The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Product Owner

If you have not seem “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” (1966), now is a good time! I think this article is valuable anyway, but will probably make more sense if you have seen it.

Angel Eyes is a ProductOwner at One Man Army Inc. He is an ambitious manager eager for a promotion and to grow in the ranks of the company.

Tuco is a ProductOwner at Texas Inc. He has some ambition, but his main concern is to save his own ass. He was brought from Mexico Acme for a good sum, and he does not want to loose his job, that’s his main goal.

Blondie also works at Texas Inc. He is ambitious but has also a good sense of commitment with the company and his colleagues.

In any project, there is an underlying conflict between the personal interests of the PO and the interests of the company in which he works. A ProductOwner will always have a personal agenda in projects.

A ScrumMaster must be watchful and try to identify what are the misalignments in the interests of the Stakeholders and the interest of the ProductOwner in order to achieve a better success rate in delivery.

As a ScrumMaster you have to be very mindful of what type of ProductOwner you get.

Angel Eyes is very ambitious and only thinks on himself. He is likely to disregards how risky some of the items in the Product Backlog are. He seeks greatness blindly. Angel Eyes will probably end up dead.

Tuco is scared for his job, and is likely to disregard how much value an item in the ProductBacklog may generate for the company if that item carries a risk. He will not take any chances and wants easy wins. Tuco will end up alive, but penniless.

Blondie is ambitious, but his commitment with the company shows up. His interests seem to be very much aligned with the company and he is more likely to be a good ProductOwner. Blondie will finish alive and with the dough.

In any case, a tool a ScrumMaster has to mitigate the potential misalignment of interests between the Stakeholders and the ProductOwners is through transparency.

If your PO does not care about risks, give focus to spread this information. If your PO is scared and misses ROI opportunities, be sure to inform all involved that there is a prize to be taken. If your PO seems aligned, insist on Transparency so he won’t loose track.

A well informed Stakeholder is likely to leverage his influence on the PO to consider risks and take advantage of opportunities.

Transparency, transparency, transparency…


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5 Responses to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Product Owner”

  1. Jacob Karma Says:

    >”In any project, there is an underlying conflict between the personal interests of the PO and the interests of the company in which he works. A ProductOwner will always have a personal agenda in projects.”

    I enjoyed your post, but the quoted sentences don’t make sense to me. I don’t agree with what you say. Why do you suggest that the PO always has some hidden motives? What kind of things are you talking about? I’m a PO and I would like to hear what aspects of myself might be putting the team at risk.

  2. csvo Says:

    Jacob, I’m not writing about a necessarily hidden agenda.
    My point with the article is that the needs of the PO are different from those of the project. The PO is concerned about his wife, a bonus, a promotion, being fired and many other preoccupations that have nothing to do with the interests of the project. This is the underlying conflict.

    In my experience, the best POs for the projects seems to be those with a will to grow, both professionally and personally, an ethical behavior and good alignment with the interests of the company and of the project.

    I have seen POs that are so afraid of being fired that they are blinded by what items actually generate value for the company. They play it so safe that items with less value are done first. Just enough value not to get fired.
    Other common problem lays in resolving conflicts between stakeholders where maybe many have “superior” management positions. The way the conflict is solved can affect the POs perception of his career which in turn affects how the items are selected in the first place.
    There are many, many situations where the PO’s psyche can lead to disaster, and in my view, transparency is what can help the PO the most.

    Of course, everyone has personal interests that conflicts with everyone else’s. The intent of the article is to talk about these conflicts for the PO.

  3. Andoni Says:

    very nice post.
    In my case the PO is the CEO of a small company and the problems are that he has too many other things in his head and, IMO he’s not taking enough time to be PO.
    Me, as scrum master, try to update him as much as possible and groom the backlog with him as much as I can, but is indeed very difficult as he has other “hidden” things to do.
    I don’t know which of the characters he would belong to, Eye Angel or Tuco

  4. csvo Says:


    your case is one I have experienced also. IMHO, the CEO of a small company is the guy that is the most aligned with the interests of the company (He would be Blondie :-)).
    In your case, there are 2 possible reasons why Blondie is not giving you enough attention.
    1. Your project is not worth a lot of gold (alignment with the company does not mean alignment with the project).
    He may very well be concerned with other projects that generate more value. Maybe it would be good to ask for a different PO and keeping him involved as a stakeholder.
    2. He does not understand how related are the sucess of the project and his personal time.
    It may just be that he thinks your team will deliver anyway and that he is not necessary to generate the same value. Try to coach him to get him to understand that the project is done with his participation and that it will probably fail without it.

    It seems to me you need to find out what is the case, little value or misunderstanding on the part of the CEO.
    Hope this helps,

  5. Andoni Says:

    I think we would be in the second option.
    I keep trying to involve him but I guess I’ll need to try harder :).

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