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One Real-Life Product Owner Team

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: One Real-Life Product Owner Team

Okay… enough of the theory.  I want to share with you guys the roles involved with one of the Product Owner teams I’m working with right now.  I’ve listed each role and why we added these people to the team.

As always, interested to know your thoughts:

  1. Chief Product Owner – The CPO provides strategic product direction to the Product Owner Team and interacts directly with each individual Scrum team as necessary.  The CPO’s primary responsibility is to interface with each of the other Product Managers, gather their requirements, understand their business drivers, understand their high level timelines and make business focused trade-offs that deliver the most value to the business, given the time and cost constraints, and measured throughput of the team.  The CPO can pull other Product Managers into the Product Owner team, or even the individual Scrum teams, as necessary to communicate business goals to the team.
  2. Architect – The Architect provides strategic technology direction to the Product Owner team and interacts directly with each individual Scrum team as necessary.  The Architect’s primary responsibility is to make the significant architectural decisions that impact the long-term direction of the product, or those design decisions that have impact across multiple Scrum teams.  The goal with the Architect’s participation is to make the decisions that cannot, or should not be made at the team level.  This role should defer as many design decisions to the individual Scrum teams as possible.  The Architect will also help the PO team to understand the cost of features we might add to the backlog, and work with Product Management to develop solutions that can be delivered within the time, cost, and ROI constraints of the business.
  3. Project Manager – The Project Manager manages the overall plan and makes sure that the mechanics of the Product Owner team are happening as necessary.  The Project Manager will manage release level communication with external stakeholders; facilitate meetings as necessary, and work to help people come to consensus in the best interest of the overall product.  This person will understand the velocity of each Scrum team, and how their progress supports on-time delivery of the release, relative to the size of the backlog.  They will work across the Scrum teams to understand organizational constraints and impediments, and either get these issues resolved, or make recommendations on how the overall delivery capacity of the team could be improved.
  4. Business Analyst – The BA’s role is to provide domain knowledge in her area of expertise, facilitate the participation of other Business Analysts as necessary, work with Product Management to elicit requirements as necessary, work with Product Management and the Product Owner team to define acceptance criteria, and maintain the prioritized product backlog.
  5. Systems Engineer – The SE’s role is to provide technical domain knowledge in his area of the product.  The SE will facilitate participation of other Systems Engineers as necessary, and work with the Architects and Team Leads to document any design constraints that either guide, or limit the options of the individual Scrum teams.
  6. Quality Assurance – QA’s role is to provide domain knowledge in the area of testing and facilitate the participation of other QA engineers as necessary.  The QA representative has the job of assessing the readiness of the user stories from a testability perspective and providing guidance on how to break down user stories in a way that makes the job of the test engineers easier and results in better quality, easier to maintain, code.
  7. Technical Leads/ScrumMasters – These folks are not part of the core team, but may participate as necessary in the backlog grooming process.  Their participation in the Product Owner team is primarily a formal feedback mechanism to help the Product Owner team understand team level impediments and coordinate dependencies between teams.

Collectively, these people are responsible for decomposing the backlog in a way that can be easily consumed by the team in sprint planning.  The Product Owner team will also provide an early, high-level estimates so that we can quickly determine a release candidate scope.  The Product Owner team will bring the release candidate scope to the team for final validation, breakdown, and estimation prior to making either a final release decision, but definitely before anything get’s pulled into the sprint.

It’s early for this particular team, but I think we’ve got all the right pieces in place, and are on our way to getting this team of folks to gel.  As I said, always welcome your comments.


Next Problem Teams & Solution Teams

Comments (8)

  1. Ashley

    Any thoughts on the BA and PM being the same person?

    • Mike Cottmeyer

      yeah, no issues with that. I tend to like a strong BA with good PM skills in the role of PO anyway.

  2. Antoine Alberti

    First, Mike, thanks for your blog. It’s probably the one where I find the most useful information.

    Second, I’m also trying to think about the perfect distributed organization for the lab I’m working in, and I would have zillions of questions regarding this set up in order to fully understand the trade-offs that lead to it. I’ll try to focus on the most meaningful/shortest ones.

    The way I understand it, Product Management is BAs/CPO. Which means they are in charge of preparing and grooming the backlog collectively. Am I right, or are BAs more responsible of analyzing the business in advance in order to provide input for the backlog (CPO)?

    Are BAs embedded in the teams, like POs? If not, does someone handle this job, in order to act as the proxy for each team, manage each team’s backlog, understand day-to-day questions, attend ceremonies?

    I suppose that there is a global backlog, then a backlog per team. I also suppose that each team has its Story Points scale, for maintaining the possibility to estimate in a relative way. If it’s the case, how do they manage to estimate the backlog globally? With an epic-level estimate point? If not, how do they synchronize all team’s ways of synchronizing story point values?

    If there really is an epic level, where epics are split across teams, how is testing managed globally? Is there a kind of integration testing team? If yes, how is feedback managed?

    As I understand it, though you probably prefer not to refer to it this way, the head of the team is the CPO, the Architect, and the Project Manager. Am I right, or is one of the roles the ultimate boss, in case of decisions that cannot be made collectively?

    I’m sorry for this long list, but as I told you, I’m filtering a lot. Feel free to answer vaguely, or only to part of them. We could talk for hours to address all details of our set-ups and underlying principles.

    Thanks a lot.

  3. Maritza

    Like the post, Mike! I’ve been thinking along similar lines for a while. As the single PO on a very large system, I know very well how the single PO concept is not working well for us.

    We’ve solved this slightly differently for the time being, but moving in this direction. I groom the backlog and do all PM work, both internal and external, and provide the Scrum team with an initial product backlog for a project. In a series of backlog workshops, I will work this through with the Scrum Master, Architect and lead QA for the project to get the backlog to the point where it can be successfully estimated upfront for the project. Just before Sprint Planning, we may repeat this exercise (if necessary) in smaller batches to ensure that all just-in-time information is available on all stories that are likely to be pulled into the sprint plus a few extra.

    Have you read Marko Taipale’s take on this by using a Problem Team and Solution Team? When I read this, I first started thinking along the lines of creating a team of people around my PO role who could help share the load. Here’s the post:

    Also – you mention the Chief Product Owner, but I don’t see individual PO’s mentioned as part of the Product Owner team? Or is the BA fulfilling that function? And you mention the Product Managers/Product Manager Team – I assume they’re external to the Product Owner team and none of the PM’s are also PO’s?

  4. Charles Bradley

    I’m having trouble reconciling this statement:
    ” The goal with the Architect’s participation is to make the decisions that cannot, or should not be made at the team level. ”

    With this Agile Manifesto principle:

    “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”

    It seems like the architect has taken away the delivery teams’ ability to self organize here… am I crazy?

    • Mike Cottmeyer

      Hey Charles, thanks for the comment. Sutherland said publicly a few years ago that self-organization was never intended to cross class boundaries. He was making the point that the architecture the manifesto was talking about is architecture in the small. Self-organization IMO does not happen with architecture in the large. I think self-organization is a widely misunderstood concept. It doesn’t mean that teams get to pick all their own tools, their own architecture, or decide what to build… it means that they get to decide how the work is done within the team. They get to decide who does what within the team. Organizations, especially large organizations, will put valid constraints on a team that the team must respect. I don’t think that invalidates self-organization if properly understood. Probably not a popular POV, but I hold it none the less ;-)

  5. Charles Bradley

    Thanks for your response Mark. I would encourage you to look at two things in this area:

    1. The recent(2013) change to the Scrum Guide that allows the Dev Org to establish minimum standards/DoD for *all* of their products. So, this goes to your idea that Dev Teams can’t make every decision. But notice how the Dev Org DoD must apply to *all* products, providing an ecosystem instead of command and control or architecture signoff/hierarchy. Clearly Jeff likes this concept since he’s a co-author of the Scrum Guide.

    2. I think Architecture *can* be done in a way that respects self organization of teams. I’ve seen it happen personally in large Agile organizations, and Larman/Bodde have been doing it at VERY large Scrum organizations for almost a decade. See more here:
    Especially these sections:
    Avoid…Architects hand off to ‘coders’
    Try…Architects and system engineers are regular (feature) team members
    Try…Design/architecture community of practice
    Avoid…Architecture astronauts (PowerPoint architects)

    • Mike Cottmeyer

      Again Charles, I respect Craig and Bas and am familiar with their contribution. Maybe this is the difference… I see guys like Craig and Bas, Ken and Jeff, and even Dean Leffingwell as communicating methodology based on *their* experiences in the industry. Their perspectives are just that, their perspectives. I do not quote them as gospel, nor do I believe they have the final say on how to implement agile. I mentioned Jeff in my last response to you because *you* see him as authoritative and I wanted to clarify what it means to be self-organized and for architecture to emerge. If you want to buy into what these guys say in totality, more power to you. We have chosen to roll our own and don’t need to borrow authority from these guys to be effective. I can read what they say, respect their point of view, and feel comfortable totally disregarding their perspective if it conflicts with my experience and what we’ve seen effective. There is *no* theory in what I write about. Everything I write comes from practical application. Product owner teams have been validated in market with the clients we support.


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