While reflecting on my recent activities, I started to recognise an interesting pattern regarding the role of the Product Owner. I’ve seen many of them coming from different parts of the organisations: form product management, from various levels of management, from system architecture or senior programmers. Because of the different skill sets they have, the way they interact with the team from a technical perspective is different: some of them write user stories down to the last detail, some others just say the title and let the team write them, some of them ask the teams to prepare a backlog and they prioritise it.
Interesting enough, none of these interaction patterns seems to really make the difference in the way the teams perform. What I mean is that I’ve seen teams perform in a good and bad way in all configurations, so apparently Scrum is pretty robust w.r.t. the actual duties taken on by the Product Owner.
But there is a more interesting behavioural pattern I noticed: the style of interaction with the team. When the Product Owner shows respect for the team and care for the product he/she is developing, then I notice an improvement in the way the team works and in what the team delivers.
Here’s the way I made sense of this:
Respecting the team seems to be a major motivator for the people in the team: they are appreciated by the Product Owner, they are working to support somebody who understands their efforts and the complexity of their job. A Product Owner respecting the team is also respected by the team. While respect is IMO a fundamental characteristic of the way we interact as human beings in general, it seems that while teams are resilient to a certain dose of disrespectful behaviour, the interaction relationship Team-Product Owner is much less resilient.
Caring for the product seems to be communicating to the team the importance of the work they are doing and inspiring a sense of urgency and of importance of the decisions taken. For the team it becomes clear that they are not developing something for a customer far away from their reality: they are putting the effort to support somebody who cares in what they produce. What they do is important because it is appreciated!