In Scrum, the Product Owner includes the perspective of what is valuable (and what is not) regarding the product’s ambitions. As the team spends time and money working on the product, the Product Owner ensures this investment returns value to the stakeholders. Close collaboration with the people who have a stake in the product and the developers is essential to decide what is valuable and what isn’t.

One product has one Product Owner and one Product Backlog with one Product Goal. To keep the speed at which decisions can be made high and adaptation can take place quickly, Product Owners need full mandate over the product. They have the ultimate say over what the ambitions for the product are, what goes on the Product Backlog and what doesn’t, and how to spend the budget (or even set it).

The Product Owner ensures a Product Goal and an ordered Product Backlog are available to the team and its stakeholders. However, this doesn’t mean that the Product Owner is the only person on the team who does this work. To maximize the value of the work done by the Developers in each Sprint, it makes sense for the Product Owner to actively collaborate with the Developers to write, refine, and order items. It’s all about collaboration.


Fulfilled like this, the Product Owner is an ‘order maker.’ As such, the Product Owner…

✅ Creates a product vision & strategy
✅ Defines the roadmap and Product Goals
✅ Decides when to release the product increment
✅ Calculates the return-on-investment
✅ Decides on how to spend the product budget
✅ Collaborates with key stakeholders
✅ Orders the Product Backlog
✅ Measures the value delivered by the team
✅ Says ‘no’ to new ideas by stakeholders and others
✅ Understands what’s happening in the market and how it impacts the development of the product

Most importantly, the Product Owner involves the entire team in all these tasks to increase the feeling of shared product ownership.

This might still happen as an order taker, but the Product Owner does not do it. It might be distributed amongst a Product Manager, Project Manager, Line Manager, stakeholder, client, etc.

In short, the Product Owner becomes completely powerless. It becomes a meaningless role. 🤷‍♀️

As a result…
❌ The team will face many dependencies because for each impactful decision, the ‘Product Owner’ needs to ask permission;
❌ Work in the ‘waiting column’ piles up, the team can’t deliver a done increment, and the Sprint Review becomes a useless event;
❌ Basically, the whole empirical flow of Scrum comes to a grinding halt


This is frustrating for the team and their stakeholders. But I’ve experienced many Product Owners who were the most frustrated themselves. Quite often, this wasn’t what they signed up for. Or maybe they did, but the harsh reality made them realize that being an ‘order taker’ doesn’t make much sense…

Regardless of why & how the Product Owner became an ‘order taker,’ you could support him/her by making the consequences visible.

For example:
💰 What do all these dependencies & waiting times cost the team (and organization)?
💰 What does all the extra meeting time cost to create alignment between the various roles, taking responsibility away from the Product Owner?
💰 What does it cost the organization that the team can’t deliver a done increment each Sprint?

Don’t make it a ‘Scrum Guide’ conversation; steer it towards how it impacts management, stakeholders, and the teams.

What is your experience with a powerless Product Owner? What recommendations do you have to start improving?

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