As a scrum master I will join new development team.

Some additional information about environment:

  • The team works iteratively, but they don't do any retrospectives,

  • Previous scrum master (I'd rather say project manager) was quite authoritative,

  • The product owner is also the direct boss to all team members at the same time.

I was present on a few standups as a guest and have some reflections on it; thus, I would like to ask the team some questions about it. This is why I want to introduce retrospective meetings.

I informed the product owner -- the boss of the team members -- that I'd like to spend 1 hour weekly on such meetings. He agreed. I also told him that retrospectives are for the team and he doesn't have to be present on all meetings. Then he didn't agree. He wants to be present on all meetings.

In my opinion his presence may cause retrospectives to be biased - people will not behave naturally, hiding some information for political reasons.

Am I right? What are important repercussions of such a configuration? What should I be aware of?

  • 1
    I just want to add a little but very important information here. For me without retrospective you are never doing agile/scrum development because it is this meeting that is the base of the agile/scrum process. Scrum has been build from these retrospective meeting. How would you like to change without the meeting that is made for changing things? Retrospective is so important that it's the meeting you should find in all kind of development process. But I know that you know that ;-) – Bastien Vandamme Mar 26 '13 at 8:09
  • If the PO is a team member, he/she goes. If the PO is not a team member (i.e. boss), he/she does not go. – Andrew Clear May 20 '13 at 23:09
up vote 9 down vote accepted

According to the book the product owner shall be present on the retrospectives, because he can provide very valuable information how the team performs from a business perspective.

Your fear is valid: if the boss is around the team members won't behave naturally and most probably their findings or ideas will favor the boss' expectations.

You could have a pre-conversation with him and be his proxy to the team. You tell his findings and observations the team, but I'm pretty certain that he shouldn't be there at this time.

I got the impression that your organization is open for a change. If I were you I would tell my boss to be a proxy for a while and when the team is a good Scrum Team and can find improvements and implement them, then he can join a couple of meetings.

+1: most probably there is a reason why your boss wants to be at that meeting. Try to find out why. If you know his motivation you have the information you need to talk him out of being in the meeting. For example, my old managers lost the trust in my teams and I had to spend some time with the teams to build up the trust again.

  • @boardtc would like to ask: what book is being referred to here? The ScrumAlliance who publishes the scrum guide says the PO should not attend, see scrumalliance.org/articles/39-glossary-of-scrum-terms#1113 says "The product owner does not attend this meeting." Mike Cohn says they should attend, "The entire team, including both the ScrumMaster and the product owner should participate" - mountaingoatsoftware.com/scrum/sprint-retrospective – Tiago Cardoso May 2 '13 at 17:18
  • according to the book is an expression, referring to a common practice. So, I didn't have any specific book on my mind when I wrote my answer. – Zsolt May 2 '13 at 19:51
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    I thought so, but didn't want to assume this without asking :) – Tiago Cardoso May 2 '13 at 20:23
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    @TiagoCardoso and Zsolt - In the Scrum Guide, page 4 defines what they mean by "The Scrum Team", which is the PO, SM, and Development Team. On page 12, they talk about how the retrospective is an opportunity for "The Scrum Team" to improve itself. They don't specifically say who is and isn't invited, but since they refer to "The Scrum Team", which the PO is a part of, I assume this means the PO is included. I consider the Scrum Guide the arbitrator of scrum process, since it is written by Jeff Sutherland. Hope this helps! – jmort253 Jul 10 '15 at 13:51

As others have said, there are many ways to structure the core meetings in a Scrum environment. I am a Product Owner and the overall manager of the development group (among others) although there is a "team lead" between me and the developers (he is also the Scrum Master).

As Product Owner, I am present for all Sprint Retrospectives. It is important for me to be there because when the team discusses the Three Questions (what worked well, what didn't work well, what should we start doing), I need to listen and ensure that I know what to continue doing that worked well, what to change if something didn't work well and it's my fault, and to ensure that I am aware of something that will be starting (if I can help the Scrum Master facilitate the change, or adjust my expectations, etc).

So, in my organization, the answer to "Should Product Owner be present in all retrospectives" is yes because it adds to the continue trust-building and overall product/team cohesiveness.

That may or may not be the case in other organizations. In the situation you are entering, even though there are many ways to do Scrum, I am going to venture to guess that the team is not very cohesive and probably does not function as well as it could, because of the lack of retrospectives and a previous authoritative Scrum Master. The latter is a big problem; a Scrum Master is to be a facilitator and a trust-builder rather than a task-master.

Given that your team is likely not used to working in a trusted, open, honest environment where problems can be aired and solutions found, your concern that "people will not behave naturally hiding some information for political reasons" is valid but that would be independent of the product owner being there. In other words, without strong facilitation and understanding that the retrospective is ultimately for them, I doubt that the Product Owner being there or not would change the likelihood that the team responds honestly and openly.

I agree with Zsolt's statement that there's likely a good reason the Product Owner wants to be at this retrospective -- and the change of Scrum Masters is a good hint as to why. However, even if there wasn't a good reason, to my mind he should be there anyway.

You have a great opportunity to reset the way that the team functions -- good luck!

The ScrumAlliance who publishes the official scrum guide says the PO should not attend, see scrumalliance.org/articles/39-glossary-of-scrum-terms#1113 - "The product owner does not attend this meeting."

Mike Cohn says they should attend, see enter link description here - "The entire team, including both the ScrumMaster and the product owner should participate"

Mike Cohn also says "I can't think of a single good reason why a team would want to hold a retrospective without the product owner present. I can think of many bad reasons why they may want to--but each of those should be the topic of a retrospective!" & "I hope your next retrospective is successful. To help that happen, make sure the product owner is there."

So there is different opinion, but by the book the PO should attend!

  • For reference purposes, here is the Scrum Guide, authored by Jeff Sutherland. – jmort253 Jul 10 '15 at 14:11
  • I also want to add that this disclaimer is listed at the end of the Scrum Alliance article: "Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches." – jmort253 Jun 7 '16 at 10:10

There are many ways to facilitate these and you have to choose the one, or a combination, that suits your environment and culture. No single answer exists. By excluding a role, you are introducing another type of bias. So you fix one bias, introduce another.

Find another way to solicit information if your culture is such that your team may filter their thoughts. Capture up front information anonymously, perhaps, so that those piece of information that might be filtered will pass through.

This requires strong facilitation and ground rules. Everyone needs to be clear that the good, bad, and ugly must come out for the overall benefit of the project. So it would be your job as facilitator to ensure that no one gets bashed for being honest.

I'd say PO attendance is optional and whether it is a good idea that he/she participates in the retrospective depends.

  • Is the PO much more senior than the other team members?
  • Is the PO very authoritative?
  • Does he/she tend to "occupy"/take control of meetings?

A dedicated PO will of course want to participate in retrospectives, and in the perfect of all worlds, should. However, if it inhibits other team members it might be best for the team if he/she does not participate.

One possibility is to split the retrospective into two parts, and let the PO participate half of the time.

The Retrospective gathering is a team event (team members + ScrumMaster). The general agenda of a Retrospective have three standard points (but not limited to):

  • What was good in the sprint
  • What was bad in the sprint
  • How can we improve

Retrospective should be process improvement related and not product related (like Sprint kick-start meeting or Demo meeting). Therefore, the presence of PO is optional. The best choice is that PO should be available and should attend only if it's invited by the team. If the team decides that some process problems needs to be discussed in the presence of the PO then, PO must attend the meeting.

Sometimes the presence of PO at retrospective inhibit a lot of talk from team members. On the other hand, SCM should actively monitor discussions and if they go into PO area without PO presence should moderate and recommend to review the debate in the presence of PO so multiple points of view and opinions to be taken into consideration. All decisions made by the team inside Retrospectives should be transparent inside company, so that everyone could be aware about impediments, commitments and decisions inside the team.

Summing all above, there is no need that PO should be in all Retrospectives but should be available to join when team requests.

The issue here isn't really whether the PO attends the retrospective or not, I think. Where it starts to become problematic, is that this PO also has a role as manager of the team. Scrum, being based on empirical process control theory, depends on transparency, inspection and adaptation. The Sprint Review is then for the inspection and adaptation of the product and the retrospective is for the inspection and adaptation of the work methods. Taking that idea behind the retrospective, I would say that the PO is not required (but still welcome) in the retrospective, unless the work method of the team is such that it brings harm to the product. In that case, I can understand that the product owner wants to be present in the meeting.

But I think what is more likely to be the case here, is that the culture of this company doesn't allow this team to be self-organising. (An interesting question perhaps is why the PO is also manager of the team while the scrum guide is very clear about the self organisation of the team.) The result is then that management in this company is afraid to let this team go and handle the retrospective by themselves.

As the previous scrum master was quite authoritative (even calling him project manager), it seems possible to me that this previous scrum master has caused some frustration in the team, which has led to some big arguments, possibly even turning a retrospective of a while ago into a big shouting match. I wonder what the reason was that the previous scrum master is no longer a part of this team. Did he choose to leave after upsetting the team, did he find the company couldn't change it's culture or was he taken out of the team by management? Sorry for perhaps adding more questions than answers, but I guess there are many people who face a situation not unlike the one described here, so I thought I'd add my insights.

As a few others have stated, the PO most likely has a reason for wanting to be present. I'd suggest having a one on one with him and talk about why he wants to be present, find a good way to express your concerns (without being accusatory), and see what he thinks. Most of the time, you could come to some common ground that can work. Perhaps it's him talking about how he wants the team to grow and develop - that can set the stage for a retro. Also, you most likely know this, it will take several retros for a team to really get it. You'll need to keep the PO engaged.

You will need buy in for the team to self organize and improve how they operate. With the PO there or not there, you'll still need his support in order for this to happen so your best bet truly is to work together.

Here, I think you'd fulfill the spirit of agile development.

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