April 7, 2010

Responsibilities of a Product Manager in Scrum

Recently, I wrote an article on the The Role of a Scrum Product Owner which was a crash course introduction to software development with a Scrum team. This article will go on to discusses the responsibilities of a Product Manager working with a Scrum team. If you haven't read the first one (and you're not a ScrumMaster) you probably should probably at least skim through it.

Update: I have received some comments about my usage of Product Owner and Product Manager. From my perspective, a Product Owner is a Scrum-specific term for the more broadly used term Product Manager. So I will tend to use the two terms interchangeably in these articles. However, it is fair to say that the responsibilities of a Product Owner are limited in scope compared to that of the typical Product Manager, as a Product Manager is usually responsible for a product's business case, marketing, competitive analysis, etc. These things are simply outside the scope of development and where Scrum is typically applied. To make a long story short, if you are currently called a Product Manager and will be moving to work with a Scrum team, they might start referring to you as a Product Owner.

I think Scrum is truly all about the underlying principles. The ceremonies, roles, and artifacts are all nearly useless and often even counter-productive without an understanding of and discipline around the principles of Scrum that I outlined in my prior article. My "Principles of Scrum" are as follows:
  • Transparency: You should have problems when using Scrum ("that's a feature, not a bug").
  • Inspection: You cannot inspect without transparency.
  • Adaption: You cannot adapt if you do not inspect.
As a Product Manager, you'll need to understand and embrace these principles for a Scrum project to be successful. Even if you find scrum tedious or a little too informal, then at least try to keep in mind that these are the core tenets that should always be honored embraced. If you embrace them, your chances of success as a Product Manager or Product Owner -and as a team- increase dramatically.

Business Value
As you know, scrum teams work in short, rapid, iterations -"Sprints"- at the end of which the team demonstrates some useful functionality to the customer (or customer representative). The team does this by working on the highest priority items from the Product Backlog. This way the team is always working on the functionality that is the most important to the customer. In other words, the team is always working on the most valuable functionality: Business Value.

However, this assumes that the product backlog is always prioritized accordingly. The Product Owner has the exclusive responsibility for always keeping the product backlog prioritized. If Product Owner does a good job of prioritizing, the team will deliver features that have the highest value to the customer. If the backlog is not well prioritized, the team's work is in vain and the customer gets little or no value. Therefore, the importance of this responsibility canot be overstated.

Be Available
from freefoto.com

Scrum does not prevent questions from coming up or limit the need for reviews and feedback from the Product Manager. However, as scrum teams work in short iterations, time is always of the essence. So it is essential that when the team has a question or needs some guidance that the Product Owner is available to provide that guidance or feedback rapidly. 

To add a little bit of perspective: If a team works in a two-week iteration with one day of planning, that means if the PM takes one day to respond to a blocking-question from the team, the team looses 11% of their available time to their commitment. So be available!

Set Expectations
The Product Owner is the link between what customers want and what the team delivers. As such, the Product Owner is responsible for managing the expectations of both the customer and the team. Make sure that the customer is always informed and aware of what they will see at the end of the sprint. Never leave an unpleasant surprise lingering. Customers are generally understanding about delays if they know about them up front and are offered a chance to be involved with the team. But if a big surprise comes up at the end, they're less like to be understanding.

What is maybe less intuitive is that you also are responsible for making sure that the team's expectations are aligned with the customers. This is a Product Owner's fundamental role: Making sure that the team understands the expectations of the customer. Lets read that again for emphasis: Making sure that the team understands the expectations of the customer.

Be sure that the team understands the customers needs and ultimately what they are expecting to be delivered. Work closely with the team in setting a clear unambiguous commitment to be achieved at the end of every sprint. This commitment is to ensure that what the team delivers at the end of every sprint is what you -and by association the customer- is expecting.

So how do I do all that?

There is no easy way, and no doubt, after >10 years of development and several years of team leadership roles, I'm still learning myself. However, I have observed some useful techniques and practices and I've already started writing those up for an article next week. So stay tuned...

Series: This article is part of a series that includes the following articles: The Role of a Scrum Product Owner, Responsibilities of a Product Manager in Scrum, Techniques for a Product Manager in Scrum: User Stories, Techniques for a Product Manager in Scrum: Estimating Techniques.

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