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Pitfalls to Avoid as a Product Owner | David Tzemach

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

The PO’s job is to ensure the product backlog is always in good shape. This is his responsibility to the team. Over the years, I have seen POs abuse it by not focusing on what is essential for the team's success. I have broken down those areas that the PO should focus on; this will increase the probability of success:

Live and let live

The PO must not interrupt the team during the sprint with "small" urgent items that the team must deliver just because there is pressure on him unless it is genuinely business-critical. With that said, the PO can make changes once the team is already committed to the work. However, he must do this with the team to understand the requests' impact on other commitments.

There is nothing wrong with collaboration.

The product owner has a decisive role in the team’s success. Therefore, he must always promote constructive collaboration between his interfaces (Internal and External). One classic example that can demonstrate the difference between a collaborative PO and the one that is not is related to the team planning session.

During this meeting, the PO usually takes ownership of the first part (story review and setting the sprint goal) and fades out while the team estimates and adds their tasks. This is a mistake, and the PO should seize this opportunity to collaborate with the team, as well as answer all open questions, change priorities, and break down big stories that the team cannot accomplish in the upcoming sprint.

Not focusing on the team.

Sometimes the Product Owner works with more than just one Scrum team. This reduces his focus and thus impacts his judgment and decision-making.

Wanting it all

One of the jobs of the PO is to prioritize the backlog to allow the team to deliver the most important stories first. The priorities are used to avoid the negative "must have it all” approach. The team's responsibility is to decide how many stories they can deliver during a sprint.

Their efforts are based on the prioritized items. Once the team decides to commit to only ten stories based on that prioritization, the PO cannot use the word "must" for stories exceeding that number. This will result in over-commitment and less focus, leading to poor deliverables.

Know your boundaries and do not cross them

Within any Scrum Team, there needs to be an understanding of what the team needs to do to deliver the best product for the customer. There must be clear boundaries between the development team and the PO.

This ensures team effectiveness, morale, and motivation. Without it, the PO can negatively influence the team by pushing them to over-commit to work that will likely fail to deliver and impair their ability to provide a quality product.

Knowing the importance of quality

I have seen the PO pushing the team to deliver faster throughout my career. This was done while focusing only on getting as many new features out without giving real attention to quality. This, in turn, affects the team’s ability to keep delivering features at the same pace, as they have to fix quality issues that come from the field, just because the PO thought there is no room for investing in things such as test automation, unit tests or the performance aspects of the application.

What is your vision?

Sometimes there is no clear vision of the product; thus, not making it possible to see the big picture and gain a sense of ownership over the product. This must be avoided and corrected immediately.

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