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I am a data engineer, but my question pertains to my curiosity as to what my product owner should do in this case. I'm working on a team which I have recently found out has a high turnover rate and poor talent retention rate, and my friend (another data engineer, who recruited me) was just forced off of the project despite the disapproval of our manager and is now working on other things.

What we've found is that the environment to an extent is toxic. We have a non-technical manager that weighs in on technical problems too much. For example, one time we suggested a solution to a problem and they said "it made [them] uncomfortable" but when asked what the issue was and what we should do about it, they didn't give an answer. They manage a co-developer which we also have problems with. I'm not trying to say I'm better than them, the way I would put it is I want to own the product I produce and I want to be productive as much as I can, but often times what I see is people are not cooperating with our team norms, people are coming to meetings with sponsors unprepared, developers are not completing their work, etc.

My product owner has, in the past, expressed his concerns to the IT Director, who manages the developers managers. The result, however, was that he was told to "stay in his lane", he's allowed to ask for resources but he doesn't get to choose who fills in those spots.

I want to know what should the product owner be doing in this kind of situation. I think he's trying his best to come up with ways within his abilities, for example just today he mentioned that he's going to have talks with our Scrum Master about handling spikes and user stories, and my speculation is that he brought this up because our co-developer has spent nearly a month without completing a single user story and has only been doing spikes.

In terms of my friend who used to be on the team, our manager even filed a complaint to HR but HR ignored the complaint. After a bit of research from company reviews, we've found that it really seems like HR doesn't have much control over our IT department.

P.S. My friend and I are definitely leaving the company, but we're interested to hear what the product owner should be doing about this situation, especially since we're not the first to join this team and leave.

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  • From what you described, this seems to be a dysfunctional working environment. Some people might feel more important than what their role/responsibilities are. Others are flying under the radar, or people don't pay the necessary attention to what they are doing. If you try to change something you get put in your place. So what should your product owner do? Well, can he fix the dysfunctional environment? Most likely not. You are already preparing to abandon the ship. With the high turnover rate you mentioned, that's most likely all that can be done. Maybe if you ask a more specific question...
    – Bogdan
    May 24, 2023 at 17:07

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I want to know what should the product owner be doing in this kind of situation.

Direct criticism of others rarely works in these situations as it typically leads to conflict and defensive behaviour.

Instead the product owner (and the rest of the team) should focus on making visible the impact of these problems.

The product owner might work with the Scrum Master to produce a sprint report. This report would talk about things that went well in the sprint, but also the impediments that are holding the team back.

An example might be something like:

During the last sprint we got the first requirement done but struggled to finish the second one. If we can make better use of our time with the sponsors in the future we can be more productive. Also, the loss of a valuable team member means that the team has to spend some time on knowledge transfer, which reduced our capacity to get work done.

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