A colleague of mine was recently charged with taking on a Product Owner role. He is well educated in Scrum process and has plenty of product experience, but wanted to talk through what Product Ownership looks like.
I have been working through A Scrum Book: Spirit of the Game with this colleague and others in a bookclub in the Warewolf Club. It occurred to me during our discussion that a clear delineation between Stakeholder ownership and Product ownership can be made along the lines of two patterns from this book: Product Roadmap and Product Backlog.
Stakeholders and really everyone else with a compelling opinion on the product help the Product Owner discover the Product Roadmap, a graph of the many avenues through which the product could be taken with possibly even wildly varying destinations. This isn’t the plan, it is the many plans from which one can choose.
The Product Owner owns the product and therefore is charged with and empowered to choose the plan. From the Product Backlog pattern:
The Product Backlog provides an opportunity for feedback from stakeholders early in the journey of a Product Increment through the Value Stream. It is visible to all stakeholders including end users, partners, Team members, and any managers in the organization. It is dynamic and can change whenever the Product Owner gains new information about the market, business conditions, new estimates from the Development Team or anything else that may affect the Vision or ROI. At any given time it represents the Product Owner’s best possible path to value through the Product Roadmap, and best possible realization of the Vision.
After this discussion, we set out to create a product roadmap to try out the concept. The roadmap wound up being formulated with many forks, some converging back to a common path, some with optional side quests representing some quality bar to achieve. Though I am not the product owner in this game, I was able to contribute ideas and variations to the roadmap. After they were arranged in some logical order, the Product Owner highlighted a single red line for what best conformed to his immediate vision for the product. This is the start of a high level product backlog!
So to summarize: The difference between a Product Owner and Stakeholders is that Stakeholders help discover the Product Roadmap’s many possibilities and provides input on the value of those possibilities, but it is ultimately up to the Product Owner to decide on Product Backlog’s order and content to find the “best possible path to value through the Product Roadmap, and best possible realization of the Vision”.