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My current project involves two companies. The product owner from Company A and the development team from Company B.

Recently the two companies came to a disagreement regarding the Product Owner (PO) for the following reasons:

  1. She does not give acceptance criteria. She will give one-liners and the developers have to figure out what she wants. The if they are done refining they present it to the PO and she can accept or reject the story. If she accept we can then pull it to the backlog for a sprint.

  2. She does not prioritize. The Development Team needs to do this. If the Team prioritizes then she complains that we are forcing priorities and if we ask her, she states 'you can decide'.

  3. She is very rude and has an explosive personality if she does not agree with the Team.

  4. She is a "sort of Scrum" person. She likes Scrum when it suits her. Otherwise, she complains about Scrum, even after coaching.

  5. She is the PO, Business Analyst, and tester (final sign off)

Company A and B came to disagreement because company A states that she does nothing wrong while my company, Company B, sees the bottleneck she is causing. It is like a ripple effect.

  1. No detailed acceptance criteria = More meetings and time spent figuring out stories. I have to log stories, get priorities and have a meeting to decipher her one-liners.

  2. Rudeness = Lowers team morale

  3. Multiple roles = One of the roles is neglected depending on what is required.

She has been the reason for us not completing the Sprint Goal in some of our Sprints.

This has been raised to the CEO level of both companies and the changes they made was:

  1. Move her out of the office so that the rudeness and explosiveness do not affect the team.

That's all.

I have made numerous suggestions (as the Scrum Master), I think four times, in the past year but it fell on deaf ears.

Do you have any suggestions on an approach to follow?

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    Sounds like a politics problem more than project management problem. – Euphoric Oct 18 at 9:42
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    Senior management owns the problem. If they break the Scrum implementation, they get to keep both halves. – Todd A. Jacobs Oct 18 at 13:38
  • As much as I can appreciate your position, because I've been in a similar situation personally, I wonder if this question is a rant disguised as a question? – corsiKa Oct 19 at 3:43
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    A previous edit swapped company A and B in the center paragraph, rendering the background slightly confusing. I made an edit to change that back. I assume that it is the PO's employer that states that she does nothing wrong. – Zano Oct 21 at 7:33
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She does not give acceptance criteria

This is not a problem if the Product Owner is happy to talk through the stories with the team and clear up any details. The team can even create their own acceptance criteria as a result of the discussions if they find that useful.

If the Product Owner is not willing to spend the necessary time explaining the stories then there is a discussion to be had about time committent and productivity.

She does not prioritize

Any idea why? It would be worth having a conversation with the Product Owner about their motivation for this behaviour. Is it that they do not know what stories take priority? Or perhaps they don't feel sufficiently empowered to make priority decisions?

She is very rude and has an explosive personality

It would be worth getting the whole team together with the Product Owner to discuss ways of working and what behaviour is acceptable. A lot of teams will have a written 'terms of engagement' that they try to stick to.

She's the PO, BA, and tester

If there are issues arising from this combination of roles then the retrospective is typically the place they would be surfaced and hopefully mitigated.

Do you have any suggestions on a approach to follow?

Confrontation is unlikely to be productive as Scrum is by design a collaborative approach. My suggestion would be to talk as much as possible with the Product Owner to try and determine their motivation and see if there are ways of working that can be found to improve the situation.

Escalation to management is a risky approach as unless the Product Owner is replaced the result is likely to be even more tension in the team.

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  1. Ongoing - track your velocity.
  2. Document every roadblock and inefficiency, caused by her or otherwise.
  3. Bring them up in the Sprint Retrospectives, speaking in neutral language - trying to find solutions to problems, not people.
  4. If no solutions can be found (and implemented), then you need to do two things: start working these inefficiencies into your estimates. And make sure those capable of removing these inefficiencies (e.g. the CEO) are aware that these are the reason for the slow pace.

At this point, one of three things should happen, in descending order of ideal result:

  • You find acceptable solutions in the Retrospective and the problems go away.
  • The problems are forcefully removed by those higher up and the problems go away.
  • The problems and their effects are accepted by those higher up. You will continue to develop slowly, but those in charge are at least aware of the root cause and have meaningfully chosen to accept the cost.

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