“Product Owner” Is the Most Misunderstood Role in Scrum

Most adaptations of the Product Owner function invalidate the Product Owner role

Willem-Jan Ageling
Serious Scrum
Published in
7 min readSep 13, 2020


Image by Igor Link from Pixabay

Scrum is all about creating products of the highest value in complex product environments. Here’s why:

“In today’s fast-paced, fiercely competitive world of commercial new product development, speed and flexibility are essential. Companies are increasingly realizing that the old, sequential approach to developing new products simply won’t get the job done.” — The New New Product Development Game by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka

If you are unfamiliar with this quote, then it may surprise you that it is from 1986. It is 34 years old. It comes from the paper that introduced the first concepts of Scrum: The New New Product Development Game.

Since then the world only became vastly more fast-paced, more unpredictable, more complex. Products that used to be popular last year have become obsolete by now. What will be successful next year, nobody knows. With that, long term detailed planning is ineffective. The sequential approach to developing new products has become even more nonsensical than in 1986.

Still, many organisations have not come to realise this. They have tailored Scrum to fit into their traditional processes. The role that suffers the most from this is the Product Owner. Scrum Teams can have some sort of autonomy in their Sprint bubbles. But Product Owners often are a mere mixture between a Project Manager and a Business Analyst. They ensure that the Scrum Team knows what to do and aim to follow the Product Roadmap. Rather than actively working to create a product that fulfils the needs of the stakeholders, the Product Owner follows a roadmap defined by others.

By performing these activities, the Product Owner role becomes diluted. As a result, it is a shadow of what it should be. The Product Owner role entails far more responsibilities than many companies believe.

Scrum Guide ambiguity

It doesn’t help that the Scrum Guide is ambiguous about the Product Owner role. It starts well:

“The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product …” — Scrum Guide



Willem-Jan Ageling
Serious Scrum

https://ageling.substack.com Writer, editor, founder of Serious Scrum. I love writing about maximizing value.

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