Product Owner:  Why is your Team asking you “How” to do Their Work? 

Is this your Development Team's favorite question? 

Is this your Development Team's favorite question? 

Role clarity and simplicity in the Scrum Team is beautiful.  The Product Owner needs to answer the following questions for the Development Team:

  • WHAT work needs to get done
  • IN WHAT ORDER that work needs to get done based on VALUE of the feature/function
  • WHY it is important to the Organization
  • Provide just enough detail to the Development Team so they can commit to their Sprint Goal

By doing this, the Product Owner provides CLARITY.  Teams cannot fully commit to any goal without clarity.  But here is where it gets tricky:

What if the Development Team, in their quest for clarity, wants to Product Owner to tell them “HOW” to do their work?

Here is a snippet of a conversation with a Scrum Team that I have the honor of coaching currently:

  • Dev Team:  “We just want the Product Owner to tell us how to build the data mart”
  • Me:  “Does the Product Owner have that level of technical knowledge?”
  • Dev Team: “No, she is on the business side”
  • Me: “Do we know the end result of what the Product Owner wants?”
  • Dev Team:  “Yes, we need to get this data into our Stage environment so we can start building reports and dashboards”.
  • Me:  “Does the Product Owner care how we get the data into stage, understanding that we have to follow company guidelines and standards around data handling?”
  • Dev Team:  “No, probably not”
  • Me:  “So an acceptance criteria is that the data must follow data standards.  Do we (The Dev Team) understand the data standards?
  • Dev Team:  “Some, but not all.  We need the Product Owner to tell us what her data standards are.” 
  • Me:  “Why?”
  • Dev Team: “Because we don’t want to get this “wrong” and have to re-do work”
  • Me:  “What happens if we get this “wrong” and have to do re-work?”
  • Dev Team:  “Our Product Owner might get mad at us”
  • Me: “Has she gotten mad at you in the past?”
  • Dev Team: “No”
  • Me:  “What happens if we get this 80% right?”
  • Dev Team: “We have to re-do 20% of our work”
  • Me:  “20% of a 10 day sprint is 2 days of work.  Do you think our Product Owner would be happy if after one sprint, we did 2 days of re-work (refactoring) to get the work she asked us to do to “done”? 
  • Dev Team:  “Probably, we just want to get it right the first time”’
  • Me:  “The Product Owner’s definition of done is not to “get it right the first time”. We are not building reports that will last forever, we are building reports for now that will continue to evolve over time.  Let's build it in a way that will allow the PO to change her mind in the future with the lowest possible cost of change.  

This was a fantastic, transparent, vulnerable conversation. 

Product Owners – if your Development Team is asking for you to answer “HOW” they should do their work, think about saying something like:  “I trust you as experts to come up with the best way to do this work.  Do you have clarity about what I want this to do when your work is done?  I am comfortable with the fact that we will likely need to tweak this after this iteration”. 

Scrum Masters – Recognize this pattern and COACH your Dev Team and Product Owner through this situation. 

Dev Team – You get to figure out “HOW” to do the work.  Relish the opportunity.  We are going to stop treating you like robots and giving you 400 page requirements document and then never talk to you again.  Now we are going to give you clarity and just enough information in order for you to be creative and come up with the solution you have always wanted to build 

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About the Author:

Tom Auld, CSP is an Agile Coach, Trainer and the Product Owner for the Collaborative Leadership Team(CLT). CLT is the premier Agile Consultancy providing certified and customized non-certified training classes & Agile Coaching that will set up your organization to reap the benefits of Agile and Scrum. Connect with Tom at Tom@coleadteam.com,  Tom on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @CoLeadTeam & @tcauld.