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Update: We are a very small team (3 people) and thus I (Scrum Master) and the Product Owner are also developers doing some coding.

We are aware of this situation and we are actively trying to recruit some new talents. But it's hard!


Meanwhile... we need to adapt... so my question:

The Product Owner complains about having too much outside noise (mainly stakeholders feature requests), and he can't focus on the sprint realisation.

We agree that we should try to educate people on our process implications (sprint durations and product backlog), to reduce the noise.

But as a Scrum Master, how am I supposed to shield a PO from outside? Isn't he supposed to be in contact with the management and business?

Also, if people outside don't want to waste too much time learning agile, what is the best way to educate them?

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What do you mean by "sprint realisation"? What does that entail? –  Thomas Owens Nov 29 '11 at 15:19
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A good PO should be shielding you from the outside. –  pdr Nov 29 '11 at 15:20
    
@ThomasOwens I mean features coding(half his time) and backlog refinement –  xsace Nov 29 '11 at 15:23
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5 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I feel that assigning the role of PO to a developer is usually the wrong choice. As you noted, the PO is supposed to communicate a lot with external parties, precisely to shield the development team from interruptions, to filter and enhance incoming feature/bug requests (again, via extended discussion with users / stakeholders) and to prioritize stories.

So apart from this role requiring lots of communication, IMHO prioritization should not normally be the task of a developer.

Of course, if your team is very small, someone may need to do it nevertheless, but than (s)he should understand the requirements for this role and not complain too much after accepting it :-)

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Great point. It's very likely one of the people constantly interrupting him would make a better choice for PO. –  Karl Bielefeldt Nov 29 '11 at 15:26
    
So it's more about me educating him to accept this noise than educating outside people about our process? –  xsace Nov 29 '11 at 15:40
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@xsAce It's not noise. Noise is something that's unwanted. Client/user interaction isn't noise to the PO, but it is noise to the development team. –  Thomas Owens Nov 29 '11 at 15:42
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@xsAce, he needs to accept the "noise" at least for the time being (and to wear his PO hat, which magically converts this noise into information important for the project :-). About educating outside people: what precisely would you like them to do differently? –  Péter Török Nov 29 '11 at 15:43
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@xsAce, I see - this is indeed important to get through eventually. However, if they aren't willing to listen to your explanations, the best is what you did, setting a hard rule (and to soften it, you may want to add "if you ever get interested in why, I will be happy to explain" :-) –  Péter Török Nov 29 '11 at 16:03
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The product owner's responsibility IS to interact with the stakeholders to find out what should be part of the product in development and strictly speaking he IS NOT a part of the development team. Thus he is the requested shield of your development team against requests from the outside.

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There is no problem with a Product Owner being part of the development team. PO should not be combined with ScrumMaster. –  Thomas Owens Nov 29 '11 at 15:24
    
what if he is also part of the development team? It's our configuration as a small team –  xsace Nov 29 '11 at 15:25
    
@xsace though he usually should not be, I dont see a problem in that, but than again he can't compain about the outside noise because that's his main job. Doing other things for the team would be a side job. –  Gandalf Feb 25 '13 at 3:03
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Either drop his Responsibilities as a Product Owner or as Developer. What he is trying to say is he simply doesn't have time to do Both.

OR

Get him additional development resources.

I simply disagree with the others who say one person can't do both. One person absolutely can.

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I would be hesitant to have him drop the Product Owner role, if he was good at it. Changing the point of contact with the users and clients mid-project, if it can be avoided, should be avoided. I'm afraid that it would be more of an adjustment shock to the outside people. –  Thomas Owens Nov 29 '11 at 15:40
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It might not be time as much as the cost of context switching. If possible, perhaps he can try having set PM office hours for interactions with stakeholders, with it being clearly stated that outside those hours do not interrupt unless it cannot wait until the next day. That would help limit disruption caused by phone, in person, and instant messaging. For project Owner related emails, if at all possible, let him set up a second email address and box to which all such corespondance is delivered. Outside PO hours, he does not even open that mailbox. –  Kevin Cathcart Nov 29 '11 at 20:03
    
As a result, there would be less wasted time context switching, which may be all that is needed. The number of hours per day that are considered PO office hours can be adjusted to best fit the project. –  Kevin Cathcart Nov 29 '11 at 20:03
    
that's an interesting suggestion. Actually we try to preserve some of his developement allocated time by doing pair programming. People tend to refrain from disturbing 2 people working for some reason. –  xsace Nov 29 '11 at 21:34
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Although Scrum, as it's defined by Sutherland and Schwaber, doesn't object to the combination of Product Owner and development team member, it sounds like that is problematic in this particular case. The primary responsibility of the person who is designated as Product Owner is to be the voice of the customer, performing tasks such as writing user stories, prioritizing the stories, and generally managing the product backlog.

As a ScrumMaster, you should not be shielding the Product Owner from the outside. It is the job of the Product Owner to interface with any clients or users of the system to create and prioritize the requirements. In fact, the point of a Product Owner (and, to some extent, the ScrumMaster) is to shield the development team from the users and clients so they can focus on designing, developing, and testing the system.

It sounds like, on this particular project, the job of the Product Owner is a full-time responsibility. As such, the Product Owner should be removed from the development team. If, during a sprint, there is sufficient time for the Product Owner to contribute to design, development, or testing, that's good, as long as you track the increase in human resources so you don't skew your velocity. However, the team shouldn't be counting on the Product Owner to be a contributing member of the development team.

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This is exactly what we've been doing and we've always prioritized PO job over development. But he likes to code and want to do more, and still he is doing a wonderful job as a PO and is the best person in the company to go on with this position –  xsace Nov 29 '11 at 15:38
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If he wants to code more, then don't let him accept a PO job on future projects. He accepted the position, and there's simply not enough hours to do everything (at least on this project). Either that, or have someone else take over the PO duties and deal with the changes as to who the clients/customers deal with. –  Thomas Owens Nov 29 '11 at 15:41
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It sounds like your PO has either misunderstood his role or this is his way of trying to say that he's wearing one hat too many. The PO is the person who should be the primary contact with outside stakeholders. If that noise is so loud at your shop that he can't maintain that as well as his programming duties, the role should be split and you need an additional resource. Realizing that your PO might see it as a sign of weakness to admit that he can't handle his load, I still advice you to take the discussion with him.

Document his work-load, how much time he spends on different activities and use this to build a case with your management to hire an additional resource for your team.

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