As the original scrum guide points out, there are a few key components to “doing scrum right” – sprints, backlogs, and product owners. Teams work collaboratively on tasks from the product backlog, which is a list of everything that needs to get done. Each sprint, the team reviews the backlog and the progress they’ve made. Once teams get cranking on a backlog, they can show off their productivity or velocity stats.
Each part of these activities needs someone on the team who is fiercely protective but also a nurturing guide for the team members themselves. In scrum, this role is the product owner. I like to think of it as a scrum Mama Bear.
Vital to a scrum team’s success is their ability to focus and commit time to work on backlog items. Organizations new to scrum might struggle with the idea of “losing” staff to a scrum team and the thought of other work getting pushed aside. Part-time scrum team members are not nearly as effective – context switching is real! A Mama Bear product owner fights to keep the team dedicated to the backlog while shielding the team from unplanned work or interruptions.
Mama Bears must also protect the team by managing interactions with external stakeholders and managing the team reports. Stakeholders are usually well-meaning but might want to see results or velocity reports right away. Here is where Mama Bear must protect the scrum team from attending meetings and taking time away from the product to fill out reports. Mama Bear product owners must hold back eager stakeholders who want to track hours, productivity, or other metrics the scrum team is not focused on. Team members are free to keep plugging away on backlog items while the Mama Bear attacks meetings and reporting duties.
Product owners do need a sensitive side for their team members. Just like a Mama Bear with her cubs, product owners must listen to their scrum team to empower, coach, and boost each member. As the sprint moves forward, the product owner keeps tabs on each backlog item. If a team member volunteers to take on an item but is struggling, the product owner is the one who must step in and offer help directly, bring in another team member to help, or refine the backlog item to better fit the task. At sprint events such as retrospectives, it might also fall to the product owner to ensure feedback is productive and blameless to not hurt the team members. As the scrum team matures, the Mama Bear allows team members to learn through pairing and develop cross-functional skills.
An effective scrum product owner should both protect their team from outsiders and also be caring toward their scrum team. This Mama Bear mindset must help teams get focused while the product owner fights off external demands and unrelated tasks. At the same time, the Mama Bear product owner should deeply care about the progress of the backlog and the development of their team. Scrum masters run the daily meetings and promote scrum, but a strong product owner will foster growth in a protected environment.