Chief product owner? I – Saloua – bet you are confused. The whole idea behind agile was less hierarchy and bureaucracy? When I first heard about this role, I thought as well NO WAY! Not for me… I’m not cut out to be a boss. I imagined the chief of an Indian tribe deciding if someone would be either the new tribe member or tonight’s dinner 🙂 . Having said that, only stupid people never change their minds… and although I can be stupid sometimes (ask my husband), this time I wasn’t. A few months down the road, I wouldn’t say it’s a walk in the park but it’s definitely worth the hike.
First things first, what is the heck is a CPO? Opinions differ on the matter and there’s no official recognition of the role in the scrum bible. Still, literature converges towards a definition where a chief product owner is responsible for the overall product. He/she guides the product owners, and facilitates overall product decisions. It’s a role meant only for complex products or domains with multiple squads depending on each other and delivering towards the same purpose. For example, we have 5 squads working to migrate from one main system to another. Treating them like 100% autonomous and self-steering is not realistic. Enter: the CPO!
Now, putting the theory aside, here are my main learnings acting as a CPO last few months.
- You’re no boss: chief is only in the name. So if you want this role to satisfy your ego… find something else. A CPO isn’t a super product owner or a product owner on top of the other ones. You’re there to serve the other PO’s when they can’t resolve a priority issue among themselves. By the way, in our tribe we decided to drop “chief” and replaced it by “central,” to stress the no-boss thingy.
- A CPO doesn’t equal PO. A CPO has an overall product or domain roadmap but doesn’t have a squad pulling stories from that overall roadmap. The CPO product roadmap is merely an aggregation of the sub product roadmaps from the different squads within the domain.
- It’s no fulltime job: a CPO role is something you do on the side. It’s is almost overhead and we don’t want too much of that 😉 . People should still be able to deliver value with their squad. You’re merely there to keep focus on the bigger picture of the product or domain.
- CPO has mandate for his or her domain. This is the most crucial element of the role. It’s with this mandate that the CPO can set priorities for the domain. A CPO is not just a facilitator for decision making on priority, when push comes to shove, the CPO is the decision maker.
In my humble opinion – this role can be effective in any company. I came to enjoy it a lot. It challenges me every time to decide whether I need to step in as a CPO or leave the room for the PO’s. These decisions, which are made in a split second, play a key role in getting a CPO to be an empowering yet decision making role instead of a dictating, hierarchical one. And as a cherry on the pie, it gives me – as PO who always felt a bit lonely in my role – a team of PO’s to spar with, because as Marijke said, we all want to belong somewhere…
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