Product Owner: A Business or Technical Position? (Part 1)

Today I’m going to tell you a story about the Product Owner debate that occurred when I was working with a different organization. I’m curious what you’ve encountered in your career and wonder how you would recommend moving forward. So please, feel free to comment away!

While working with one of my former management teams, the identification of the Product Owner was a hotly debated subject.  Not just “who”, but to whom should they report and what skill set should they have.

The company was a large organization that traditionally had a Product Manager role on the business side as well as a Platform Manager on the technical side of the house.  Product Managers knew the market, the users, and developed the strategy for the product.  Platform Managers executed the technical delivery and were adept at managing vendors (our primary development vehicle).

Business recommended that the Product Management team fill the Product Owner role so appropriate business representation occurred on the Scrum team – without that the team would be  completely made of the IT organization.  They were also concerned that if the Platform Manager (IT) filled the Product Owner role they would not have the domain knowledge needed to steer the direction of the product without spending significant time eliciting requirements, and the team would achieve fewer benefits from the Agile process since the Scrum team wouldn’t truly be working directly with the business. One of the biggest benefits of the Agile process is the improved business and IT alignment. The goal is to engage the business to such a degree that they are equally (if not more) responsible for the delivery of valuable products people need. Ultimately, true Agile requires them to be an active participant in the process as opposed to a casual observer of the development process. This approach would allow for that benefit to be realized.

Alternatively, the IT organization recommended that the Platform Manager should serve as the Product Owner because of his technical expertise and experience with digital product delivery.  They were concerned that Product Managers wouldn’t have enough time to spend with the Scrum team and had never led technical projects in the past and this would be a risk to the project success.

So I ask…

  • Have you encountered this sort of situation? If so, what did you do?
  • What would you recommend if you were coaching this team?
  • Are there any other questions you would ask before making a decision?

Please leave a comment to start the conversation, and check back next week to find out what we really did!

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