Despite what people may say, the answer is simple: yes. And it’s not only that they can participate, but they MUST participate! The Product Owner is part of the Scrum team, and as a team member, s/he must be present in every retrospective.
The PO is part of the team!
The objective of a retrospective is to allow the team to assess the Sprint in order to find opportunities to improve processes, communications, relationships, product quality and value delivery. The Product Owner has a strong influence on all of these aspects, so not being there means that great improvement opportunities are lost. To make matters worse, this creates a distance between the PO and the rest of the team, generating a negative impact on their everyday relationship. Certain types of remarks start becoming common and demonstrate how fragile the relationship is:
“That’s a problem for the PO!”
“Here comes the PO again to give us trouble!”
“There goes the PO, screwing up again!”
“It’s the PO’s fault!”
Transparency, inspection, and adaptation are the pillars of Scrum, and this applies to everybody. It’s important to feel part of the team, but to actually be part of the team is even more important.
Collaboration is key!
The best teams with which I’ve worked had a perfect understanding of the importance of being a Product Owner who is not only close but present in the team’s everyday activities. This is crucial for creating a collaborative environment, where developers and Product Owner can work together to ensure high-value deliveries, which lead to a successful project.
How about when the PO is the client?
A scenario where the Product Owner’s participation in the retrospective makes people uncomfortable is when the PO is also the client. Not everyone likes the idea of having the client in the room just when all the weak spots and issues are being exposed, even if the goal is always to improve. I’ve addressed this topic in another post – Controversy: The best PO is not the client!
One of the Agile principles is to “bring business people and developers together.” This applies to all moments, both good and bad. Frequent and transparent feedback becomes the fuel of high-quality teams. So don’t forget: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Developers are all in the same boat – that is, they play on the same team. To go in a contrary direction is to go against the very concept of Agility.