David Caulfield

Scrum Scenario #1: Where is the Product Owner?

This is a series of exercises in preparation for scrum.org's PSM certifications. I have gathered these scenarios from the internet together with my own experiences. Any answer will be based from my understanding of the Scrum Guide.

Source by Alen Pekic on scrum.org.


You are a Scrum Master working with a Scrum Team. The Development Team constantly complain that requirements are not clear enough. The Product Owner claims she is too busy to provide extra clarity. What should the Scrum Master do?


Coach the Dev Team

Since the complaint comes from the development team, the Scrum Master should first work with the dev team to answer the question: "What criteria do we need to commit to each requirement?" The result should be a list of checkboxes, commonly known as a "Definition of Ready".

A Definition of Ready is a useful set of criteria for the team to check against each requirement they discuss. If a requirement satisfies the Definition of Ready, both the Product Owner and the Dev Team agree it is ready to be taken. This further promotes commitment to each product backlog item during the sprint planning.

Coach the Product Owner

There are different solutions for the Scrum Master to suggest to the Product Owner depending on how much time the Product Owner has available.

Firstly, the Scrum Master should remind the Product Owner of the importance of transparency between her and the Dev Team. If this transparency reduces, the team will deliver something that is not valuable to the customer, resulting in wasted sprints and, more importantly, wasted budget. The Product Backlog needs to be transparent to the dev team so that they understand what will bring value to their customers and what they need to focus on for their sprint.

Secondly, if the Dev Team continue to complain about unclear requirements, the Scrum Master can suggest a dedicated weekly sync-up between the Dev Team and the Product Owner. This meeting would serve to discuss top priority product backlog items together with any questions the Dev Team has on sprint backlog items.

Thirdly, if weekly meetings do not work, the Scrum Master should recommend the Dev Team to directly contact the customer. Although the Product Owner acts as the main interface for the customer, it does not prohibit the Dev Team from reaching out directly.

Finally, if none of these actions bring clarification, the Scrum Master can encourage the Dev Team to proceed based on their own assumptions. The Dev Team should also contact the Product Owner via email to state their assumptions and how they will proceed.

Coach the Whole Scrum Team

The Scrum Master should constantly ask questions that challenge the whole team.

  • How can we commit to each product backlog increment?
  • Does everyone understand these requirements?
  • How can we avoid similar confusions in the future?

Asking well-placed question encourages the team to be open and have the courage to speak up when required. A clear product backlog is essential for the team to have focus and commitment towards their product increments.

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