Scrum Rules: Your Product Owner Is Truthful About the Condition of the Product

September 7, 2020
5 minute read

The Product Owner has the most recent and important information about the value and cost of the product being delivered. This information can greatly serve the team by allowing them to understand the product’s current state and how this affects where they will be going in terms of the vision of the product.

If the Product Owner is able to carry this out then the team will have relevant information that will aid them in their decisions and execution of the product. If this is not carried out then the team will be in the dark – they will make poor decisions and struggle with the feedback given by the stakeholders since they have no transparency into the reality of the product.

A Product Owner that is not being truthful about the condition of the product could be doing so out of fear, or out of ignorance. Finding out which, and then solving this problem is difficult, but there are some techniques. First of all, the Scrum Team should be doing a good job of making their current definition of ‘done’ transparent. Secondly, the Sprint Review should be a replacement for hands-on user acceptance testing with the whole team present. If these practices do not allow the Product Owner to be truthful, then the team will need to dig deeper. A third important technique is the Sprint Retrospective. In this case, various retrospective techniques should be attempted that will allow the Product Owner as a participant to overcome their fear or ignorance. Usually, this requires creating safety in the retrospective environment. Safety can be created by the Scrum Master carefully establishing the environment including: ensuring that the participants in the retrospective have no reporting relationships among each other, using the Retrospective Prime Directive at the start of the meeting, practicing the Facilitator’s Stance, closing the retrospective meeting to outsiders to ensure it is private, and giving the team permission to keep their retrospective discussion and notes completely confidential. This safe environment will usually allow people to open up about their fears or the things they are ignorant about. It may take a few tries before a Product Owner feels comfortable admitting either. Very rarely, a Product Owner is not being truthful for political reasons. In this case, it is very difficult to solve in any other way than by having the Scrum Master be transparent about the consequences of the situation to more senior stakeholders.

Scrum relies on transparency. Decisions to optimize value and control risk are made based on the perceived state of the artifacts. To the extent that transparency is complete, these decisions have a sound basis. To the extent that the artifacts are incompletely transparent, these decisions can be flawed, value may diminish and risk may increase. — The Scrum Guide

The Scrum Master must work with the Product Owner, Development Team, and other involved parties to understand if the artifacts are completely transparent. There are practices for coping with incomplete transparency; the Scrum Master must help everyone apply the most appropriate practices in the absence of complete transparency. A Scrum Master can detect incomplete transparency by inspecting the artifacts, sensing patterns, listening closely to what is being said, and detecting differences between expected and real results. — The Scrum Guide

The Scrum Master’s job is to work with the Scrum Team and the organization to increase the transparency of the artifacts. This work usually involves learning, convincing, and change. Transparency doesn’t occur overnight, but is a path. — The Scrum Guide

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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