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The Product Owner

According to the Scrum alliance the Product Owner is "a single person must have final authority representing the customer's interest ...". They are often described as a product visionary, and also as someone that has a lot of influence within an organization. That is to say that they are the final arbiter for the product. In short this individual has a tremendous responsibility and in many ways are responsible for the success (or failure) of the product.

Unfortunately, in my experience, this is not how the the role is implemented. I believe a lot of this has to do with how software projects were run in the past. I've seen several common variations of how they they are often fulfilled. The first being the PO believes that they need to perform more as a Project Manager. They focus more on control, and trying to manage the team. This often comes from people with experience from pre-agile days that either don't fully understanding how the role is meant to implemented, or they are simply sticking to old habits. The other variation that I have seen is that often someone higher up in the organization has the vision for the product, but simply doesn't want to be involved in the details of working on the product, so they instead delegate this role to someone else. By doing this they put their faith into someone else; often someone without the vision and frankly without the passion for delivering a great product.

Don't get me wrong; they are some great Product Owners out there. However, in my experience they are far and few between. There simply are not enough of these visionary types out there to match the number of software projects that exist. Occasionally you'll come across one, but putting the success of the product on a single person's shoulders can be limiting.

One of the key principles of the agile manifesto is having the developers working together withe the business. Additionally in agile, engineering responsibilities are shared across the team, instead of an single individual.  In a similar light, perhaps instead of putting all of the product responsibility on a single person, the Product Owner, this responsibility should be shared by the entire team. That is to say that developers shouldn't just be concerned with good engineering; their ultimate concern should be making a great product. This includes thinking of what is best for the customer. There's no reason that this concern should be exclusively a single person's responsibility. Of course this isn't limited to developers; it includes UX, quality assurance, business analysts, etc. Ultimately the goal of the team, to make a great product, should a collaborative effort and not an edict from a single authority.

If an organization has a true production visionary; someone with a true passion, great ideas, and strong convictions, and is willing to work with the team that's great and you should considered your organization lucky. If not, consider making this a shared responsibility that you encourage your entire team to share. The truth of the matter this is the in the spirit of of the agile. Even if you have the perfect Product Owner, it's in everyone's best interest if the entire team is always thinking of what's best for the customer. It's ok to have a single person with the final say, but everyone should encouraged to bring their own opinions and ideas. This includes ideas that may contrast what the Product Owner originally envisioned.

In summary, trust your team to help make the right decisions and allow them to have a bigger role. The end result is that you'll likely have a better software product for your customers. In the end, that's what really matters.


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