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What are some of the most common challenges a scrum master faces from product owners?

This is always an interesting question to deal with. Generally speaking, there are 3 primary challenges.

Lack of training

In my experience, most product owners aren’t trained.

They haven’t attended a product ownership course, nor have they immersed themselves in learning the role through books, seminars, courses, and mentorship.

In many instances, an individual is simply selected by the organisation and designated as a product owner.

This can be incredibly challenging for the scrum team as well as the individual who is now a product owner.

Often, the individual who has been designated a product owner will simply continue doing what they did before regardless of whether that style of working is compatible with the scrum framework or not.

So, what do you do in a circumstance like this?

As a scrum master, it is important that you know the role of a product owner and that you know how to do it well.

You must invest the time and effort in learning the role of a product owner but also, more importantly, to learn the tools, models, frameworks and methodologies that make for successful product ownership.

A scrum master acts as a coach to the scrum team.

They often coach product owners in the scrum framework and help them to design and develop a great product vision as well as how to articulate that vision to the development team.

It is critical that the development team have a great backlog from which to select items for the upcoming sprints and as such, you are going to have to help product owners create backlog items and user story mapping.

In essence, you are going to have to train and coach the product owner to be a great product owner for the team.

In many of the companies I’ve worked with, the scrum master has received formal product ownership training from the Scrum Alliance to help them better serve the scrum team.

Lack of a product vision and goals

The second most common challenge is a lack of a great product vision and goals for the product.

A team forms around a common vision. A team collaborates to achieve goals and objectives. Without these 2 elements, there is nothing for the team to collaborate toward and it becomes incredibly hard for a team to form in the truest sense of the word.

Many companies don’t have teams in place. They have a collective group of individuals who work together or against one another, depending on the company culture.

A rock-solid team beats any kind of informal collective group of people hands down.

So, it is important that the team you form, and nurture, have solid goals and objectives they are working toward under the umbrella of an inspiring vision for both the product and the team.

In many ways, this ties back to the lack of formal training for product owners.

Many of them simply don’t know how to create an inspiring vision let alone articulate that vision for the team.

As a scrum master, you are going to play a crucial role in helping to create and develop that vision, in collaboration with the product owner, and you are going to facilitate the process of articulating that vision to the scrum team so that they are engaged and inspired.

Given the challenges around product development, you can now understand why Scrum Masters are invaluable as coaches and mentors.

It is their responsibility to create an environment where the team can thrive and as such, you are going to be working closely with the product owner to ensure that the team have all the tools they need to create products that truly delight customers.

Technical Elements of the product ownership role

As a scrum master, you are going to need to master the tools and frameworks of the product owner environment.

Things like user story mapping and how to create a powerful and compelling backlog.

Things like value proposition canvas to help the team understand the jobs that customers are trying to achieve and why the product or new feature is incredibly important to the customer.

Things like a business model canvas to help the team and stakeholders understand the business model and how to capture and create value for the organisation.

In some cases, you are even going to be helping product owners to write user stories so that the team can best understand the specific application and benefits to the customer of a specific backlog item.

You need to learn these elements so that you can coach the development team as well as the product owner without being caught up in how to achieve the goal or objective.

The development team are more than capable of developing those solutions themselves.

What they need is the framework around the product that empowers them to fully understand what needs doing, why it is important, and the how element will come from the domain experts.

Some product owners may come from a project management background and get caught up in how something needs to be achieved as well as wanting to assign specific work to specific people.

Your role as a scrum master is to help them understand that the product is their focus. It’s on the development team to figure out how to do something and to figure out who specifically will be tackling those problems, but it isn’t the responsibility of a product owner to do that.

This can be challenging for people who are used to ‘driving’ projects and are used to the authority of a project manager in a project management environment. It’s your job to coach them and help them understand why Agile principles and values are incredibly powerful in product development.

It’s your job to help them master the technical elements of their own role as well as to learn how to effectively work with the development team to create the most valuable product in the right way.

If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master course page.

If you are already a scrum master and want to level up, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master course page.

If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master course page.

If you value mentored and coach-driven skills development, visit our Agile Coach Academy page.

If you have identified coaching as a valuable skill to develop, visit our on-demand Introduction to Coaching course page.

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