Myth 6: The Product Owner is a Proxy for Stakeholders

By Barry Overeem

Scrum is intended as a simple, yet sufficient framework for complex product delivery. Scrum is not a one-size-fits-all solution, a silver bullet or a complete methodology. Instead, Scrum provides the minimal boundaries within which teams can self-organize to solve a complex problem using an empirical approach. This simplicity is its greatest strength, but also the source of many misinterpretations and myths surrounding Scrum. In this series of posts we – your ‘mythbusters’ Christiaan Verwijs & Barry Overeem – will address the most common myths and misunderstandings. PS: The great visuals are by Thea Schukken.

Myth 6: The Product Owner is a Proxy for Stakeholders

Today we bust the myth that the Product Owner acts as the proxy for stakeholders. More plainly put, this is an interpretation of Scrum where the Product Owner is supposedly the only person who talks with stakeholders (e.g. customers and users) on behalf of the entire Scrum Team.

We’ve seen quite a few Scrum Teams that express this belief through the following behaviors:

  • Whenever a question about a feature pops up, the Development Team asks the Product Owner to go and clarify it with stakeholders. We once spent time with a team that literally spent an hour debating an unclear requirement that only required a 1-minute phone call with a stakeholder to clarify;
  • Whenever a stakeholder expresses new ideas to members of the Development Team, they are referred to the Product Owner without taking note themselves;
  • The Product Owner is (solely) expected to identify and clarify work on the Product Backlog on behalf of the Scrum Team.

Busting the Myth

The Scrum Guide states that the Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from work of the Development Team. This work is made transparent on the Product Backlog, and is managed by the Product Owner. In order to determine what work is valuable and in what order, the input of stakeholders is obviously needed. However, nowhere in the Scrum Guide is it stated that the Product Owner is the sole person responsible for communicating with stakeholders.

This interpretation of Scrum actually runs counter to what we’re trying to achieve. Scrum is built on the experience that product development is a very complex affair. Discovering what is needed, and how to best implement it, requires the Scrum Team to work closely with customers, users, and other stakeholders.

Scrum is a process of ‘collaborative discovery’

Starting only with a rough outline of a treasure map, the Scrum Team goes on a journey with stakeholders to identify where the treasure is actually buried. This collaborative principle is echoed in the third line of the Business 2 Community: “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”.

When only the Product Owner communicates with stakeholders, the following impediments to Agility are likely to arise:

  • Stakeholders will not feel heard when the Development Team keeps referring them to the Product Owner to discuss new ideas. By turning Scrum into a bureaucracy, the Scrum Team becomes less responsive to what users need;
  • The emergence of new insights, new ideas, and valuable opportunities Business 2 Community

    Source:: Business 2 Community

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