Help! My Product Owner Is Missing In Action!

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I guess the title is explaining enough, right?
Raise your hands if you find it difficult to understand :).

Missing in action can refer to many things.
Vacation, Resignation, Decease, Too Busy, On Business Trip, etc.
You name it.
Even if the Product Owner is not committed to the product backlog or never attend all sprint events, that can be classified as missing in action too.

In this article I want to share my experience in one of my Scrum Project where the Product Owner was somehow … Missing In Action.
In my case, he was either on vacation, busy, business trip or not maintaining the product backlog.
The Scrum Team was new in Scrum and they were not ready for the situation.

Check it out!

The Analogy

I love to think about many things using analogy. And I usually use the analogy with the things that are familiar for me.

This time I use basketball team as the analogy.

In a basketball team, there are 5 players. I relate these 5 players as the development team.
The Scrum Master is the Referee.
While the Product Owner is the Coach.

One day when a championship season is about to start, the coach is Missing In Action.
He disappeared, no one knows where his whereabouts.

So what should the team do?

What Should We Do?

In basketball team, when the coach is not available, usually the captain of the team will play the coach role for the time being.
If the coach is not available for a long (or maybe permanent) period, then the team will escalate the issue to the official or to the manager.
Usually the official will appoint a new coach for the basketball team.

The situation is similar in the Scrum Team.

Basically, if the Scrum Team is mature enough, they can continue working as a team, hand in hand to handle Product Owner’s role while he’s not available.
Since this is categorized as an impediments, the team will also consult with the Scrum Master to help them solving the problem.

If the Product Owner is not available for a long (or permanent) time, then the Team (or with the help of the Scrum Master) should escalate this to the organization management.

In this case, normally the organization management will appoint a new product owner to be part of the team.

Another Approach

In my organization, there was also a case where the Product Owner is not available during the deployment sprint, which was the most crucial moment.

In the deployment sprint, the team need Product Owner to give a “go or not go” decision, also to communicate with the business user.
The team need to focus on the work needs to be done instead of worry about other things that are suppose to be done by the Product Owner.

In this case, the Scrum Master helped the team to escalate this to the business user.
We were lucky since we had business users that were accountable for taking decision.

But business user confirmation was not enough for our case.
Upon business user confirmation, the team escalated this again to the management.
Management will then challenged the team’s confidence regarding “go or not go” decision and they finally decide whether the increment was proper enough to be delivered or not.


Product Owner role is an important role. The Scrum Team will be crippled without Product Owner.

But show must go on.

When the Product Owner is Missing In Action, the whole team, including Scrum Master, Business User and the Organization Management must work hand in hand to make the project run smoothly.

Your job as a Scrum Master is to help the team to grow mature so they are ready to face this kind of situation.

But if you’re a Product Owner… My message to you is: Make sure you’re never Missing In Action! 🙂

Prepare some backup plan to replace your role during your absence.
Don’t let your team suffer.

We’re a team.
All for one.
One for all.

Author: Christine Anna

Working in IT field since 2000. I started my career as a graphic designer, a web designer and a web programmer. Expanded my skill as a System Analyst. Not enough with that, I currently active in Project Management activities. A professional, a sport lover, a singer, a social community activist, a mother, a wife :) Visit my linkedin: ---- Blog Owner: - - - - - - - - Blog Contributor:

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