The Product Owner as a Team Manager

In the world of agile development, the Product Owner plays a crucial role in ensuring the success of a Scrum team. Traditionally, the role of a manager has been associated with overseeing team performance, evaluating individuals, and driving short-term results. However, when it comes to being a Product Owner, taking on the role of a manager can be counterproductive and detract from the core responsibilities of maximising product value. In this blog post, we will explore why being a manager as a Product Owner may hinder your effectiveness and offer alternative approaches to empower your team.

The Essence of a Manager

A manager, in general terms, is someone who prioritises the well-being and growth of the team. They derive satisfaction from seeing their team members happy, engaged, and motivated. Managers embrace the idea of individuals developing their skills, acquiring knowledge, and even making mistakes as part of the learning process. One of the key functions of a manager is to evaluate individual team member performance, often through regular one-on-one conversations aimed at understanding personal goals and assessing performance.

The Product Owner as a Manager

In our experience training and coaching numerous Product Owners and Product Managers, we have noticed patterns of behaviour that we classify as managerial. These Product Owners exhibit traits commonly associated with managers, such as a genuine concern for the well-being and growth of the Scrum Team. They take pleasure in witnessing team members develop themselves, acquire new skills, and grow both personally and professionally. Additionally, these Product Owners often take on the responsibility of evaluating team performance and engaging in frequent one-on-one conversations to understand personal goals and assess individual performance.

The Pitfalls of Acting as a Manager

While there is nothing inherently wrong with caring for the development team as a Product Owner, there are significant drawbacks to taking on the additional role of a manager. When Product Owners start focusing on performance management and personal development, they risk losing sight of their primary responsibility: maximising the value of the product. This shift in focus often leads to:

1. Short-term focus: Managers tend to prioritise immediate results, which can hinder the Product Owner’s ability to deliver long-term outcomes, such as total cost of ownership, return on investment, and profitability.

2. Distraction from core responsibilities: Performance management, one-on-one conversations, and personal development are important aspects of team dynamics, but they should not be the primary focus of a Product Owner. Engaging in these activities can divert time and attention from delivering value to the product.

3. Misalignment with Scrum principles: While Scrum does not explicitly address performance management, it is more conducive for the Scrum Team to organise and support each other’s personal development. This responsibility aligns more naturally with the role of a Scrum Master or Agile Coach.

Moving Away from the Managerial Stance

If you find yourself being held accountable for team performance, individual performance, or other HR-related matters as a Product Owner, it is essential to take proactive steps to transition away from a managerial role. Here are some actions you can take:

  • Communicate your role: Start by clearly articulating to your Scrum Team, stakeholders, and the organisation that team coaching, individual coaching, and performance management are not the primary responsibilities of a Product Owner.
  • Seek support: Collaborate with an experienced Scrum Master or Agile Coach to help reshape the organisation’s governance and clarify roles and responsibilities. Transfer the responsibility of coaching, training, mentoring, and facilitating the Scrum Team to the appropriate role, such as the Scrum Master or Development Team.
  • Explore alternative paths: If your passion lies in HR, learning and development, and people-oriented tasks, consider transitioning to a role that aligns better with these interests, such as becoming a Scrum Master or Agile Coach. These roles offer opportunities to focus on nurturing and supporting the team’s growth.

In Summary

While it is natural for Product Owners to care about the well-being and growth of their Scrum Team, assuming the role of a manager can impede their effectiveness in maximising product value. By relinquishing responsibilities associated with performance management and personal development, Product Owners can concentrate on their core objective of delivering value to the product. Engaging a Scrum Master or Agile Coach can help foster an environment where the team can autonomously address coaching, training, mentoring, and personal development, allowing the Product Owner to thrive in their primary role. Remember, the success of a Product Owner lies in prioritising value and outcomes over managerial tasks.

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