Product Owners – Setting the Standard for Trust


Dennis Gugger, Senior Consultant

The Scrum framework has been a mechanism used by organizations since the 1990’s to continuously develop and deliver a wide variety of products. Aside from all the methodologies and principles Scrum provides for agile product development, there is an unseen glue that holds everything together. Trust is the oft overlooked and core principle of Scrum that is crucial for the success of a product. The presence of it, or the lack thereof, can be highly contagious and have a direct impact on your product development cycle.

Product Owners can set the tone

Everything starts at the core. Because trust is so contagious, the most effective area to initially build up trust within your organization is at the base of development, the Scrum Team. If one Scrum Team can prove to other teams and stakeholders that they can deliver on their commitments while relying on trust and transparency, they’ll serve as the beacon for other teams to follow by example. One role that is in a great position to set the standard of trust for the team is the Product Owner. They serve as the key touchpoints for stakeholders as well as the development team and therefore are consistently challenged to make difficult decisions facing the product. By being in this position, Product Owners have the opportunity and the necessity, to earn trust from both sides.

Earning trust from the Development Team

Product Owners are able to earn the trust from the development team by being transparent about the state of the product, the vision, and the challenges facing the team. While Refinements and Sprint Planning ceremonies certainly have their specific agendas and goals, these can be great opportunities to communicate these themes. This helps create the “bigger picture” of the product which needs continuous reassertion from the Product Owner. More importantly however, the Product Owner needs to be open to incorporating feedback received from the team. These healthy discussions will empower the team to help shape the product vision and continuously build up trust over time.

Earning trust from Stakeholders

Inversely Product Owners also need to earn the trust from their stakeholders that they are leading the product in the right direction and are representing the stakeholder interests appropriately. This is also earned by being transparent about the current state of the product and collaborating closely on upcoming priorities. The utilization of priority poker during a stakeholder refinement can be an effective method for achieving alignment regarding upcoming priorities. Instead of a scrum team casting votes based on the perceived complexity for developing a feature, the stakeholders vote on a given theme based on their perceived business value. This activity will lead to engaging conversations about the product vision and can be a useful tool to help prioritize the next big themes. Through this collaboration, the Product Owner has the opportunity to earn the trust of the stakeholders in that the take-aways from this activity will flow directly into the product development process.

Why trust is so critical…

According to the Trends and Benchmarks 2018 report, 69% percent of respondents reported that their company culture and hierarchies were the biggest roadblocks in fully adopting an agile strategy.

The biggest roadblocks in fully adopting an agile strategy.

The biggest roadblocks in fully adopting an agile strategy.

Having trust thrive within your organization will enable an agile company culture where teams are operating autonomously, ideas and feedback are flowing freely, and empowered team leaders are capable of navigating uncertainty through transparency. Micro-managing will be a thing of the past, and more focus will be invested on delivering value to the customer. Of course, trust is not just given, it is earned over time by learning from failures, maintaining consistent transparency over your domain, and proving a commitment to the team and product. It is the unspoken vital value of Scum and it is critical to identify a break in the trust chain and take up initiatives to address it.

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