Self selected Product Owners and ScrumMasters

January 24, 2012 at 10:30 am 3 comments


One of my clients (serving several customers with custom made solutions) decided to introduce Scrum. They grouped people together that worked in the same projects or for the same customers. The result were three Scrum Teams. The next step was challenging. Who should be the ScrumMasters and who should be the Product Owners? Should there be full time ScrumMasters or would it be a better fit if the ScrumMasters were also developers? Who could be a Product Owner? In one team there were several options. Would one candidate be pissed off if the management chose the other guy? In another team there seemed to be no perfect match. Should the second Product Owner candidate of the one team be transferred to the other team although this would mean loosing his experiences with his existing customers?

I introduced the idea that self organization is a powerful tool to solve challenging problem. Here we were: We had Scrum Teams that could self organize and we had a challenging problem (filling the Scrum roles). So it was decided to let the Scrum Teams decide who would be ScrumMaster and Product Owner. This was done in a workshop with all teams. The result was to some extend surprising to the management but they stuck to their commitment to let the teams decide.
I don’t know how good the selected ScrumMasters and Product Owners will manage their jobs. Independent of their future performance I think there are several interesting aspects in this story:

  • The teams selected ScrumMasters and Product Owners in an hour or so. When management tried to select the roles it took much longer and provided no result.
  • The Product Owners and ScrumMasters were selected by the teams and not assigned by management. I think that will help development team, ScrumMaster and Product Owner to act as ONE team without some kind of boss.
  • If problems with the ScrumMasters and Product Owners would occur it should feel naturally for the Scrum Teams to select new persons for the roles.
  • The management demonstrated trust into the employees and empowered the teams.

When I mentioned the self selection on Twitter there was doubt that the approach would be suitable for the Product Owner role. I can understand the doubts but like to think along these lines (assuming that there are sufficient Product Owner skills in the Scrum Team):

  • If the Scrum Teams selects the person who would be selected by the management anyway, the management demonstrated at least trust into the team.
  • If the Scrum Team selects another person, things really become interesting and there is great opportunity to learn something. Why does the team have another opinion than the management? Which opinion is more relevant to the success of the team? Is there a need and the possibility to reach consensus between team and management?

P.S.: I think it is totally valid for the management to assign the Product Owner. But is that really the best option – especially for a mature agile organization?

Entry filed under: it-agile-blog-planet. Tags: .

The Shu, Ha, Ri of Scrum Vorträge “Innovation – das wahre Bottleneck?!” auf der OOP 2012

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Thorsten Suckow-Homberg  |  February 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    “I think it is totally valid for the management to assign the Product Owner. But is that really the best option – especially for a mature agile organization?”

    If you omit the word “agile” in the last part of your sentence – I’d say ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Part of agile is learning by doing – so if the management assigned a Product Owner who turns out to be not the best solution – because the team cannot work with him or he doesnt understand his assignment – then go ahead, choose another one and learn by the mistakes that were made. Working agile always means taking some riscs as this means changing well known processes to something new, and everyone has to get used to it, as we all know.
    But if there’s already an “agile” team (in a “mature organization” which has little or no experience with the agile philosophy), then it would be best to let the team decide who’d fit into the role.

    However, if there’s a “mature agile organization” – then yes, the management might have enough experience to tell who’s best suited for the role of the Product Owner for a project.

    As teams are self-organized, I’d expect the management to hear the team’s opinions about the decision, though🙂

  • 2. Sven Röpstorff  |  February 7, 2012 at 6:16 am

    Interesting approach. Did you also consider asking the “pool of teammembers” how they would like to split into teams before selecting their Product Owners and Scrum Masters?

  • 3. stefanroock  |  February 7, 2012 at 7:57 am

    In general I think it is a very good idea to let team members choose their team. In that specific case the management decided to form the initial teams.

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