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Who is the Chief Product Owner? As with most new offerings, Agile scrum started with small projects. These projects could be easily broken down into components for delivery by one Scrum Development Team. As organizations have embraced scrum they have found the framework useful in the quick delivery of minimally viable products. Larger efforts are now finding their way under the Agile Scrum banner.

The Chief Product Owner

Scaling Agile to larger efforts requires new skill sets to be defined. The chief product owner is an unofficial role in the world of scrum. This individual is responsible for taking the vision of the product sponsor and effectively communicating this to the scrum team.

Some organizations have experimented with product ownership for large scale efforts by committee. This is not very effective because no one person has ultimate responsibility for delivery of the overall backlog. The role of a chief product owner must have a direct relationship with the business sponsor. This does not mean that the product owners will not have a chance to collaborate with key stakeholders. Agile scrum relies on a framework of transparency and collaboration. It is important that they do not use this as an opportunity to control the communication flow.

Chief Product Owner Responsibilites

The chief product owner will be responsible for working with the product owners to achieve the following:

  • Align features with the strategic vision of the business sponsor.
  • Direct the management of the program backlog.
  • Divide the work of product ownership across the team.
  • Work with product owners to minimize technical debt.

A large scale Agile program can be divided into feature and component teams. Each team will have a different set of features that make up their backlog of work. As sprints are planned at the Sprint Planning Meetings, it will be important to vet these at the program level. This is done to identify any technical or feature dependencies. The chief product owner will be responsible for working with the product owners to deliver releases. These releases deliver the most valuable features first while keeping the financial objectives of the program in mind.

Chief Product Owner Ceremonies

The chief product owner may insert themselves in some of the daily scrum meetings and Sprint Reviews. They support the product owners in maximizing feature deliverables to obtain the best minimally viable product at the lowest cost. Forward thinking chief product owners use industry meetings and market analysis to fine tune the vision using the iterative inspect and adapt framework.

A program backlog can be a large unwieldy set of features that are difficult to manage by one individual. Product owners will manage features that correspond with the features or components of their respective scrum teams. The chief product owner will be responsible for evaluating the order of feature delivery across the scrum teams. Release planning will take place at multiple points during the life of the program.

The chief product owner will first identify epics in the overall program. They create an initial release schedule with the input of the product owners. Features are then defined and assigned to individual scrum teams for execution. Backlog planning ceremonies with the product owners will be iterative in nature. Features can be transferred among scrum teams, consolidated and sometimes eliminated as the product matures through sprint deliveries.

Our Favourite Agile Books

We found these books great for finding out more information on Agile Scrum:

Large Agile Scrum Programs

Large Agile scrum programs require a significant amount of product owner work. The job of a chief product owner is not to take on the tasks of the entire program. They work with the product owners to divide work into manageable portions. This division of responsibilities will also support the product owners in their work. They provide the support required for the scrum teams to be successful. Product owners will have responsibility for developing their product backlogs. They work with the scrum teams in the development of user stories and leading sprint reviews. The chief product owner will take on the overall responsibility for strategic planning of features across the program.

Technical Debt

Technical debt is defined as developing software in the short-term that is quick to deploy but, will require significant rework in the later stages of a project. Rework should be a consideration when attempting to make a software product scalable for expanded usage. Large Agile programs have a unique challenge with multiple scrum teams developing software independently. The chief product owner will be responsible for working with the product owners to minimize technical debt.

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The first place to identify the risk of incurring technical debt is during the definition of Epics and user stories. As the velocity and collaboration within and among the scrum teams increase, team members will be better able to recognize potential issues. The collaborative nature of the Scrum framework challenges developers to openly discuss any concerns that they may have about the delivery of the product. While it is the Agile Scrum Master for who will be responsible for resolving challenges for developers, the final ownership for delivery of a product that meets the ROI of the organization is left with the chief product owner. 

Growing The Product

Delivering software that is riddled with technical debt may satisfy a short-term need. However it can handicap an organization from growing the product without extensive rework. It is not simply good enough for a chief product owner to deliver the product. They must also deliver one that uses company resources in an intelligent manner at the time of delivery and for the foreseeable life of the product.

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