An assertion

I recently had an online “discussion” with a person who stated repeatedly that in Scrum only the Product Owner (PO), or people the Product Owner specifically empowered, were allowed to write user stories and that the Product Owner was the sole owner of the Product Backlog.    Any deviation from that understanding meant you weren’t using Scrum correctly.

What is the goal?

Is following the Scrum Guide to the smallest detail, performing Scrum flawlessly, a primary goal a team should have?    Is being the Best Scrum Team Ever something to strive for?

Scrum is an excellent framework for teaching teams new to Agile how to do many things in a more agile way.  In other words, to increase their agility.  For teams that have, in the past, not included their customer until the end of a very long project, or only released code once or twice a year, the introduction of practices like the Sprint, an iteration of a few weeks or less, can be a very challenging learning experience.    How can a team go from months and months of development before getting any feedback to getting feedback on fully tested code every few weeks?   Scrum can expose issues that are preventing that from happening and team’s can learn how to use shorter and shorter feedback loops to their advantage.   All of those are fantastic benefits of using Scrum.   But following the rules shouldn’t be mistaken as the goal.   Delivering customer value is the goal.

A different backlog perspective

I challenged the perspective that only the PO, or those directly empowered by the PO, could write user stories and that teams can become far more effective if they take collective ownership of the Product Backlog.

The response, loudly and clearly, was “That’s Not Scrum!”

While technically true, that statement indicates that the label that you can apply to something should be a major factor in deciding how a team works. Seriously? I’m sure that somewhere I’ve read “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools“. Yes, I’m sure I have. I’m also sure that two of the people who helped craft that value are also the co-creators of Scrum. They also helped write “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software” which I suggest is more important than who writes a user story or “owns” the backlog.

Personally I coach teams that anyone can write a user story. Great ideas can come from anywhere and the idea of a PO empowering someone to do something seems a bit command & control-ish to me, pretty much the opposite of a self-organizing team. Remember what a user story represents – a placeholder for future conversations. Anyone should be able to post that to the team backlog whether it’s a physical card wall, virtual backlog in an ALM tool just as Jira or Version One, or a story map. Then let the conversations and prioritization flow as normal during either backlog refinement or Sprint Planning sessions.

Another concept I also coach teams to use is a collective ownership of the backlog. In my experiences with many teams, when the entire team feels ownership of the backlog they develop a deeper sense of ownership of the product or service they are creating as well. That’s a good thing!

While both of these would be considered “not Scrum”, to me, that’s less relevant than finding better ways to deliver more value to the customers. Don’t get wrapped around the axel that, technically, though no one is really checking, you shouldn’t refer to your methods as “Scrum”. But, is that really more important than happy, effective teams increasing customer satisfaction? And happier employees because they now have a sense of ownership in both their products and ways of working? (cue the Daniel Pink references here)

Until next time!

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