Scrum Product Owner: Scrum’s Uber-Pig

I couldn’t help it, I had to draw a parallel between Scrum and Animal Farm. The Final Commandment given by the pigs in the Animal Farm is “All animals are equal, but some animals [the pigs] are more equal than others“. And in Scrum the Uber-Pig is the Product Owner.

Chicken and Pigs

Scrum has pigs. And chickens.

The authors of Scrum originally used the Chicken and the Pig fable to distinguish two types of people who attend Scrum meetings: Chickens and Pigs. Pigs supposedly have skin in the game and make a “sacrificial” offering. Chickens, normally called stakeholders, make a “non-sacrificial” offering to the endeavour; they consult and are interested in progress. This Implementing Scrum post on The Classic Story of the Pig and the Chicken has a nice cartoon illustrating the fable.

The labelling of people as Pigs and Chickens is intentionally derogatory to keep Chickens in their place, i.e. not interfering. Some, including myself, find the terminology inappropriate. I guess that is why it has dropped out of official scrum (Scrum Guide 2011) although still in common Scrum parlance.

Animal Farm

Animal farm has pigs.

The Animal Farm is a satirical tale about Stalin and the USSR. In the story the animals on a farm revolt and drive the farmer away. They adopt Seven Commandments of Animalism, with the primary commandment being “All animals are equal”. Over time the pigs instigate a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror. Ultimately the Seven Commandments are reduced to a single phrase:

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

Final Commandment from Animal Farm (Orwell, 1946, p. 51-52)

Uber-pig

To paraphrase George Orwell outrageously, all team members in Scrum are equal, but some team members are more equal than others. The Product Owner is the Uber-Pig of Scrum. I am not suggesting that the Product Owner is a Stalinesk leader driving the rest of the team on for personal glory. However the roles within Scrum does make the Product Owner “more equal”.

Being Scrum’s Uber-Pig comes with some privileges. For one thing the Product Owner has a specific role. Only the Scrum Master is also privileged enough to have a role in Scrum. I guess that makes them “more equal” than their peers. Everybody else is a “Developer”, whether their speciality is user experience, programming, testing, architecture, copy writing, etc.

No matter how egalitarian your development environment, no matter how committed the Team is to producing a quality product; you can’t escape the fact that the Product Owner is the one who has to try and run a business with whatever the Development Team produces. So he’s essentially the uber-pig in the project.

barrettdab

The major responsibility of the Scrum Product owner gets to choose what the team work on. They do this by creating and managing a product backlog and selecting the top priority items for the team to take into a Sprint. The team gets to choose how to do the work but the Scrum Product owner gets to decide what they do.

On the other hand Being the Uber-Pig carries some risk. The Product Owner is the “single wringable neck” in the Scrum team. They are the one that gets kicked by the sponsor if things go wrong – where “kicked” might mean getting scolded, shouted at or, ultimately, sacked.

The flip side of being the “single wringable neck” is that the Scrum Product Owner has the opportunity to take the credit for success of the product and team. Scrum orthodoxy is that credit is shared in the team but being the face of the team the Scrum Product Owner could usurp some of this – they are, after all, the Uber-Pig.

This post is part of my series on Agile Roles and Responsibilities.

Acknowledgements

I didn’t invent the term “Uber-pig” and I’m not sure who did. I first saw it mentioned in the comments of a Scrum Development post by barrettdab (who I quoted above) and Malcolm Anderson.

Malcolm Anderson said:

“The Uber-Pig” – That is the most succinct description I have ever heard for the Product Owner in Scrum.

References

Atwood, J. (2006, 16 October). Chickens, Pigs, and Really Inappropriate Terminology. Coding Horror.

Orwell, G. (1946). Animal Farm.

Scrum Guide 2011

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