21 Methods to Engage and Retain Your Product Owner in an Agile Project

PM ADVISORY                                                               

Brian Vanderjack, PMP, MBA

AT&T Mobility/Home Solutions



One difficulty Scrum Masters have is Product Owners who are only involved rather than committed, or worse. Product Owners are necessary for Scrum Teams to succeed. It is paramount to keep them as actively contributing members of any Scrum Team.  This article will describe 21 specific methods to use when engaging a Product Owner, as well as how to re-engage Product Owners who cease to be active members of Scrum Teams.


For years I was frustrated by the way we manage projects in the IT industry.  As we became more evolved through  ever improving evolutions of waterfall methodologies, we became more and more distant from our clients to the point where it was rare to actually talk to a client after the initial business requirements were completed.

When I had the opportunity to start using and then teaching the Agile process at AT&T, I felt like I was like coming out of the woods and into the dawn.  The Agile process calls out that the Scrum Team is responsible for staying in constant communication with Product Owners, or clients.  Product Owner input is necessary because he tells the team exactly how to add business value through creating, prioritizing and managing User Stories, as well as guiding the team in the correct direction.

Soon after I began to work with Agile as a project manager, I quickly came to realize that  many Agile teams across the industry, including one of my own Scrum Teams, were finding it difficult to keep their Product Owners engaged. The risk of having an apathetic Product Owner is that the Scrum Team may lose direction, and may eventually fail leaving the expected business value, which the team was originally chartered to obtain, wasted.  I gave this considerable thought while looking at past projects to determine how I had dealt with project team members(who were not available when I needed them) I also interviewed top Agile coaches and highly successful Scrum Masters for advice.  What I will show you here are 21 approaches that Scrum Masters can use to keep Product Owners as active members of the Scrum Team.

The following suggestions fit into one or more of  these three categories: 1) How to correctly engage a Product Owner, 2) How to keep them active in the project 3) What can be done  if you have significant issues engaging your product owner.


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About the Author

Brian Vanderjack

AT&T Mobility/Home Solutions

Brian Vanderjack is a full time project manager in the AT&T Mobility/Home Solutions IT department, were he has managed large scale and cutting edge projects, like cell phone application development, for over twelve years.  He is a professional speaker on project management and related topics, having spoken at three PMI® chapters, and has spoken at his home PMI® chapter in Chicago on several occasions.  Brian has also spoken at Northwestern University®, University of Chicago®, Abbott Labs®, Underwriters Laboratories® and Microsoft®.  He teaches project management related courses for University of California/Irvine® and the University of Phoenix/Chicago®.  Brian has project managed Agile at AT&T, created and taught several Agile classes, and has implemented Agile in an organization at AT&T.  He lives in Downers Grove Illinois with his wife Terri, and their Wheaten terrier, Finley.  He has two sons that are both working on achieving their BS degrees.  He holds an MBA, earned with distinction from DePaul University.  He can be reached at [email protected].