top of page

Overwhelmed Product Owners – Three Causes and How to Address Them

In Scrum, the Product Owners (POs) play a critical role in bridging the gap between stakeholders and the development team. The ability of the Product Owner to perform their duties can make or break a Scrum team. They are responsible for defining the product vision, managing the backlog, and ensuring that the product meets the needs of its users. However, many Product Owners often find themselves overwhelmed and struggling to keep up with their responsibilities. In this blog, we will explore three potential causes of this overwhelm and provide actionable solutions to address them.

Scope: The Endless Backlog One of the primary reasons Product Owners become overwhelmed is the sheer size of their backlog. When the backlog grows too large, it becomes difficult for any single individual to manage effectively. This situation often arises when a Product Owner is tasked with maintaining a portfolio of products.

Solution: Organize a Portfolio Backlog and Onboard Additional Product Owners

To tackle the challenge of an unwieldy backlog, consider organizing a portfolio backlog. Group related products under different themes or domains, and appoint dedicated Product Owners for each group. This way, each Product Owner can focus on a specific set of products, ensuring better attention to detail and understanding of their respective domains.


Distractions: Product Owner as a Jack-of-all-Trades

Another common cause of overwhelm is when a Product Owner gets caught up in various tasks that are not directly related to their role. These distractions could include handling administrative work, attending numerous meetings, or getting involved in technical implementation.


Solution: Delegate Non-Essential Tasks and Refocus on Stakeholder Needs

To address distractions, resist the urge to assign non-product refinement-related work to Product Owners. This includes development-related tasks as well as quality assurance items. Also, encourage the Product Owner to delegate non-essential tasks to team members or other stakeholders. Prioritize their time on refining the product backlog, gathering feedback from stakeholders, and collaborating closely with the development team. This way, they can refocus on the core responsibilities that truly impact the product's success. Another mitigation is to create an interrupt buffer combined with a recurring triaging session to evaluate and discuss urgent requests. This will help to protect the Product Owner’s time and allow them to focus by reducing context switching.

Efficacy: Lack of Experience and Support An overwhelmed Product Owner may be struggling due to a lack of experience or proper support in their role. If they are not familiar with the product development process, lack the right tools, or have not received adequate training, they may feel lost and unsure about making critical product decisions.

Solution: Invest in Training and Provide Ongoing Support Empower your Product Owners by investing in their training and development. Offer formal training options and hold workshops to support backlog refinement. Additionally, provide them with access to tools that streamline their workflow, such as backlog management software or collaboration platforms. Furthermore, offer ongoing support through mentorship or coaching sessions. An experienced Scrum Master also serves as a coach to the Product Owner. These can be valuable opportunities for Product Owners to discuss challenges, seek advice, and gain insights from Agile experts, experienced peers, or senior leaders.


Conclusion

An overwhelmed Product Owner can significantly impact the success of a product and the overall morale of the development team. By addressing the causes that lower the Product Owner’s capacity, such as an extensive backlog, distractions from non-essential tasks, and a lack of experience, organizations can enable their Product Owners to thrive in their roles. By adopting the suggested solutions, companies can ensure that their Product Owners are well-equipped to drive product success, collaborate effectively, and make informed decisions that benefit both the organization and its customers.

Comments


scrum-training-scrum-master.png
scrum-training-product-owner.png
scrum-training-scrum-scale-practitioner.png

Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page