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Our start-up is currently build this way:

  • Engineering Team which contains the following resources:

    • Director of Engineering
    • Mobile, front-end and back-end developers
    • Quality Assurance
    • Infrastructure engineer
    • Product Owner (PO)
  • Product Team:

    • Director of Product
    • Product designers
    • Business Analyst
    • Product Manager
  • Other Teams such as sales, operations, etc

We are currently having some discussions whether the PO should be part of the engineering team or the product team and we can't figure it out. My opinion is that it should be part of the same department as the whole scrum team but some people think otherwise.

What would be the real logic needed to answer this question objectively?

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  • why does it matter which team a specific role falls into? I think only your company can answer these types of questions about your internal company structure, or you'll need to expand a lot more into how the team dynamics on your company works.
    – Lie Ryan
    Sep 18, 2019 at 0:57
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    It's a matter of opinion. Both ways can work well. And other ways can work well. it depends on how your teams and company operate.
    – joshp
    Sep 18, 2019 at 2:23
  • OP does not ask for opinions on this organisational question related to software engineering, but is on contrary, is looking for a logic (i.e. a model, a procedure, a criteria) that could help to answer it. It therefore calls for objectivity. I've added "objectively" to reinforce the call for a "logic". Furthermore it addresses a common organisational issue that is often addressed ad-hoc in an opinion based way and without clear analysis because related to power games. I therefore think this question is useful and worth to be reopened.
    – Christophe
    Sep 19, 2019 at 6:53

2 Answers 2

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Where should the PO be ?

As you are a startup, there could be a confusion between team structure and organisation structure. What might look somewhat opinion based at first sight, becomes much more objective when you look at both dimensions separately:

  • In the logic of the team, the product owner should of course be part of the scrum team, together with a lot of people from engineering. But that doesn't make him part of the engineering team.

  • In the logic of the organisational structure, according to roles and responsibilities, the product owner should belong to the product organisation and report to the product manager.

Otherwise stated: while the PO shall work closely together with engineering in a (cross-functional) scrum team, he/she shall be committed primarily to the customers interestest and therefore represent the product management in the team.

This is fully compatible with the Scrum guide's definition:

The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from work of the Development Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.

What if PO would belong to engineering?

First of all, depending on the people, their motivation and their ethics, this could very well work. But let's look at the consequences:

  • How can the product manager manage the products if she/he has no control on the ownership of the product ?
  • What will happen if (when?) engineering does not deliver according to product management expectations ?

If the PO belongs to engineering, the product manager will immediatly questions his/her choices. And this is bad, since The Scrum guide says:

The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog. (...) For the Product Owner to succeed, the entire organization must respect his or her decisions.

So this situation might create unnecessary tensions or even conflicts between departments, that could otherwise be avoided if both departments are represented in the team and find therein a negociated agreement (in a team spirit).

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Its depend of the technicals skills own by the Product Owner. I m currently working in a big company with multiple product owner. One of them is part of the enginering team where i am, because he can directly work on the projet, or at least, investigate on technicals problems, bugs or regressions in the code or in the infrastructure.

But most other product owner, didn't have any skill in tech, and so are part of the marketing teams.

In my opinion, Product Owner should be close as possible of his products (and product's customer), as possible he can act directly on the product.

if your are in a startup, this is normal, that the product owner is parf ot the whole scrum.

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