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The Role of Product Owner in the Sprint Retrospectives

Picture of Benjamin Cotrel
By Benjamin Cotrel
Published on July 7, 2022
Should the Product Owner attend Sprint Retrospectives?

You may have heard that inviting the Product Owner to the Sprint Retrospective is optional.

In the early 2000s, the Scrum community disagreed on this point and it influenced many publications.

Today, in 2022, even if these publications are still present, the position of the Scrum Guide is unequivocal.

What does the Scrum Guide say?

The Product Owner, like the Developers and the Scrum Master, is directly part of the Scrum team. He is responsible for optimizing the value delivered by the team.

All team members must be present at the various Scrum events. Since the Sprint Retrospective is a Scrum event, the short answer is then ‘Yes’.

Indeed, having the entire team present at the retrospectives will open up discussions on all aspects of the last Sprint. This is the best way for the team to inspect their practices and plan for improvement.

Benefits of inviting the Product Owner

The Sprint Retrospective makes the team more effective in delivering continuous value to customers. And the person responsible for the value provided by the team is the Product Owner.

Therefore, their presence is essential because they are often in the best position to give feedback on the value delivered in the last Sprint. This feedback may also concern the Definitions of Done of the different backlog elements.

The Product Owner is also responsible for managing the Product Backlog. If misunderstandings have hindered the developers in their work, the presence of the PO will facilitate the development of the action plan.

A Sprint Retrospective without the PO?

Of course, just because the Product Owner is absent doesn't mean the team should cancel the retrospective. There are solutions to collect feedback outside of the retro.

Even if the Product Owner cannot participate in the reflection and prioritization phases, using an online retrospective tool will allow them to post their ideas asynchronously. Then their ideas can be discussed and prioritized by the rest of the team. After the retrospective, make sure to send the action plan and a report to the Product Owner.

In case of conflict between the PO and the rest of the team, the Scrum Master can also suggest that the team does a retrospective without the Product Owner. This action provides greater psychological safety levels and allows the team members to understand how to resolve this conflict situation.

This retrospective should not replace your Sprint retrospective; it should be considered as an ad-hoc team meeting. The PO still has to be invited to the Sprint Retro.

To conclude

The presence of the Product Owner is required at each Sprint Retrospective. The PO is part of the team, and their feedback is essential to foster continuous improvement.

Of course, like any rule, it has exceptions. The reality of your team takes precedence over what the Scrum Guide says.

The purpose of the Scrum Guide is to help you, not to dictate how you should work.

Because in the end, it is always up to the team to decide.

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