Good Bye “Product Owner”, Hello “Backlog Manager”
In those two posts, I talked about some of the problems with the role and general definition of “Product Owner”, as well as the “scope creep” that seems to be occurring by Scrum advocates that give more and more “Product” responsibility to that role (e.g. budget, strategy etc.). Aside from the clear overlap with Product Management responsibilties, the title is a misnomer: It’s really “project” focused and the “ownership” is really more about the stories and backlog, than the entire product.
In the first post, I suggested other titles for the role such as “Technical Product Manager”, “Backlog Manager” or “Project Owner”.
A comment from Rohan on that article suggested that the name “Product Owner” was too entrenched in the Agile community to have it “die” and so it would be better to try to contain the role vs. change it. At the time, I agreed with that thinking, and in my second post, focused more on the (re)definition of responsibilities as opposed to the title of the role.
Over the last several weeks, as I’ve thought about this more and done some additional reading, I decided that my original thrust — that both the name and responsibilities must change — was correct.
And with that, I’ve come to this post.
What does the “Product Owner” actually do?
The following are some descriptions of the responsibility of the Product Owner taken from Scrum focused sites on the Web.
The product owner is required to closely collaborate with the team on an ongoing basis and to guide and direct the team (e.g., by actively managing the product backlog, answering questions when they arise, providing feedback, and signing off work results.)
The Product Owner (typically someone from a Marketing role or a key user in internal development) prioritizes the Product Backlog.
(Source: Mountaingoat Software – a well known Scrum certification company)
The Product Owner represents the voice of the customer and is accountable for ensuring that the Team delivers value to the business. The Product Owner writes customer-centric items (typically user stories), prioritizes them, and adds them to the product backlog.
(Source: Wikipedia – Scrum Development)
Of course, there are lots of other sites to select from, but these three, all fairly reputable, generally agree on the focus of the “Product Owner”. The focus is on managing user stories, prioritization of those stories and assisting the Scrum team during sprints in answering questions etc. and ensuring the work done by the Scrum team is aligned with the business needs. In short, it’s all about managing the backlog.
Welcome “Backlog Manager”
Whether it’s the product backlog or the sprint backlog; whether it’s prioritizing it, explaining it, pruning it etc, the focus of this role is to manage and oversee the backlog for the rest of the Scrum team and work with them as they implement it.
No, it’s not as sexy sounding as “Product Owner”. But as a ROLE, (as opposed to a title), it’s far more accurate and unambiguous. There’s a lot of work and responsibility (both explicit and implicit) related to managing the backlog. Work will not get done without someone actively working with “the business” to understand customer/market needs, and then working with the Scrum team to ensure those needs are met.
This is not a solitary role — the “Backlog Manager” is most likely part of a larger team — perhaps in Product Management (in an ISV) or a client facing team (in a consultancy). Also keep in mind, that according to Scrum guidelines, there should be one “Backlog Manager” per Scrum team. i.e. for any sizable project or product – i.e. that has multiple Scrum teams — there will be multiple “Backlog Managers. In thinking about it, this makes a lot more sense than having multiple “Product Owners” — particularly when all the Scrum teams are working on a single product!
So, I’m sure there are detractors out there, but I’m casting a loud (and first vote), to change the name of “Product Owner” to “Backlog Manager”. All those for? All those against?
Either way, I’d like to hear from you.
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