Should the Product Owner Attend Daily Scrums?

In one sense the Product Owner is part of the Scrum team. The Product Owner communicates the vision for what is to be developed and revises priorities. However, that doesn’t mean that the Product Owner should be involved in every aspect of development. One particularly hard question is whether the Product Owner should attend the team’s daily Scrums (or daily standups). And the frustrating answer to that question is: It depends.  Our usual suggestion is to try it whichever way you haven’t been doing it in the past, then use the Sprint Retrospective Meeting to reflect on how it went.

Most of the time people ask us this question, we find the person playing the Product Owner role is actual a proxy instead of the real business decision maker.  For example, if you don’t have the authority to cancel development, you’re probably a proxy, not the actual Product Owner.  Often we discover the Product Owner proxy’s boss is the real Product Owner.  So a problem with stating the Product Owner must always attend the Daily Scrum is that it encourages organizations to choose Product Owners who have too much free time instead of the real decision makers who might not be available (or even necessary) daily. Ken Schwaber, who wrote the original books on Scrum, recently wrote about the downsides of a low-level Product Owner as encouraged by some XP folks.

Watch a team wrestle with this issue about halfway through this example Daily Scrum meeting.
Example Daily Scrum Meeting video

For new teams, the most frequently overlooked problem with involving the Product Owner in the daily Scrum (and also the Sprint Retrospective) has been described as the invisible gun effect.  Even when the Product Owner doesn’t try to dominate the meeting, the presence of someone with power and responsibility in the organization will prevent the team from stepping up to the same degree of self management.  For more information about the invisible gun effect, see the Sprint Retrospective Meeting elearning module, Is My Boss On the Scrum Team? or an upcoming book  by Adam Weisbart.

Invisible Gun Effect

Other teams have found it beneficial to include the Product Owner in the daily meeting, especially once their self organization habits are better established.  As suggested, try it whichever way you haven’t been doing it in the past, then use the Sprint Retrospective Meeting to reflect on how it went.