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I am relatively new to Scrum and I am not clear on the boundaries of a product owner.

The product owner that I am currently working with seems to behave more like a manager than someone who gives requirements to developers. When talking to me or other members of the team without the team lead present, he behaves differently e.g. does not allow us to question any requests or the value of what is being asked. When we question about what is the need or urgency of something while he can not really support his case, it is evident that he is upset mainly because I think he considers that developers are “lower” rank than he is.

While I could take it up with my team lead, I would prefer to understand if that is how product owners normally behave since I don't have experience in Agile.

Is the team lead the only one responsible to “challenge” a product owner in Scrum?

marked as duplicate by gnat, durron597, user22815, Michael Kohne, Dan Pichelman Jun 15 '15 at 15:22

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  • " When we question about what is the need or urgency of something" - why would you do this? The PO sounds like he is working as a PO should. Add these requirements to the backlog and get on and do them! – gbjbaanb Dec 12 '14 at 15:49

In Scrum there is no TL as official role, so let me first answer the question from a Scrum perspective. Everyone in the team can "challenge" a PO in order to get more information, but it is the PO who is responsible for deciding "what" needs to be done. It's important that the team trusts the PO's decisions about "what" needs to be done, and the PO trusts the team about "how" it is done. If there are conflicts, the Scrum Master comes into picture. He's the "defender of the process", and the process is defined in a way that in most cases conflicts can be turned into discussions based on the agreed process and facts, so the Scrum Master would act as a kind of moderator in such a case.

But Scrum does not say that roles that it does not define have no authority whatsoever. If you have a TL (Team Lead), you can ask your Team Lead for help as well. Which way is best depends on your situation and the actual role of the Team Lead. Usually, I'd first try myself, then via an expert developer in the team, then via the Scrum Master, then via the Team Lead.

It is not just your right, but your duty as a Scrum Dev Team member to ask for details and more information about the requirements / user stories, as well as about the value. The Product Backlog is to be sorted by Business Value per User Story, and if there is something unclear about this, it is not just your right, it is your duty to ask questions about it.

  • Thanks for clearing this. In my case the TL is also the scrum master. I have 2 recent cases that user stories with no evident business value were pushed to the backlog when the TL was on vacation and the PO did not "allow" the rest of the team to challenge him. In the sense that he disregarded any such challenge. He just ignored us – Jim Nov 23 '14 at 20:28
  • Maybe neither the Dev Team nor the Product Owner have heard of INVEST / Definition of Ready. INVEST is an acronym that describes the typical requirements that a User Story needs to fulfill before it can be taken into a Sprint. You can improve the situation in the long term by coming up with a "Definition of Ready", which is the common agreement between the Product Owner and the Dev Team about how a User Story looks like before it is taken into a Sprint. guide.agilealliance.org/guide/definition-of-ready.html en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INVEST_(mnemonic) – Christian Hujer Nov 23 '14 at 20:36
  • Oh, and come up with a deputy Scrum Master in case of absence of the regular Scrum Master. For some PO's it can be all too easy to bypass the process if the Scrum Master is absent. They usually don't do it intentionally, but they have a role with a certain exposed responsibility, and they tend to try to extend that responsibility into gaps, which actually is a good behavior of responsible persons. Just with Scrum, it can be counter-productive if the Product Owner is not able to act schizophrenic enough to consciously play Scrum Master at the same time and disciple himself. – Christian Hujer Nov 23 '14 at 20:40
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    @Jim: well, in defense of the PO, he/she is charged with maintaining the backlog -- that's why a PO exists. If they say something has no business value, that's their decision to make. Though, if they take the attitude that the rest of the team can't "challenge" him, he's not a good PO. Perhaps part of the word is "challenge" -- POs and technical team members shouldn't challenge each other per se, they should have discussions. Ultimately, however, it is the POs responsibility to manage the backlog and decide which user stories get worked on. – Bryan Oakley Dec 11 '14 at 21:21
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    Responsible devs should always bring up any issues they have with the content and priority of stories in the backlog, but in the end, the PO is both the one with the authority to make the final decision, and the one who should be held responsible if what is developed does not meet the needs of the business. Unfortunately, scrum can't fix POs who are bad at their jobs, but it does make it more clear whose fault it is if software doesn't meet business requirements. – Steven Burnap Dec 12 '14 at 1:06

First let me say that Product owner is the one who decide which story has higher priority, as a developer we give our prospective in release and sprint planning meetings but he/she is still the one who has final say in prioritizing the user stories. The reason is simple, he/she knows the business better. As an agile developer we gotta give our feedback and work on task we create for ourselves.

Having said that, here seems like your whole team is new to Agile. It's important to understand that Agile is very different from our traditional working setup. First of all, all the team members including product owner and scrum masters should know what their role is and should understand the Agile manifesto and Agile principles. Half of the problem resolves when team know what Agile is all about. In your particular situation I think following principles need to be reminded to product owner.

1) Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

2) At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

As mentioned in first of two principles, "Give them the environment and support they need" is very important. Right now you are not getting environment where you could work with full dedication and to resolve that you need more interaction with your team including your product owner, and that's where 2nd principle come into action.

Having conflicts is not a bad thing. Agile helps to resolve these issues by having retrospectives regularly. Hope with time your team will start understanding each other better.


it is evident that he is upset mainly because I think he considers that developers are “lower” rank than he is

I believe this is the main problem. You should have your Scrum Master talk to him about his position. Everyone on the team, including Product Owner, is of same rank and no one has higher authority than anyone else.

I believe Agile is primarily about fact that everyone working on a software is a rational human and that problems can be solved by rational discussion backed up by facts. As developers we have to admit that we don't have as good idea about what business needs. On the other side, I would expect product owner to have real reason why some feature is high priority. If this reason doesn't exist, I would question his decision and require actual facts about it.

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    The PO doesn't have a higher rank per se, but the PO does have the final decision on what gets built. That's the whole reason the PO exists -- to manage the backlog according to the needs of the business. – Bryan Oakley Dec 11 '14 at 21:24
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    Many people confuse authority with rank. The PO has the authority to determine what is in the product. This does not mean the PO outranks anyone. – Steven Burnap Dec 12 '14 at 1:02
  • This might be what Scrum dictates, but when each person has a defined actual company position, this may well get steam rollered. Then it's just a bad implementation of Scrum. – ozz Jan 3 '15 at 22:40

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