It is the responsibility of the Product Owner to give the Development Team the vision of the product, decide based on that vision what is on or off of the Product Backlog, and decide how much is to be done to satisfy any particular PBI’s contribution to the vision. It is the job of the Development Team to figure out how to solve a problem or request that is stated by a Product Backlog Item (PBI).
One simple way to think about this concept is that the Product Owner is responsible for the “what” and “why” and the Development Team is responsible for the “how” and “who”. If the Development Team members decide on the product vision by themselves, they run the risk of misinterpreting features, moving down a path that is not valuable or even creating work disconnected from the needs of those who will be using the product. If the Development Team members choose their own scope they may do much less than is needed or much more than is required. There is a balance in the Product Owner providing vision and scope, and the Scrum Team providing knowledge and experience in its execution.
One of the most common reasons that a Team Member would not be taking direction from the Product Owner is a lack of communication and engagement between the Product Owner and the rest of the Scrum Team. In order to fix this, usually the Scrum Master must get involved. The Scrum Master can find out if there are obstacles preventing the Product Owner from working more closely with the team. The Scrum Master can also ensure that the Product Owner has been trained well in order to articulate and communicate a Product Vision and use the Product Backlog to appropriately provide scope for the work of the team.
The Product Vision should be a short statement, ideally written, that describes the product in simple terms while conveying a strong emotional reason for the product, and a sense of urgency to deliver the product. Such a Product Vision then needs to be communicated to the Scrum Team on a regular basis. Ideally, the Product Vision is shared and briefly discussed at every Sprint Planning meeting, every Sprint Review meeting, and several times throughout a Sprint. If the team has a space where they work together or meet regularly, the Product Vision should be displayed in a prominent location.
The Product Backlog represents the current list of known work that needs to be done to build the product. Generally speaking, the Product Owner should be making sure that the Product Backlog Items all contribute somehow to the Product Vision, that they all provide business value, and that they are representative of incremental improvements to the product. This means that the Product Backlog usually does not include “technical” activities. In order to help Team Members understand and take direction from the Product Owner about scope for the product, the Product Backlog should be visible to the whole Scrum Team. This visibility requires that the Product Backlog not contain too many items, and that each item can be described in just a sentence or two. A common way of accomplishing this visibility is to use 3×5 note cards for each PBI and putting them on a wall where the whole team can see them. At the very least, the Product Owner should be making the PBIs visible to the Scrum Team every Sprint Planning meeting and every Sprint Review meeting.
Another aspect of this rule of Scrum is the responsibility of the Team Members to actively seek guidance from the Product Owner. Every time Team Members start to work on a PBI, they should be asking the Product Owner to have a conversation about how the PBI contributes to the Product Vision, and what needs to be done so that the Product Owner can accept the work for the PBI. This conversation should then be “documented” using specification by example, automated acceptance tests and test-driven development whenever possible.
You can find out more information about Product Vision and Scope here:
- Articles about Product Vision on AgileAdvice.com.
- The books “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath and “Positioning” by Al Ries and Jack Trout provide excellent guidance applicable to creating a great Product Vision.
For the Product Owner to succeed, the entire organization must respect his or her decisions. The Product Owner’s decisions are visible in the content and ordering of the Product Backlog. No one is allowed to tell the Development Team to work from a different set of requirements, and the Development Team isn’t allowed to act on what anyone else says. — The Scrum Guide
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