What Will Happen If The Product Owner Is Not Available During A Sprint?

by StarAgile

December 12, 2019
Category Agile and Scrum


Absenteeism is not a sin. When we were in school we have taken leave. This continues even when we start working for an organization. Yes, we are going to address how to handle a role in the absence. There is no suspense and let me come to the point straight. Agile projects require three people namely the scrum master, development team and product owner.

We are aware that when anyone in the team is absent, then replacing them is not a difficult task. However, the absence of an Scrum Master  or a Product Owner requires attention as they play a key role in the scrum framework. In this blog, we will understand how to handle a situation when a Product owner not available during sprint.

Product owner not available during sprint

Who is a Product Owner?

Before we address the real issue, let me summarize the role of a Product Owner in brief. Every development project aims at delivering the product satisfying the end-users need. This end user is the customer and the Product Owner is the person who understands the customer's needs and communicates the same to the team. In a nutshell, he/she is the owner of the product to be developed.

•    Each feature of the product to be developed is explained by the PO to the team.
•    Therefore, the product owner maximizes the value of the product and completely satisfies the customer.
•    We can even call him an internal customer who approves the product for delivery to the client.

What is Most Likely to Happen if the Product Owner is not Available During a Sprint

Having said that he is the key person, let us imagine a situation when the Product Owner is not present during a sprint. At the prima face, we all think that it will ruin the entire development plan and product delivery becomes a nightmare to the organization. But, it cannot be possible for giving assurance that a PO will be present always. There are constantly situations when we might want to handle the sprint in the absence of a PO.

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Top 10 Things Might Happen if a Product Owner is not Available During a Sprint

1.    Providing direction to the team will be missing. This person is not just responsible for offering user stories, planning and managing iteration/backlogs. But takes care of motivating the team to work towards developing the product. There are situations when the team or individual feels disappointed for various reasons. PO handles this with care to make sure everything happens per plan. In the absence of a Product Owner, there will be team clashes hence dip in performance of the team.
2.    Understanding the product backlog priority and planning sprint will be affected.
3.    Value assessment to develop cases cannot be done. This will lead to delay in prioritizing stories, epics or themes.
4.    User story cannot be elaborated properly thus managing backlogs will become tough
5.    Creating product backlog by working closely with the product management team process will be delayed or affected
6.    Achieving the goal of the business becomes impossible thus return on investment cannot be reached
7.    Product release planning process will get derailed as setting an expectation on the delivery of new functionality cannot happen properly
8.    Understanding the market and making a proper roadmap for product development does not happen as the Product Owner is the owner for this activity
9.    Getting inspection feedback gets interrupted as the PO interacts with the end-user
10.    Determining stories acceptance criteria will not be uniform as the team will make a call in the absence of the owner.

Thus, it is just not one but the entire process gets affected due to the absence of this one person called the product owner.

What Should We do if the Product Owner is not Available During a Sprint?

The immediate solution we can think of is to assign a new PO to take charge. Alternatively, ask the team to work on its own to complete the task. But both methods have their own challenges. New PO within a sprint cannot handle because they need time to understand team, customer, and delivery. Asking the team to self-drive may happen for an experienced group but not with amateur people.

Planned Absence and Unplanned Absence
Planned absence

In the event of the PO not present and if it is planned, then the following things can be done

1.    He can assign a potential person to handle the activities as per the sprint planning meeting
2.    Sometimes yes and SM can take charge and accept items.
3.    The best solution is to bring the end-user in the place of the Product Owner to prioritize the product backlog and deliver results in the sprint. However, the end-user may not know the process followed by the team where an Scrum Master or any other senior person can pitch in to provide support.
4.    Also, the items can be added to a sprint that can be completed without a PO. Even removing backlog for a particular sprint will help till PO resumes back to work. But remember to keep the stakeholders informed in advance.
5.    Keep the development team in the loop about the priority of the backlog so that they can act accordingly in the absence of a PO.

Unplanned absence

In the event of the absence of the PO due to an emergency, then is it at the end of everything? No, it cannot happen that way in a dynamic environment. Follow these backup tips to manage the show without the Product Owner.

1.    Always have a backup person shadowing the PO to replace in absence. This need not be a dedicated person if the cost is an issue, instead identify a potential person from the development team. This will motivate that individual as well.
2.    Also, keep the entire team well involved to continue action in the absence of the Product Owner
3.    Let the Scrum Master be always prepared to handle any crisis situation by closely working with the Product Owner and just not mind their responsibility.
4.    Encourage team members to attend a CSPO certification courses to provide them with PO experience. This will allow you to find a skilled replacement easily.
5.    In the worst case, stop the work and keep the management informed to find an alternative. Never afford to lose the client.

Scenarios when a PO is not available during the sprint

Only if we understand why a Product Owner is not available, then we can suggest an alternative. So let us understand them better. You can relate this to your project situation to address the absence accordingly.

•    There could be a personal emergency which makes the Product Owner take leave for a particular sprint.
•    The PO might not be motivated to work due to a lack of compensation, respect, etc. Here this person will be present but not actively working for the project
•    The PO maintains the backlog but does not care for the team
•    PO is available during sprint review but not during other times
•    He/she visits the events and refinement session but does not own
•    Present during sprint planning and review and not in between

All the above scenarios need to be addressed as the presence of a PO is required for a successful implementation of agile projects. Irrespective of the scenario we need to identify an alternative for a PO to address the need and take the project to completion. Check the reason for absence and categorize them as planned or unplanned and then find the right alternative as suggested above.

Concluding Thoughts

The product owner has a larger responsibility and it is difficult to manage without him/her in the sprint. However, it is important to understand that this individual might have valid reasons to step out of the work. Hence plan in advance to not lose focus on the job. Also, follow the tips we have given to sail through the sprint.

To understand more about product owner roles and responsibilities attend StarAgile certified scrum product owner training or call us at + 91 – 80502 05233 for upcoming CSPO trainings.




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