In my session on “The Essential Product Owner” at this year’s Agile DC event, I shared a guideline I have used for years to stress the importance of the Product Owner being available to the team. I call it my 80/5 guideline:
Jim’s 80/5 Guideline for Product Owner Engagement
The Product Owner must ensure that 80% of the Scrum Development Team’s questions are answered within 5 minutes of the question being raised.
I emphasize the word guideline because this is not a rule. It is simply a way to think about the commitment of time and the quality of the engagement that will help drive value creation. Value decreases if the team lacks access to timely, high quality answers to their questions.
Most questions are about the product backlog items that the team is currently working on in a sprint. Questions and answers are part of the information currents that flow around a collaborative team space. It is not unreasonable that a team might ask hundreds of questions in a single day. Since requirements are emergent and are figured out “just enough and just in time” these questions about the details are expected. In fact, a potential warning sign is a lack of questions.
Note that the guideline states that the Product Owner must ensure that the questions are answered. It does not state that the Product Owner is the one who must do all the answering. Most Product Owners are not going to know all the answers to every business domain question that might arise. In those cases where the Product Owner is not the best source for the answers, the Product Owner must find a business domain expert who can answer the question and make them available to the team in the sprint in which the work is being done. Anything less puts the value proposition at risk.