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Comparison Between Project Roles of Agile (Product Owner) and Waterfall (Sponsor) Methodology

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Traditional waterfall project methodologies have been used for years to implement complex and large-scale enterprise resource planning (ERP) projects. Often, ERP projects are over budget and late in schedule. Stakeholders are often disappointed in the delayed realization of benefits and the quality of the delivered product. In today's economy, it is a reality that we need to be able to deliver our projects with fixed constraints on resources.

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“The Product Owner is the one and only person responsible for managing the Product Backlog and ensuring the value of the work the team performs

This person maintains the Product Backlog and ensures that it is visible to everyone.” – Ken Schwaber, “Scrum Guide” Scrum defines three basic roles1 within a Scrum team: developers (including testers), a scrum master/coach and product owner. Each of these roles is critical for delivering value effectively and efficiently. The product owner role is deceptively simple. The product owner is the voice of the customer; a conduit to bring business knowledge into the team. They define what needs to be delivered to support the business (or at least finds out), dynamically provides answers and feedback to the team and prioritize the backlog. From a business perspective, the product owner is the face of the project. This essay will highlight the role of the product owner and why something that seems so easy is generally the hardest role on an Agile team. The job description of a product owner is fairly straightforward. Their job is to act as the voice of the customer, prioritize the backlog, answer or get answers to the team’s questions and accept/reject the work that the team generates. However the devil is in the details. Understanding the nuances of applying the role is important to successfully function as part of an Agile team.

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The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog. Product Backlog management includes clearly expressing Product Backlog items; ordering the items in the Product Backlog to best achieve goals and missions; optimizing the value of the work the Development Team performs; Ensuring that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all, and shows what the Scrum Team will work on next; and, ensuring the Development Team understands items in the Product Backlog to the level needed. (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2013).One of the few requirements of extreme programming (XP) is to have the customer available. Not only to help the development team, but to be a part of it as well. All phases of an XP project require communication with the customer, preferably face to face, on site. It's best to simply assign one or more customers to the development team. (Wells, 2009). This puts a huge demand on the individual taking the product owner or onsite customer role, one which for the vast majority of real-world projects is beyond the skills and capabilities of any one individual.

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In either case, the roles of a Product Owner overlaps that of the Project Manager. However, a Product Owner is authorized to make prioritisation according to requirements, having domain expertise. Project Managers don’t have the authority to do so

Apart from this, Product Owners lack the required project management skills. Hence, it can be said that a Product Owner is a Project Manager who is responsible for delegating the project team to a Scrum Master while at the same time is responsible for the success of the project and project environment.

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Adolph, S. (2014). Agile BA in Practice: Using Cadence to Leave Things to the Last Responsible Moment.

Beck, K., Beedle, M., van Bennekem, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., … Thomas, D. (2001). Manifesto for agile software development.

Hastie, S. (2014, June). Knowing when to stop—Trim that tail ruthlessly. Software Education.

Software Education. (2014). Agile Product Ownership course, Wellington, New Zealand. Self Published

Thomsett, R. (2001). Radical project management. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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