Explore PO team

PO (Product Owner) is defined as single person in Scrum. However, for various reasons, in practice a team may be formed to fulfill the role of PO. I am using the term of team rather freely, strictly speaking, some of them are only working groups. I'd like to explore different types of PO teams, and hopefully generate insights for you to use while designing your PO team.

Types of PO teams

Here's the main types of PO teams I have encountered.

  • PO with supporters

This is probably not considered as a team, since it is normal that PO as a single person needs to collaborate with others such as domain experts, business stakeholders, and the development team. There is certainly team work here, however, to large extent, it is close to the surgical team described in "The Mythical Man-Month" book by Fred Brooks. I am now talking about the PO work - define the right product, not the whole product development.

  • PO with APOs

In large-scale Scrum context, PO together with APOs (see details from LeSS introduction) form a PO team. This is similar to most management team. Each APO is accountable for its own area, meanwhile serving as team member in PO team. The PO is the leader of PO team.

  • Product discovery team

In dual-track Scrum, product discovery is done by a team collaboratively - "the product manager, designer and lead engineer are working together, side-by-side, to create and validate backlog items." It somewhat implies that product manager (or PO in Scrum) still leads the team, but the members work more interdependently as peers.

  • Value team

Value team, introduced by Ahmed Sidky in his Agile 2014 session, in many ways is similar to product discovery team. The composition of the team has a bit different focus. Value team seems accommodating more traditional roles, while i prefer the product focus in product discovery team. However, I view the emphasis of facilitator role in value team as an important addition. It highlights 3 important aspects regarding value team roles - ownership of vision, facilitation of team, accountability for results. I see that two of them (ownership of vision  and accountability for results) belong to PO, while SM should facilitate value team (Ahmed has a different view on this). In this understanding, PO seems still taking somewhat leader role in value team.

New type of PO team

If we view discovery and delivery as two sides of product development, and now look at product discovery team and product delivery team, we may wonder why we define a leader for product discovery team, while we don't for product delivery team. If it is possible to have no leader in self-organizing delivery team (aka development team in Scrum), why don't we abandon the idea of defining one leader (i.e. PO) in discovery team? Instead, we create a self-organizing PO team without one defined leader. SM has the responsibility to coach PO in Scrum, while in this setup, SM facilitates and coaches the PO team (aka product discovery team, or value team), in addition to the development team.

Would the new type of PO team work well? This could certainly be controversial. I am listing a few points to trigger the debate.

  • having one PO helps more efficient decision making, but efficient decision making is possible with self-organizing development team.
  • product discovery is more divergent than product delivery, but there could be much divergence in finding architecture solutions too.
  • there is often one leader behind successful products, but successful products where a group of people stand behind exist too.
  • the cases of having group behind successful products are rarer and more accidental, but is it because there has been lack of facilitation and coaching in making the group work effectively?
  • we need one person to interface with team, but why is it possible for PO to interface with development team (without leader), while not for development team to work with PO team (without PO as leader)?

If you experiment this type of PO team, I appreciate that you share back the experience.

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