Agile is hard. Scrum is hard. Scrum is even harder when your Product Owner is struggling, absent or functioning at a base level of effectiveness.
This is one framework to view four stages of growth and advancement that a Product Owner typically moves through. They are many other ways to view this movement of the Scrum role . Enjoy!
Stage 1: Product Coordinator
This is where most new Product Owners who have recently joined a Scrum team start. This stage is the most basic. However, it does begin with a critical focus on communication which connects the Being and the Doing of Agile.
At this stage, the Product Owner focused on two things:
- giving updates (to the team and others) and
- using status updates as law.
This may be helpful in some cases, yet it lacks active support for the team and more. And yet it still begins with the Product Owner interacting with others.
TIP: If you find yourself in the Product Coordinator stage, ask the team how they would like to be supported and guided.
Stage 2: Product Boss
Now it is common for Product Owners to either move past stage 1 quickly, or to start at stage 2 when they first take on this new role.
As the product owner, this individual may follow all or some of the following behaviours, including:
- Working with each team member to give them work
- Sharing the ownership of decisions with others
- Enforcing the ordering of the Product Backlog
- Competing with the team for control
- Communicating information from the team to business and vice versa
This is an advancement from stage 1. However, these behaviours lack trust, empowerment, collaboration, and the desire to build unity.
TIP: If you find yourself in the Product Boss stage, connect back to the team’s purpose, and ask for help.
Stage 3: Super Product Owner
This is usually the goal for most Product Owners – to be amazing and awesome! At this stage, you are behaving in empowering, supportive, and dynamic ways. And it is very likely that your team is much happier.
The behaviours at this stage include:
- Celebrating team success
- Encouraging new ideas and opinions
- Prioritizing the Product Backlog based on value
- Empowering the team to collaborate directly with the business
- Helping the team to create potential shippable product each Sprint
- Negotiating scope and timelines on the team’s behalf
This is a phenomenal stage to be at. However, it is easy to stop these behaviours based on leadership pressure, market shifts, lack of discipline, and reverting to old ways of functioning when challenges arise.
TIP: If you find yourself in the Super Product Owner stage, identify how you achieved this and maintain your discipline through daily individual retrospectives.
Stage 4: Ultimate Agile Visionary
This final stage is not for the feint of heart. To become the Ultimate Agile Visionary requires laser focus, proven discipline techniques, and huge support from colleagues. The behaviours for stage 4 include:
- Acting as a catalyst for feedback and learning
- Maximizing value across teams
- Helping the organizational culture advance
These behaviours allow for the not only the team to thrive but also the department or organization. This leads to the possibility of a truly agile and empowering company-wide culture. This is hard – very hard. However, it can be done through the support of forward-thinking management, experiment-centric teams, and a strong will for making a large impact in the world.
TIP: If you find yourself in the Ultimate Agile Visionary stage, scream at the top of lungs “Yippee!”
It is interesting to note that each of these stages of the Product Owner build on each other on the one hand, and on the other they are somewhat independent and require a different paradigm. I believe that most individuals that take on the role of Product Owner want to be effective, want to be visionary, want to be empowering, want to be leaders, and want to be collaborative. Yet there are many forces acting upon them that impede or block this desire such as peer pressure, confusion on the purpose and role, and the ease of reverting to previously learned behaviours.
Where do you fit in these stages? What about your product owner? Have you see other ways to look at the development of the Product Owner role? How did your Product Owner advance in their embodiment of this Scrum role?