What Team Does the Product Owner/Responsible Person Belong To?

In my post, When You Have No Product Owner at All, I said

That’s because agile needs a responsible person who is not part of the cross-functional technical team to rank the backlog so the team knows the order of the work. Without that person, the team does not know what to do.

I’ve had an offline conversation about what team does that person belong to? In my perfect world, that person belongs to a cross-functional team of their own that hashes out what they want. Then, that person brings the information to the technical team. This responsible person works with the technical team. Is this person a member of the team? Or just works with the team? What is team membership?

I suppose if there was a single customer (I have never been in this position), that single customer would sit with the team. But I have only had the experience of more people who want lots of features from the team or teams. That responsible person needs to take the ideas, organize the funnel, manage the wants and needs, as a person who lives on a cross-functional team.

But hey, it’s Monday, and I could be wrong. So, please, tell me what you think.


5 Replies to “What Team Does the Product Owner/Responsible Person Belong To?”

  1. Whenever possible the PO should be part of the team. I’ve worked on smaller teams where this is the case and on larger teams where there is one product owner for multiple teams with BA’s on each team to handle day-to-day work.

    Overall, I think people are too focused on structure, as in trying to apply existing roles and teams to an ‘agile process’. At the end of the day the ‘team’ is everybody involved in the project working towards a shared goal and sadly I don’t think a lot of companies really get that.

  2. Totally agree.. the Product Owner, as individual or a a group of people, should not be part of the team that is running the iteration/sprint. Their work is strategical, with a longer time span, in contrast with the “Tactical” work with shorter time span that is running the iteration.

  3. Johanna… This just feels like the wrong question to me. It feels like we are creating an us vs. them mentality. Are you on the team or off the team?

    Would I behave differently depending on the answer to the question? Creating software has to be a collaboration between the developers and the business.

    The team needs well groomed prioritized backlog, someone to clarify that backlog, and someone to validate the backlog is done.

    I’ve come to the point where I don’t care how that happens, as long as it happens. I’ve had dev managers, product managers, project managers, business analysts, and teams of stakeholders all play this role on teams.

    It all depends on the business context you live in. My general bent is that excluding folks from ‘the team’ isn’t a great way to develop trust.

    But hey, it’s Tuesday, I’m in an airport, I could be wrong 😉

  4. I think the role of the Product Owner goes so far beyond “rank the backlog so the team knows the order of the work” that the PO needs to be involved with the team on a daily basis. (I know “rank the backlog” was only one point being made in the last post.) Whether this means the PO is “on the team” or not is semantics.

    The Product Owner needs to be involved with the team on a daily basis to:
    -clarify the intent of the backlog order. It’s not always obvious to the people in the trenches why something is preferred first. It’s important for the team to understand the reasoning to maintain morale and motivation.
    -negotiate the order of the backlog. Frequently, implementation details should impact the order of backlog items. Sometimes it will cost more to develop A before B which would change the overall value of the solution.
    -answer questions about the content of backlog items.

    I think there are organizational “teams” and there are defacto teams. Just as it is possible for a person to belong to multiple circles in Google+, it is possible for a person to be on more than one team. So I think the PO is part of a cross-functional team of her own, but also part of the delivery team.

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