When Product Owners Go Wild

Is this your org?

Developers own the Sprint Backlog.

Every good Scrum Master knows this, but do the Product Owners always respect it?

A common challenge I see involves developers who feel they must ask permission from the Product Owner before pulling items into a sprint. Or worse, a PO who actively controls the Sprint Backlog by pulling items in and out whenever they feel like it. (Blasphemy!)

As you might imagine, this presents a lot of challenges for the team. If the devs can’t adapt, it can lead to incomplete sprint goals, not to mention potentially driving the buildup of technical debt. Scrum very deliberately puts developers in control of the Sprint Backlog to avoid this scenario. You don’t need PO permission to pull items in or out, and you can say no to requests mid-sprint.

The PO should ensure the Product Backlog is properly ordered so the teams know what’s being prioritized, and they should work with developers to form a Sprint Goal. Additionally, the PO needs to trust the developers to get the work done, and to manage their sprint time wisely. If the team decides they want to deal with technical debt, architectural issues, or even pull in new work from the backlog, as long as it doesn’t endanger the Sprint Goal, the PO should have no issues with it.

Developers: If you feel like you need permission from your Product Owner to pull items in or out of a Sprint Backlog, be sure to make your Scrum Master aware of it, and by all means bring it up in your next retrospective. After all, if we don’t keep up with the Scrum trinity of transparency, inspection, and adaptation, issues certainly can and will arise.