Recently I’ve noticed a worrying trend in a few organisations that I’ve worked with in that they think the Product Owner role is dispensable when using Scrum. At times it has been as extreme as not having a PO at all to the lesser end of the spectrum where there is a PO but they are doing this role alongside their usual “9-to-5” and can’t commit sufficient time to the team. Both scenarios (and anywhere in between) are dangerous and something i feel should be avoided.

From my recent experiences it seems the trend is that a Scrum Master and a Business Analyst can fill this role between them. This is a dangerous assumption and whilst I can see some method in this madness it just doesn’t work. The Product Owner is the person who sets the vision of the product, who drives its delivery and knows the value of each user story to its end users or customers. The Product Owner is also the person who manages stake holders outside and/or higher up the organisational structure of the organisation which without a PO is something the Scrum Master ends up being responsible for. If the Scrum master isn’t with the team and is managing stakeholders, going to meetings etc then how they can remove the impediments of the team and ensure the process is being followed?

UPDATE – Mike Cohn has just blogged about a similar issue as to why the PO and Scrum Master should be separate roles. Mike puts this far more eloquently than i ever could so suggest you take a read of his article here.

Whilst the Business Analyst isn’t one of the defined Scrum roles I find that they can play an important part in a team and are there to support the PO, not to replace it! A BA can analyse the wider impact on the business but cannot tell you its value or importance like a true PO can. I think BA’s are prime candidates to grow into PO’s but assuming the two roles are similar is a grave mistake.

The PO is also meant to be a single point of contact and be accountable for the backlog and product. Having this role split between two people breaks this and makes it very difficult for the team and external stakeholders to know who to talk to. I think its unfair to say any of the roles in Scrum are more important than the other but working without a PO from my own experience has caused software to be delivered late mainly due to multiple voices contributing to priorities. I’ve also seen sprints frequently disrupted due to changing priorities because there isn’t someone responsible for the backlog therefore making it a free for all for anyone wishing to influence the team.

Has anyone else experienced similar issues or have I just been unlucky? I’d love to hear any experiences or opinions in the comments section below.