The Product Owner’s main responsibility is to maintain the Product Backlog through direct communication with the users and stakeholders. To do this well it will take most of the Product Owner’s time and effort to be effective.
Hands-on technical is done by the Team Members not the Product Owner since this is not the Product Owner’s strength or area of expertise. If the Product Owner refrains from doing the hands-on technical work, then the Product Owner is able to provide the vision and share the “what” that the team needs to accomplish. If not, the Product Owner will be bogged down by the tasks and lose the time and ability to provide product guidance and connect with the stakeholders. As well, Scrum maintains a strict separation of duties between the Product Owner (business problems, the “what?”) and the Scrum Team (technical solutions, the “how?”).
The Product Owner learns to stop doing hands-on technical work by practicing the Scrum value of “Respect”. Respect the other Scrum Team members to make good technical decisions and take appropriate action leveraging their expertise, skills and experience. The Product Owner is welcome to participate in technical discussions and offer technical suggestions. If the respect (and trust) is not there in the relationship between the Product Owner and the Scrum Team members, then the Scrum Master must work to remove the obstacles to building that trust. Some common obstacles to respect and trust include quality problems (usually solved with Agile Engineering practices such as refactoring, test-driven development and continuous integration), unhealthy technical pushback, failure of the Scrum Team to meet its Sprint commitments, and a weak “Definition of Done”. The Product Owner with a technical background will have a particularly difficult time letting go of the technical work. In this situation, the Product Owner needs to cross-train one or two other members of the Scrum Team to pass along that technical experience.
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