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The Scrum Guide states 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.

So why does my Scrum Coach where I work say the Product Owner is the boss of the Scrum Team? My Product Owner is not a Development Manager, Architect etc but a BA that has been given this role. Can anyone clarify?

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    I think this is old, but since it cropped up, it seems important to prominently note that the PO is a member of the Scrum Team, and therefor in no way shape or form the boss. – Daniel Apr 13 at 0:49

11 Answers 11

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TL;DR

No. The Product Owner is not intended to be a line-manager role.

Scrum Isn't a Command-and-Control Framework

The idea of a "boss" implies a command-and-control structure that is antithetical to the self-organizing principles of Scrum. In fact, much of the directive authority that a traditional line manager would wield is deliberately excluded from the role of Product Owner.

As a singular example, a "boss" would typically be responsible for assigning tasks to individuals. While a Product Owner prioritizes features on the Product Backlog, it is actually the Development Team's responsibility to estimate the work needed to deliver Product Backlog items, decompose user stories into tasks, and organize task assignments internally within the group.

What the Product Owner Controls and Influences

The Product Owner's primary team-facing responsibilities are to prioritize the Product Backlog and to clarify user stories. However, because the Product Backlog is inherently a resource-management tool, the Product Owner may legitimately be seen as the arbiter of:

  1. Project budget and cost control.
  2. Resource allocation at the project (not task) level.
  3. Acceptability or suitability of completed work increments.

In order to meet the role's core responsibility for delivering a product or service, the Product Owner must work cooperatively with the Scrum Master and the Development Team to achieve each Sprint Goal. To do this, the Product Owner provides the scope and vision for the project, and prioritizes project resources for each Sprint. However, using the "boss" label for the role completely misses the essence of what makes the Product Owner role so critical to the success of the Scrum framework.

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"Boss" could be kind of a general term in this case, meaning a whole host of things depending on your Scrum Coach's intent.

In the traditional sense, no, the Product Owner is not the boss of the scrum team. The team doesn't report to the Product Owner, nor does the Product Owner task the team members directly.

It'd be more apt to say the Product Owner is the boss of the product backlog. It's through that tool that the Product Owner can direct the team toward their vision for the product.

Ultimately, if your team is self-organizing, there is no "boss" called out. Team leaders should, and do, arise naturally.

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From the Scrum Guide:

Product owner definition

The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.

Development team definition

The Development Team consists of professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable Increment of “Done” product at the end of each Sprint. Only members of the Development Team create the Increment.

But note...

They are self-organizing. No one (not even the Scrum Master) tells the Development Team how to turn Product Backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality

So, no, the product owner is not defined as the 'boss' of the development team. However, it is possible (though not advisable) for the product owner to be the boss of one or more team members based on your internal organizational structure. This doesn't sound like the case in your organisation however.

If this attitude is causing problems in your team then I think it would be useful for everyone to review the underlying principles of Scrum and build a better understanding of their roles within the framework. Agile is absolutely not about command and control management!

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Absolutely not. The name spells out their responsibilities: they make sure that the team is building the right product.

Equally, the Scrum Master ensures that the process is as efficient and effective as possible.

Agile, and Scrum, are team efforts. Where traditionally you have "bosses", you only have people with different responsibilities cooperating in a team.

  • Does Stack Exchange use Scrum? – jmort253 Jun 6 '15 at 8:37
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    Nope. We do complaint driven development:-) – Sklivvz Jun 6 '15 at 8:39
  • Lol that's hilarious. CDD. – jmort253 Jun 6 '15 at 8:40
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It looks like the missing nuance is that the Product Owner does NOT assign work, decide how something will be developed or how long it will take them or how much the team will get done in a sprint.

So the Product Owner does decide, hopefully with input from the team, what feature should be developed next based on customer value and time, but the team decides how to implement it and how much time they need.

The PO has a very important set of responsibilities to determine the next best thing to develop so that the team can focus on excellent development. It is a collaborative effort.

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In the traditional sense of the word, the answer is No, the product owner is not the boss of the scrum team. The PO is a member of the team and works with the team collaboratively. A good PO will make the vision and reasoning for priority clear and motivate the team to work towards the shared goals.

That said, the PO defines and prioritizes the product that will get built. In that sense, they are directing the work that is done, and in some people's mind, that could mean "boss". However, they are not making decisions about which members of the team do which work, how the work is implemented technically, or any of the more administrative tasks of being a boss such as hours, pay, and vacation schedules.

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IMO, they are partners who are focused on achieving the same goals. One focuses on 'what' (PO) and another focuses on 'How' (team).

They should collaborate and influence each other.

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Product Owner compiles all the changes planned for the product and prioritizes the possible functionalities. The result of the product owner’s work is a Product Backlog – a to-do list that is constantly reprioritized. Before each Sprint, the highest prioritized goals are transferred to a Sprint Backlog.

The Scrum Master coaches the development team, removes any possible impediments and constantly works to ensure that the team has the best possible circumstances for realizing the goals fixed for the Sprint.

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In a way, your Scrum Master is correct that Product Owner is the boss of the Scrum Team. Many organizations have matrix structure where employees have one direct boss (responsible for employee's performance evaluation and other management tasks) and an indirect boss (to whom an employee reports for a temporary duration). When you think in those terms a Product Owner can be termed as a boss of the whole team (not the boss of an individual).

From another perspective, for the scrum team a product owner is the customer (or customer's representative). PO is responsible to manage requirements, to prioritize them, and to accept/reject functionality delivered by the scrum team. In effect, PO has some of the powers which traditional bosses used to have.

Let's recap some of the responsibilities of a Product Owner (Scrum Reference Card by Michael James):

  • Single person responsible for maximizing the return on investment (ROI) of the development effort
  • Final arbiter of requirements questions
  • Accepts or rejects each product increment
  • Decides whether to ship
  • Decides whether to continue development

Product Owner has the power to say "no" on what goes into the product backlog and when stories go into a sprint backlog. As Steve Jobs said: "Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It's about saying no to all but the most crucial features."

From the above list, I would say that a Product Owner has some critical responsibilities and appropriately has equally critical authority and decision powers (so he can be assumed to be the boss).

However, the Product Owner does not assign/distribute tasks within the scrum team. PO does not estimate stories and a PO does not tell you how a particular task should be done in terms of technology.

A related note:

A Product Owner does not have to be a senior designation/person like an architect or development manager (or any kind of manager). PO's role can be assigned to any person who carries clear vision of what is being developed and why. PO should have great communication skills to convey that vision to the scrum team. Should have quick decision making skills. Should have updated market research information. Should be able to foster collaboration.

Product Owner On One Page:

As the name suggests, a product owner should own the product on behalf of the company. You can think of the product owner as the individual who champions the product, who facilitates the product decisions, and who has the final say about the product, for instance, if and how feedback is actioned, or when which features are released.

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Product owner can never be the boss of the team. If he/she directs individuals or team as a boss then that scrum team will break soon. That's absolutely against agile principle.

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    As is, this is just a stated opinion. Do you have a source to cite this, or an example from experience you can use to flesh this out? – Sarov Nov 20 '17 at 15:09
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    First Statement : Agile is a team, all are members of the agile team, no one is boss in the agile team. PO is one of the members of agile team but different role. Second statement: If a member of an agile team doesn't perform the defined role then entire team gets screwed up. – user2683269 Nov 20 '17 at 16:15
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A Product Owner being the line manager of a Team causes wrong behaviours and is not in line with agile culture.

Team members become competitive with each other instead of collaborative and helping each other as individuals.

Team members individually know the Product Owner controls pay rations/promotions and this can lead to the wrong Team vibe.

A Product Owner being too controlling stifles creativity and self-organising culture, leading to command-and-control and lack of self growth and empowerment.

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