Monday, 18 February 2013

What is Agile Product Ownership and how does it work? SCRUM

By Julian Arias Beltran

Agile Project Management is a powerful and effective method of delivering projects in a flexible and interactive manner. It takes on the view of the product owner, the stakeholders and the development team.

Agile product ownership Process - SCRUM
Agile Product Ownership Process by Julian Arias - Firebrand Training

Product Owner

The product owner is the person who has the idea and product vision. They don’t know the details of what the product is going to do, but they know why the product is going to be built, the problems it will solve and for who.


The stakeholders are the people who are going to use and support the product being developed.


Both the product owner and stakeholders have ideas and needs for the product, these are known as user stories. There are many stories, so the product owner uses the ideas to create concrete user stories.

The development team

The agile development team are the people who are going to build the product or system and develop the user stories. Agile teams do not release the whole product at the end; instead they release stories (features of the product) bit by bit. This is measured by the amount of stories released per week. This is known as ‘Capacity’. One idea could count as 2 stories or even half a story depending on its size. Capacity is measured by the amount of stories/features released per week.

Optimum Capacity

One of the main problems Agile tackles is that the stakeholders ask for a lot of features and ideas. They usually have more ideas than the capacity of the development team. If the development team’s capacity is 6 – 8 stories per week and the stakeholders are coming up with 15 stories, the team will get overloaded. It creates multitasking and demotivation which then lowers the quality and value of the features.

The way agile tackles this issue is by calculating the optimum capacity of the dev team. In this case it would be between 6 to 8 stories per week. Then the product owner decides which 7 of the 15 stories or ideas the stakeholders came up with should be developed. This is called ‘Yesterdays Weather’ in Agile and SCRUM terms. The idea is to lower the work in progress or ‘WIP’. In this case, the WIP limit for the dev team would be 7. This will keep them busy the whole week while working fast and effective. But a new problem arises from this, which must be tackled.

Product Backlog

As the dev team is creating 7 new features each week and the stakeholders are coming up with 15 ideas each week, a backlog and queue of ideas starts to get larger and larger. In SCRUM, this queue is called the ‘Product Backlog’. This means that eventually the features released will be the ones asked for 8 months before, which is not very ‘Agile’.

Saying NO!

The only way to combat this is to just say NO.  It is easy to say yes to a new feature, but the hard part is saying no. The reality is that to be Agile, some things must be pushed away. The product owner decides which stories should be developed by looking at both its value and its size. Some stories can be big (take a long time) but have little value, while there could be smaller stories with a higher value. The obvious choice here is the smaller one as it will not take long to build but add a lot of value to the product. The same goes for stories of the same size but with different values, the one with higher value is the best option.

So how does the product owner measure the value? They can’t. The value of a feature is guessed and can be wrong, but that’s ok. With time the product owner gets better at guessing while understanding the product more. This means that the most important job for a product owner is to decide what not to build, which is hard.

The product owner also decides the sequencing of the queue. This would be deciding what to build now and what to build later. This can be difficult so the owner uses help from both the stakeholders and the dev team. The owner asks the stakeholders what they value, and asks the dev team what they think is big or small in terms of time.

Communication is the name of the game

From what you can see, communication is very important when it comes to the Agile methodology. Communicating, prioritising and guessing the correct figures is called ‘Backlog Grooming’. The owner should run a Backlog Grooming workshop every week for one hour. The whole team should be there and the some of the stakeholders too.

So when it comes to succeeding in product ownership, the most important thing to keep in mind is communication and of course; passion.

Agile and SCRUM

This is a basic introduction into the world of Agile and SCRUM. Hope it helps. Below is a 10 minute introduction into the world of Scrum development methodology. It shows you what it is to be a SCRUM Master and how it works. The following topics are covered:

If you want to learn more, check out the Professional Scrum Master (Agile) course which takes only two days! Click here for more information:

About the Author:
Julian writes for Firebrand Training on a number of IT related topics. This includes exams, training, certification trends, project management, certification, careers advice and the industry itself. Julian is the companies Digital Marketer.