The Scrum methodology of agile software development marks a dramatic departure from waterfall management. In fact, Scrum and other agile processes were inspired by its shortcomings. The Scrum methodology emphasizes communication and collaboration, functioning software, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities — all attributes that suffer in the rigidly ordered waterfall paradigm.
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There are three fundamental roles in the Scrum method of agile software development: the Product Owner, the ScrumMaster, and the team. I’ll begin by discussing the Product Owner because it is the most demanding of the roles.
In Scrum, the Product Owner is the one person responsible for a project’s success. The Product Owner leads the development effort by conveying his or her vision to the team, outlining work in the scrum backlog, and prioritizing it based on business value. Of course, he or she must also consider the stakeholders (to make sure their interests are included in the release) and the team (to make sure the release is developed by the deadline and within budget). As such, the Product Owner must be available to the team to answer questions and deliver direction.
But this combination of authority and availability to the development team makes it hard for the Scrum Product Owner not to micro-manage. Scrum values self-organization and, as a result, the Product Owner must respect the team’s ability to create its own plan of action. This means that a Product Owner is forbidden to give the team more work in the middle of the sprint. Even if requirements change or a rival organization unveils a new product that renders the team’s work all for naught, the Scrum Product Owner is discouraged from altering the sprint until the next sprint planning meeting. However, the Product Owner may cancel a Sprint when necessary. One Product Owner I know cancels Sprints once or twice per year tops.
Furthermore, it is the Product Owner’s responsibility to consider which activities will produce the most business value. This means making tough decisions—that the team might not appreciate—during sprint planning. However, the Product Owner is the one person who must face the music if the project crashes and burns. Therefore, he or she must aggressively determine which features of a product are most important, when they are developed, etc. Just as the development team must produce the negotiated work for the Product Owner, the Product Owner must deliver the product to the customer.
The responsibilities of the Product Owner are also described about halfway through this video module:
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