of the team. This may be in the form of Police case files, but can also be prevention campaigns or other content to decrease the chance of criminals succeeding.

Disclaimer: this article is a work in progress and currently being refined and edited as a part of my ‘published draft’ experiment. Any feedback, comments and questions are appreciated and I trust your input will help make the final version better. So please share what you think!

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