I always work with a “Product Owner”; never a “Scrum Product Owner”

I’ve previously had a poke at the Scrum Product Owner role when I called it Scrum’s Uber-Pig. Now I have to admit that, although I always work with a “Product Owner”, I never work with a “Scrum Product Owner”. In fact, given my own responsibilities, I can never work with a Scrum Product Owner.

Scrum Master v Project Manager v Product Manager

Erin Beierwaltes has a cute graphic to distinguish between four traditional and agile roles: Product Manager, Product Owner, Project Manager and Scrum Master (the accompanying article is at InfoQ: Project Manager and/or Scrum Master). The Scrum Product Owner is meant to take on a lot of responsibilities (but not all) from both Product Managers and Project Managers.

Overloaded Scrum Master

Some folk, like Machiel Groeneveld, think the Scrum Product Owner is Mythical. Groeneveld points out that “most Scrum experts actually admit that a good Product Owner is a rare phenomenon.” Because of that Groeneveld believes “the demands for the [Scrum] Product Owner role are too high.”

Similarly, David J Bland (@davidjbland, 08 August 2013) thinks the PO can’t do it all and needs help:

We need to pair Product Owners with Analysts (for experiments) and Product Managers (for customer development). PO can’t do it all.

I agree with Groeneveld and Bland that the Scrum Product Owner role is overloaded. The role might work at small scale – bear in mind that Scrum is optimised for team size up to 10 – but what about 40? or 100 or 1000? Some people advocated using Scrum at scale (Larman & Vodde, 2008; Leffingwell, 2007). However, for bigger teams I believe it is unreasonable to combine the responsibilities of a Product Manager, Project Manager and Business Analyst into a single role. A single person.

Product Owner + Programme/Project Manager

I think bigger teams need specialists. I’m a Programme Manager working with teams of 40 to 100. In that context I find myself working with Agile aware Product Managers and Project Managers. These are the people running the Agile teams within my programme. Product Owners aplenty, but no Scrum style Product Owners in sight.

At the programme level my Product Owner tends to be a person from the business with little software development and programme/project experience. The Product Owner relies on me for this. They set the business agenda, I execute it. It is a partnership.

Spinning that around, a person that could combine both responsibilities wouldn’t need me. That is why I can fairly safely say “I will never work with a Scrum Product Owner”.


Beierwaltes, E. (2012, October). Project Manager and/or Scrum Master. Infoq.
[In particular see the infographic Product Manager, Product Owner, Project Manager and Scrum Master]

Groeneveld, M. (2008, 22 May). Scrum: The Mythical Product Owner role. Xebia.

Larman, C. and Vodde, B. (2008). “Scaling Lean and Agile Development Thinking and Organizational Tools for Large-Scale Scrum”. Addison-Wesley.

Leffingwell, D. (2007). “Scaling Software Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises”. Addison Wesley.