Lean view on Product Owner (PO) role
But they’re supposed to have PO, aren’t they?
In IT enterprise product development, I have found how vulnerable the PO role can be. This is because the demand on delivery team arrives from various sources. Moreover, the demand is not necessarily representing product features, but instead it can be any required service.
If we want to implement PO role in this set-up, the Lean objectives can be impacted because of the following reasons.
PO is a bottle-neck: The PO quickly becomes a control gate which can not prioritize demand and streamline it to the delivery group at the right rate. This is because, the PO will be challenged by the conflicting prioritization from the source of demand. In short, she can easily become a barrier to the flow of value to the customer.
Enlarging batch size: The PO owns the product backlog which is kind of batch. The product backlog tends to become larger. Enlarging the batch size of the input queue (product backlog) impacts the cycle time.
The product backlog: It becomes assorted bag of stories which we are not sure of their business value or relevance. The product backlog mindset is interpreted in many implementations in a way contrary to just-in-time requirements.
Tyranny of estimation: Estimation is perceived as a waste. It creates unjustified pressure on the team to meet certain target. Estimation has been used in many instances as a yard stick for team performance based on its ability to meet the estimates. As many other metrics, story points can be misused. Also, we have failed in many instances to avoid judging teams based on their velocity. Increasing velocity was in many cases misleading from the fact that the customer is unsatisfied.
A hard to find role: This role is hard to find especially in large IT organization which product development is not at their core offerings. The business owner who is possible candidate for the PO role is hard to convince to buy-in for assuming the demanding requirements of the role. The PO role requires support of business analyst to bridge the gap with the team. The PO has the arduous role of understanding the requirements of large audience of customers before the team can work on the backlog item. This specific activity contributes to significant delays which further worsens the Lead Time and increases WIP.
PO role can be misused: Many years ago I worked with PO who said clearly that he had absolute authority for what work to be done. This has served to create dis-empowered team members who became acceptors of assignments, instead of figuring it out themselves.