Agile project management with Scrum from the customer's point of view

Part 2: The role of the product owner on the client side

Thanks to the Scrum methodology and successful product owners on the client side, we at +Pluswerk AG have been able to turn a number of complex web projects into real success stories.

When a project manager on the client side has to work with Scrum for the first time, there are often understandably uncertainties.

"What all do I have to consider?", "How am I supposed to manage this?" or "I'm hopelessly overwhelmed with this!" - are often statements made at the beginning of a large web project. Barely two weeks after the first "sprint", no one remembers the fears expressed in this way. Because the process is convincing.

This guide is intended to take away your worries beforehand and convince you directly of the advantages, to show your role as a product owner, what you have to achieve and what you should pay attention to.

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The Product Owner

In Scrum, the role of the product owner is filled by exactly one person. He or she is responsible for adding value to the product in the development process and formulates and prioritises the requirements.

Since the implementation of your requirements in the Scrum process takes place incrementally and in close coordination with you, a central contact person and decision-maker is also needed on your side. We call this person: Product Owner on the client side.

On our side, there is a trained product owner who assists the product owner on the client side and, in close coordination, takes on both the conceptual and the operational tasks of this role in the project. During the project, the product owners work together in regular exchange in order to fulfil this role together. Thanks to this team of two product owners, you don't have to worry. We always take you by the hand and translate your wishes and requirements into the correct language of a user story.


However, the final decision-making authority on the content of the user stories, the prioritisation of the backlog and the official acceptance of completed user stories is the responsibility of the product owner on the client side. Thus, the rudder is always in the hands of the client, whom we always support in an advisory and conceptual capacity as well as in a direct operational exchange.

The product owner is thus the central contact person for the Scrum team for the project. This means that he or she must be able to make decisions for the project alone or bring them about internally in a timely manner.


My questions

What, only one person should be the contact person on our side during the development?

Yes, the product owner is where all the threads come together on the client side. This one person is needed who makes binding decisions in the sense of the project during the development period, helps organise the project on the client's side and takes part in all core meetings.

Of course, he or she is supported by a team that brings in appropriate expertise. What this means in detail becomes clear below.

What does the product owner on the client side need to bring to the table?

The product owner should be sent to the project from the area of communication or IT!

A launch or relaunch of a website is a project of the areas of IT and communication. The product owner should come from one of these two areas in order to be able to contribute the requirements of this area.

He or she should receive support in the form of a contact person from the other area who can be reached at short notice in order to be able to bring the other perspective into the project.

The product owner must be made available for the project and have the necessary time as well as the necessary decision-making powers within the framework of the project!

This also means that a certain "standing" is necessary, for example, in order to obtain the necessary information or people internally in a timely manner, to bring about decisions internally in a timely manner that cannot be made autonomously, or also to bring decisions that have been made into the organisation.

  • Concentrate on your wishes and requirements from a technical point of view!
  • As a product owner, you are freed from technical project decisions, which are taken over by the development team.
  • As a product owner, you don't need to worry about the organisation of the project process, the Scrum Master takes care of that for you.
  • As a product owner, you don't need to know how to transfer your requirements into technically correct requirements descriptions, our product owner takes care of that.

You can concentrate solely on your requirements, coordinate them with your colleagues and then introduce these wishes. You focus purely on the WHAT, we take care of the HOW.

How much time is needed for this?

For the product owner, all official Scrum meetings are essential. Here is an exemplary list of how they often take place in practice.

In sprint weeks:

In Sprintwochen:  
Monday9.30 to 11.30    Sprint planning I & Sprint planning II
Tuesday-Friday10.00 to 10.15  Daily Scrum
Friday15.00 to 16.00Review
Friday16.00 to 17.00Retrospective

At +Pluswerk, each sprint week is usually followed by a sprint-free week. There can be exceptions if the Scrum Master considers this to be useful.

In the sprint-free weeks, preparatory "backlog refinements" usually take place among the product owners in order to maintain the product backlog and prepare it for the next sprints. Requirements are concretised and prepared in the form of user stories for the development team so that they can be efficiently discussed and estimated with the team at the next backlog refinement.

If it makes sense, these meetings are occasionally extended to include other participants from the customer's circle of experts (e.g. administrators and other IT experts), if the concrete preparation of the respective topics requires this. The Scrum Master and the Designer also attend this meeting if necessary.

In our experience, the time required for the product owner on the client side is 8-12 hours per week.

But that means work! Is that absolutely necessary?

In the agile process, each increment always builds on the previous one. This means that numerous requirements and details arise during the project based on the developments and findings made so far.

A website is a complex construct. Equally complex and multi-layered are the decisions and findings that play a role during an agile development phase, taking into account and weighing up the most diverse partial aspects.

In order to be able to make decisions in the sense of the project, it is necessary to participate in all core meetings and backlog refinements in order to be able to understand the joint discussions and the resulting effort estimates and decisions.

Numerous decisions and details have to be made directly and immediately.

Of course, not all areas can be covered by the product owner alone. That is why the product owner needs a team around him or her to support him or her during the development period. What kind of people these are varies from project to project.

Here are some examples from practice:

  • An administrator who is available during the project and can participate in meetings if necessary. Especially if a server is operated. He or she brings in his or her expertise on the server architecture and possibly makes demands on the technical system at the beginning.
  • Colleagues from the communications and press departments who can make statements about workflows and define requirements. A web relaunch in particular is a communication project. In addition, questions about the CD and specifications and requirements for the design need to be clarified. Because we naturally want to create a uniform appearance together with the web relaunch.
  • A member of staff from IT to clarify technical questions about previously used modules or techniques, because the web presence should also be seamlessly integrated into existing other systems. Their expertise is enormously valuable, especially when it comes to interfaces.
  • A representative from one or more specialist areas to clarify content-related questions. After all, the web relaunch is supposed to represent products and services in their entirety. Here, the expertise from the individual areas is worth its weight in gold.

Thanks to this structured process, the required working time becomes transparent and plannable. As a product owner, you can block out your time in advance, integrate this into your daily work routine and thus retain control over your processes.

And let's be honest: In the classic project process, you as a project manager tend to have to invest even more time, but you don't know exactly when and how much of your time is required.

Since it is usually not realistic to sit at the same table for every meeting due to distances and the time involved, a large part of the meetings take place remotely via video conference.

For the video conferences, the product owner absolutely needs a computer with a sufficiently fast internet connection for video telephony and ideally a webcam and a headset.

What are the concrete tasks of the product owner on the client side?

  • Is the main contact person for the Scrum team on the client side.
  • All requirements come to us centrally via the product owner on the client side.
  • Participates regularly in the Backlog Refinement, Sprint Planning and Sprint Review and, if possible, also regularly attends the Daily Scrum.
  • Prepares user stories for the sprints together with the product owner on the agency side.
  • Approves the user stories completed by the dev team at the review.
  • Keeps an eye on the scope of the project, the roadmap and the open epics/stories together with the agency product owner.
  • Is able and authorised to make decisions for the project. Has "the last word" on the client side.
  • Ensures in the organisation that missing information is delivered to the team in a timely manner.
  • Contributes to the success of the project by creating stories that have the right content, scope and direction to keep the development team busy and within the project budget.

Which tasks do not fall within the scope of the product owner?

  • Do not specify HOW User Stories are to be technically implemented. Does not decide how many User Stories fit into a Sprint.
  • Does not remove or add tasks from an ongoing Sprint.
  • Does not change requirements or acceptance criteria of User Stories during the current Sprint that will be implemented in the respective Sprint or that have already been discussed and estimated.
  • Does not change core deadlines.

What skills should the product owner have?

  • Enthusiasm - if you are on fire for the web relaunch and enjoy designing the virtual presence of your company or organisation, then that is already "half the battle".
  • Curiosity - get to know and appreciate Scrum. Get involved with the structured process that takes a lot of organisational and technical work off your hands and gives you a lot of room for technical things.
  • Strong communication skills - convince your colleagues of your product every day. You have to keep at it, because the tight cycle of project implementation is where the enormously high efficiency lies. This demands your assertiveness in order to bring everyone along internally as well.
  • Procuration - you need your back free. Your superiors must stand behind you and give you the necessary time in the project phase and strengthen your position as project manager.
  • Expertise - but no technical knowledge and no experience with Scrum! Because we take you by the hand. Through our concept of two product owners, we efficiently introduce you to the process and the development team takes care of the best technical implementation. You need expertise in what you want to have. You know your company or organisation and can therefore describe the requirements exactly.
  • Network - because you need to talk to many internally. You need to know who to talk to, who to actively involve in the process and which stakeholders are actually relevant. You have been on site for more than 2 years? Perfect - then you already know all the protagonists.
  • Experience - this should not be underestimated, but if you have been professionally active for at least 3 years, you can already look back on numerous meetings, project processes and hallway conversations. You know about informal communication and can assert yourself accordingly.

A contribution by:
Hans-Jörg ist member of the management and management consultant at +Pluswerk in Dortmund
Write to him at info(at)pluswerk(dot)ag

Agile project management with Scrum from the customer's point of view

Part 1: The Scrum project management method   Part 3: Tips for a successful product owner