Is the PO full-time?

“Is the Product Owner a full-time position?”

This is a good question. Here’s a partial answer now…

First, people and teams typically get more done if things are simpler. So, KISS!!!! This is so important. Do you have to keep it KISS every time? Well, no, at least not to play by the Scrum rules defined in the Scrum Guide.

Remember: The Scrum Guide is modest, which also means that it leaves you lots of room to make mistakes and be less productive and have less fun.

And life may not permit you (now at least) to keep things KISS. And, there are all kinds of situations “out there.” So, Scrum is not very prescriptive at all. But, from a manager’s viewpoint let’s describe way the simple case is so inviting.

First, you have a “most important project” and one team. To get that important product done quickly (at least the first release), you want the team to focus and not get distracted: minimize task switching, focus, get it over the goal line. Once that is done, then the team can work on the next most important release.

This is better for the team — things are clear, there are no distractions and no confusion. It causes the team to “get over” small matters (and ego) and focus on coming together to “get it done.”

Always the team has people outside the team that they must rely on. So, since the team is clear that they are working on the most important thing around here, they ask clearly and strongly for help from those outside the team, and usually the right thing happens. That means fewer things have to be referred to the manager.

Because things are more clear, the impediments and the priority of the impediments is clearer. That should mean much more effective action on the impediments.

Overall, the team is more effective, faster, higher quality, less waste and more what the customer wants.

Let’s get back to the PO. I am assuming a total team size of seven, including the PO. What are the major things the PO must do?

  • Inspire the team with the vision of the product.
  • More and more effectively prioritize the PBL, mainly by ROI.
  • Answer team question in 10 seconds, or 10 minutes, or 1 day max.
  • Get all the details — for the eight stories about to go into the next Sprint — fully ready-ready for the team, so the team knows what they are committing to can be effective. They have the right stuff (re info) to be successful. Not too much, but just enough.

None of those jobs is easy.

In fact, a full-time PO cannot do those four things professionally without significant help, and organizing the help is a major job. (Typically help from part timers outside the team.)

Among the people helping the PO, we strongly recommend that we identify and work with about four Business Stakeholders (BSHs). These are the main people that will give us feedback in each and every Sprint Review. They provide high level feedback about business value, etc., and detailed feedback on all the details of each feature.

Could an “Uber PO” be among those BSHs? Yes, certainly. And all those BSHs are part-timers to that team. Since they did not create the baby (the product so far), they are willing to talk about how it’s not perfect. Yet.

All of these conditions help a manager (and the team and others) to see things much more clearly, and then to help fix the biggest impediment one at a time. (It’s much more likely to actually be the biggest impediment.)

Are there other conditions that could cause us to play the game differently? Of course there could be. The first would be conditions we can not change yet, which we might call impediments. A classic one is that the PO or some manager won’t let the PO be full-time (but should).

There are so many different kinds of situations out there. So, there may be conditions or situations where you do not follow the rules and the advice above, but be careful. Use common sense, and remember that common sense is not common.


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