Scrum Rules: As a Team Member I Can Quickly Describe My Product's High-Level Purpose

July 17, 2020
5 minute read

All Scrum Team Members, including the Scrum Master and Product Owner, should understand the high-level business aspects of the product that is being built. As well, that understanding should be solid enough, that it can be communicated to other people.

This understanding helps the team members in many situations dealing with each other and with stakeholders. Understanding the purpose of the system is an aspect of both Focus and Transparency. This is essential for maintaining overall quality of the product. Development should always be done in a way that moves the system towards fulfillment of its intended purpose. If team members do not know their product in this way, it can cause significant problems in communication and in how Product Backlog Items are implemented. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, understanding the overall purpose of work is critical for a team to become a high-performance team. Without knowledge of this purpose, a high-performance team is impossible.

Team members learn about the product primarily from the Product Owner. The Product Owner can ensure the other Team Members know the product well by constantly communicating with the team. As the Agile Manifesto states:

Business people and developers must work together daily… — The Scrum Guide

The Product Owner can also use the following techniques to ensure the Scrum team members know the product purpose well:

  1. Craft and share a strong product vision statement. This brief written statement provides a high-level understanding of the product from a business perspective. Good product vision statements motivate the team to action, help the team make good trade-off decisions, and provide a background context for all other discussions about the product. The best product vision statements are “sticky”: they are memorable due to an emotional impact, the creation of urgency, and clarity through simplicity. The product vision may evolve over time, and the Product Owner can make sure that the statement of the product vision follows that change and is used to continually remind and update the thinking of the team. Crafting a product vision statement is not about perfection or “word-smithing”. Instead, it is about communicating an attractive centre of thought to create shared understanding.
  2. Arrange presentations from marketing, sales or leadership within an organization that are focused on the purpose of the work the team is doing and how the work will be used by the rest of the organization. These presentations, targeted to the Scrum Team will do much the same thing as a strong product vision statement, but will also often provide more detail. These presentations, particularly if combined with a well-facilitated Q&A, can establish a strong foundation of understanding. Ideally, the presentations are also accompanied by a sharing of graphical and textual materials for the team to refer back to as they continue their work. These materials can then become aids for the team members when they are called upon by circumstance to explain the product to others.
  3. Bring team members into direct contact with customers and users in their environment. The Scrum Team members get the opportunity to observe and interact with the people using the product (or competitive products, or the situation without any product). This technique is the most difficult to arrange, but is also often the most powerful. The Scrum Team develops empathy and understanding for the people dealing directly with the challenges or opportunities that the team’s work is meant to address. Although this is similar in concept to the Sprint Review with the direct customer or user contact, it is a different experience as most teams rarely step outside of their own work environments.

Knowledge of the product is not sufficient. The team members must also be able to share that knowledge with each other in the context of technical problem solving, and share that knowledge with other stakeholders of the team, often in the context of reporting to management. Although it sometimes seems awkward, spending a few minutes once in a while role-playing to explain the product to others can be an effective way of ensuring that the team members have this skill.

There is no direct Scrum Guide reference… this rule is an indirect consequence of other rules of Scrum such as self-organizing, no dependencies, the authority of the Product Owner and others.

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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