Scrum Product Ownership: Study Guide, v1.0

Scrum Product Ownership: Study Guide, v1.0

This blog post, which will actually become a “series” as I
keep adding references to it, was inspired by Bhavani Rao. Bhavani is a Product
Manager who lives in my neighborhood. He’s trying to make the transition to
Agile Product Management (Ownership) and is finding it difficult to gain entry
without real world experience. So a catch-22 if you will.

The focus of this blog is to provide a lean (but robust) set
of references for “would be” Scrum Product Owners and “newbie” Product Owners
to help them in their journey. But don’t expect it to be easy or to only read a
few blog posts. The role of Product Owner is deep, broad, challenging and
downright intimidating. That is – if you want to be GREAT.

I hope you do and I hope this helps…

Bhavani – this one’s for you 😉

Introduction to Scrum and the role of Product Owner

The first place to look is at the baseline references for
Scrum. It used to be that folks would reference one or several of the Scrum
books by Ken Schwaber.
But now there are some excellent short references that provide a sufficient
overview of Scrum.

1. From a Scrum
perspective, you’ll want to read the Agile Atlas. Cover all aspects of
the role, but pay particular attention to the Product Owner role and responsibilities.
The atlas is the central reference for “Core Scrum” and provides the baseline
for any Scrum Alliance based certification tests.

2. From a
perspective, and that of Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the Scrum Guide is the central
reference for “Core Scrum”. It’s around 18 pages, so it’s a fairly easy read.
This is the basis for the certifications.  Again, pay attention to the Product Owner
role and responsibilities.

We’re lucky to have Henrik
working in our agile community. Not too long ago, he contributed an
excellent 15 minute video
that does a fabulous job of exploring the role of the Product Owner. Don’t take
it too lightly because of the animation or delivery format. It’s provides a
well nuanced and subtle look at what it takes to be an excellent Product Owner.

Finally, I did an interview with InfoQ
in 2010 at the Agile Conference where I discussed some of the nuance of the
Product Owner role. It aligns with many of the themes in my book.

Books focused on the Role

There are three books on the market that focus on the role
of Product Owner. From my perspective, each has its own perspective or view of
the role. That makes them complimentary.

1. Agile Product Management with Scrum –
Creating Products that Customers Love
, by Roman Pichler was written in
2009. It covers all aspects of the role, but I think it excels in the areas of
customer interaction, value determination, and envisioning. It’s a short book
(~130 pages) and it can be slightly esoteric or generic in its advice. How to
actually bring the advice into teams in the real-world. For example, what does
solid release planning “look like” with a real backlog. If you are a Product
Owner or aspire to be one, this is a must have for your bookshelf.

2. Agile Excellence for Product Managers: A
Guide to Creating Winning Products with Agile Development Teams
, by
Greg Cohen, was written in 2010. It too is a relatively short book (~ 150
pages). What’s unique about this book is its perspective. Greg comes at the
role not as an agilist or Scrum proponent. He’s got a strong, traditional
Product Management background. So his lens is looking at Scrum and the role of
Product Owner through the lens of the role and responsibilities of a Product
Manager. Again, this is a must have for your bookshelf.

3. Scrum Product Ownership  – Balancing Value from the Inside Out,
by yours truly, was first published in 2009. The 2’nd Edition was published in
early 2013. Out of the three, this is probably the best book for an overview of
the role within Scrum teams and leveraging traditional agile concepts like
technical debt, user stories, acceptance tests, etc.  The second edition is relatively long (~ 250
pages), but its chock full of real-world stories and has a solid focus on
scaling Scrum and the implications to the Product Organization. If you ask me,
all three books should be on your bookshelf, but this should be your “go to”
reference on a daily basis.

Certified Scrum Product Owner – CSPO

It’s not clear to me whether it’s a basic requirement to
take the 2-day CSPO certification or not as “entry” to preforming in the
Product Owner role. My experience tells me that the most important part of the
role is on the Product Management side of things; that and understanding your
customer and what they need/value.

That being said, it might be helpful to review the CSPO
Content Outline
that’s on the Scrum Alliance site. It’s a solid list of the
skills areas for effective Product Ownership. And certainly, if you have the
time and budget, going for your CSPO would be a solid way of level-setting your

Wrapping Up

Look for additional study recommendations in the following
topical areas in future posts:

  • User Story Writing
  • Estimation, Sprint Planning, Release Planning
    & the role of the Product Owner
  • Scrum at Scale & the role of the Product
  • Advanced Themes in Product Ownership

I’d also love to see recommendations for coverage. In the
end, I envision this series providing a thorough study guide for students of
Product Ownership. I hope you find use in it.

Thanks for


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