Can a Product Owner be a developer in Scrum? In theory, yes, but is it recommended by Scrum?

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    @CodeGnome: Where? Can you provide a reference that states that roles and individuals are a 1 to 1 relationship? – Andrew Clear Mar 26 '13 at 17:36
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    @aclear The Official Scrum Rulebook clearly says: The Scrum Team consists of a Product Owner, the Development Team, and a Scrum Master. Likewise, a jail consists of a guard, an inmate, and a warden. Please feel free to describe how either framework would function as intended with any one person performing two or more framework-defined roles concurrently. – Todd A. Jacobs Mar 27 '13 at 3:17
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    I find it wonderfully illuminating that you compared Scrum to a prison. By to take your analogy to extremes, if there jail consists of 1 warden, 1 guard, and 1 inmate I wouldn't preclude the warden from giving the guard some time off based entirely on his title. – Andrew Clear Mar 27 '13 at 15:15
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    @Venture2099 - Man, that's a lot of hate. But yes, it is given that the company culture and type of work are compatible. For instance, an established Scrum team working on an older code base doing primarily maintenance work. Or a small start-up where everyone is wearing multiple hats. Or a company that has fully embraced holacracy. I value flexibility over rigidity, in both process and software. – Andrew Clear Apr 3 '15 at 18:05
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    Show me the exact sentence that says the Product Owner is a member of the Development Team. Where is it? I am not wrong and multiple people have told you now; you are just unwilling to accept it. – Venture2099 Apr 5 '15 at 8:09
up vote 17 down vote accepted

It is possible that a developer also acts as a product owner but I don't think that it is recommended. Here are my 2 main reasons:

  • It may create conflict of interest
  • It will drag down your output as a developer

PO has to prioritize the backlog (the what part) where as the team decides amount of work that can be delivered in each sprint (the how-much part). Similarly PO provides feedback on the sprint during sprint review meetings and decides to approve or reject the sprint which has been delivered by the team thus causing conflict of interest.

Being a PO needs frequent engagement with both the client and the team so that everyone has aligned vision of what needs to be delivered when. PO has to be available to answer questions coming from the team. If your time is divided between engagement and development it is bound to have a negative effect on efficiency for both dev and PO roles.

Here is what Roman Pichler has to say on Scrum Alliance, The product owner is required to:

  • closely collaborate with the team on an ongoing basis to guide and direct them
  • manage the product backlog
  • answer questions asked by the team
  • provide feedback
  • sign-off work results

This is a lot of work for a PO which would require undivided attention. For highly aligned and high performance teams, Scrum Master role may need less amount of time but a PO will still have to spend similar amount of time regardless.

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    In your referenced post about Product Owners, Mr. Pichler also said: "I recommended that he free up most of his schedule and defer most of his other commitments to have enough time available" to perform his key responsibilities as a Product Owner. A PO who is doing everything required by the role will not have time to perform someone else's role, too. – Todd A. Jacobs Mar 27 '13 at 3:03

The Scrum Guide is explicit that this is allowed:

The Product Owner and Scrum Master roles are not included in this count unless they are also executing the work of the Sprint Backlog.

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    Wish I could +1 this about a thousand times. Not sure why people get so confused on this point. – Andrew Clear Apr 3 '15 at 18:32

While the Scrum Guide does not explicitly state whether the Scrum Master or Product Owner are, or are not part of the development team, they are part of the Scrum Team:

The Scrum Team consists of a Product Owner, a Scrum Master, and the development team.

Which infers that both the Product Owner and the Scrum Master operate outside of the development team.

Further, the Scrum Guide also states:

Scrum’s roles, artifacts, events, and rules are immutable and although implementing only parts of Scrum is possible, the result is not Scrum. Scrum exists only in its entirety and functions well as a container for other techniques, methodologies, and practices.

The Product Owner is also responsible for a lot of administration and backlog grooming, again from the Scrum Guide:

The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog. Product Backlog management includes: Clearly expressing Product Backlog items; Ordering the items in the Product Backlog to best achieve goals and missions; Ensuring the value of the work the Development Team performs; Ensuring that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all, and shows what the Scrum Team will work on next; and, Ensuring the Development Team understands items in the Product Backlog to the level needed. The Product Owner may do the above work, or have the Development Team do it. However, the Product Owner remains accountable.

Based on the preceding information, I would say it is not recommended - and, if you were to do so you would not actually be doing Scrum (according to the document maintained by the founders). Having said that, is that inherently a bad thing - no, you just shouldn't call it Scrum.


http://www.scrum.org/Scrum-Guides

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyNPeTn8fpo

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    Just to clarify: the PO and SM are certainly members of the Scrum team, but are not members of the development team. – Todd A. Jacobs Mar 26 '13 at 15:32
  • The scrum guide does in fact state that a Scrum Master or Product Owner can be considered part of the development team. This comes up in the section "Development Team Size". – Dan Solovay Mar 31 '15 at 23:53
  • @DanSolovay: if you're referring to, "The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team" - I believe this is a change from the previous iteration of the guide, as the Scrum Team size section was changed in other ways. Good update. – Josh Bruce Apr 1 '15 at 1:14
  • @JoshBruce: No, referring to this: pm.stackexchange.com/a/14570/16719 The language seems pretty clear that this is permitted. When it makes sense is a much trickier question, but I can think of a number of scenarios, especially for internally facing projects with small teams (e.g. building development tools). The main thing that the Scrum Guide makes clear as that when the developer speaks as product owner, she/he is speaking with a special authority. If the other developers respect this, I don't see an intrinsic conflict. – Dan Solovay Apr 1 '15 at 2:04
  • @DanSolovay: apologies, I meant, "The Product Owner and Scrum Master roles are not included in this count unless they are also executing the work of the Sprint Backlog"; pasted the wrong quote. – Josh Bruce Apr 1 '15 at 2:07

Unfortunately not. A good product owner has a lot of coordination work with customers, support, management which takes a lot of time (and meetings). Therefore only a small amount of time remaining for development work and being with the team. Plus this small amount time will be interrupted by users, customers, managers, meetings anyway.

Additionally, if the product owner knows too much about the implementation details, he can drive the team to a certain technological direction and may be less open to other suggestions.

Product ownership requires a different kind of mindset. Even if one has a PO and a developer mindset, switching between them takes time and a huge effort.

  • Everyone makes the assumption that the PO will be coding. What about running manual test cases that were written by the test oriented members of the team? What about creating automated ui tests? Writing new unit tests on legacy code? – Andrew Clear Mar 26 '13 at 17:35
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    If we are talking about Scrum I don't see a difference between coding and testing. Imagine that the PO starts coding an acceptance test, but he is asked to join a meeting, and after that she has to write a status report etc. Regardless the type of the task she cannot concentrate or get fully engaged in the team's work. – Zsolt Mar 26 '13 at 19:08
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    I agree with Zsolt: the PO should not be a programmer. In fact, it can work even better if the PO is not a member of the development or IT department. If your company has a Product Management team, it's best to get your PO from there. – JMarsch Apr 4 '13 at 21:39

Yes. PO is a hat just like any other. The only precluded combination is PO and Scrum Master.

Edit Knowing that the community would be vehemently against me here, I short-circuited the length of my answer as I didn't really relish the idea of yet another argument with a Scrum zealot. To them I will say this: the Scrum guide is very explicit in saying that it is very explicit (see the quotes in Josh Bruce's answer for evidence). The Scrum Guide very specifically does not ever say the PO cannot be a member of the Development Team.

That being said, if you're PO is only occupied 20% of the time and is a fully qualified developer do I really care if your going to make me stop saying I'm doing "Scrum" while I continue to deliver value to my customers? Nope, not in the least.

The Product Owner is responsible for the economics of the product. As long as he/she is fulfilling that role and their work in process is controlled, I see no reason why they shouldn't grab a keyboard.

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    Thanks for the edits (even if your view may be different than what others will have in regards to Scrum). I'm not a Scrum expert, but I always think of frameworks like these as something to take and then modify to fit your own requirements and organizational goals. Sure, it may not be true Scrum at that point, but right or wrong I've always been a fan of just using whatever works. – jmort253 Mar 27 '13 at 1:45
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    I think your answer would be better without the little mini-rant about the community. Stick to facts and useful information. – Bryan Oakley Mar 28 '13 at 16:01
  • My "mini-rant" was about Scrum zealots, and most definitely not the Stack Community at large (I'm also not sure if 1.5 sentences counts as a rant, but meh). – Andrew Clear Mar 28 '13 at 16:18
  • So your bright idea is to have 1 member of the development team responsible for the approval and rejection of the rest of the development team's work...let me start the slow clap. Genius. I must be Scrum Zealot. The team dynamic will be awesome! – Venture2099 Apr 2 '15 at 8:12
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    The hostility is a reaction to your ridiculous attitude that the "community" is somehow unwilling to accept your genius and anyone who disagrees with you is a zealot. I don't appreciate your attitude and have responded in kind. What you are suggesting may work in a tiny fraction of Scrum team and even then - it is not Scrum. It is an adapted framework you have invented yourself. Not a bad thing but please stop arguing that it is somehow recommended by the Scrum Guide. It is not. Seriously, can you honestly not see the difference? – Venture2099 Apr 5 '15 at 8:14

If you're looking for anecdotes, I'm both a PO and developer/architect for a team. This is more out of necessity than choice. Personally I find it rather difficult, because it means I don't have an opportunity to provide the appropriate level of PO support that my team deserves. I am not able to devote 100% of my time to development and I'm not able to devote 100% of my time to being the product owner, so both roles suffer.

OTOH, my team is highly productive, arguably the most productive and happy team in the company. So, as a team we're able to make it work. At the end of the day, that's what matters most, right? A truly self-organizing team will do what it needs to get the work done.

That being said, I don't recommend trying it unless you have no other choice. As productive as my team is, I like to think we would be even more productive with a full time PO, whether it's me or someone else.

Some answers are refering to the Scrum Guide when they say no. However, according to that reference I'd say it would be no problem for both the SM and the PO to develop, given the right circumstances: "The Product Owner and Scrum Master roles are not included in this count [the development team size] unless they are also executing the work of the Sprint Backlog."

No of course the PO cannot be a developer and vice versa. Scrum is all about roles and different point of views on the same vision or goal. Additionally the task to be done by a PO are totally different to the task to be done by a developer.

To provide a good product it's good that team is challenged (I think that's why it's called Scrum) by the PO and vice versa.

By providing feedback the team can also make the PO to think about the product or about the features he wants to have implemented. So due to the different point of views all participants are evolving. If a PO would also be a developer you would not use this effect.

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    Scrum is all about delivering value incrementally to your customers. The roles, events and artifacts are merely the mechanism which facilitates this. Don't lose the forest for the trees, or do you customer's actually pay you to be a by-the-book Scrum team? – Andrew Clear Mar 26 '13 at 17:32
  • I'm totally with you. But I think, if the separation is not used as written in the book, you could also say 'Let's do it as a normal team with a standard hierarchy. Forget about scrum.' I already worked in a scrum team and we had some serious problems because we didn't stick to the role system... – DHN Mar 27 '13 at 7:49
  • For the record, it is allowed by the Scrum Guide. In section „Development Team Size“ it says: „The Product Owner and Scrum Master roles are not included in this count unless they are also executing the work of the Sprint Backlog.“ Whether it is a good idea is another question, though. [Dan Solovay, Andrew Clear, Josh Bruce and user9015 also quoted this in other comments and answers here.] – Jens Bannmann Sep 16 '15 at 6:08

YES!!!!!

Let's look at the spirit of scrum

1) Focus on how to help, not on your "job"

2) Iterative Retrospective, to Change and Adapt.

So you can try it, and see how it works, reflect on it, and decide as a group if it is beneficial. Remember that the role of the Product Owner is to organize the backlog and provide direction, so ensure that is happening effectively and you should have no problems.

I can say that I run scrum independently on solo projects all the time. Is it some kind of blasphemy that I'm a team member, master of ceremonies and product owner? They are 3 distinct roles, but I just make believe that I'm 3 people and I do them all myself.

People who answer no are just zealots, the process defines flexibility and adaptation. You can do whatever suits you, which changes in situation to situation. You should try to make your first sprint pure, but after that the retrospective is meant to invoke improvement and change.

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