What do you do if the product backlog item is critical but the team don’t have the skills to produce it?

Navigating Skill Gaps in Agile Teams: A Product Owner’s Guide

In the dynamic landscape of agile software development, encountering a situation where the team lacks the necessary skills to deliver critical product backlog items is not uncommon. This scenario presents a significant challenge for Product Owners (POs) who are tasked with ensuring that the product vision is realized through the development team’s work. The key to navigating this challenge lies in strategic problem-solving and effective team management. This blog post explores strategies for Product Owners when faced with skill gaps in their teams.

Identifying the Gap

The first step in addressing this challenge is recognizing the gap between the team’s current capabilities and the skills required to complete critical backlog items. This realization often comes from sprint planning meetings or during backlog refinement sessions where the team assesses their ability to work on upcoming tasks.

Strategies for Overcoming Skill Gaps

Engage with the Team

Open dialogue with the team is crucial. Asking questions like, “How can we address this skill gap?” or “What support do you need to acquire these skills?” can empower the team to take ownership of the solution. This could involve identifying training opportunities, workshops, or even pairing with more experienced team members to facilitate knowledge transfer.

Collaborate with the Scrum Master

The Scrum Master plays a pivotal role in fostering an environment of continuous improvement and self-management. Working closely with the Scrum Master, a Product Owner can explore avenues for enhancing team capabilities, such as facilitating agile coaching sessions or organizing skill-building workshops.

Self-Management and Empowerment

Encouraging self-management within the team is essential. This involves supporting the team in finding their own solutions to the skill gap issue, whether through self-directed learning, cross-training among team members, or seeking external expertise.

Assessing Team Composition

If, after exploring all possible avenues for skill development within the team, the gap remains too wide, it may be necessary to consider adjusting the team composition. This could mean bringing in new team members with the requisite skills or, in some cases, forming a new team better suited to the project’s demands.

Making the Tough Decisions

As a Product Owner, if you conclude that the only way to deliver the critical backlog items is to change the team composition, it’s important to act decisively. This decision should be made with careful consideration of the impact on the current team, the project timeline, and the overall product vision.


Skill gaps in agile teams are a challenge, but they also offer an opportunity for growth and improvement. By engaging with the team, leveraging the Scrum Master’s role, promoting self-management, and being prepared to make tough decisions if necessary, Product Owners can navigate these challenges effectively. Ultimately, the goal is to build a team that is resilient, adaptable, and capable of delivering on the product vision, ensuring the success of the project in the long term.

About Effective Agile

Ralph Jocham is a Change Agent in Scrum // Agile // Coaching // Evidence Based Management and also a Professional Scrum Trainer based in Europe.

As one of the first Professional Scrum Trainers in the world, Ralph has worked directly with cocreator of #scrum, Ken Schwaber, and has played an integral part in the course development of the #PSPO (Professional Scrum Product Owner) as well as the delivery of all #scrum.org certified courses.

If you’re looking to invest in training that transforms and empowers teams to successfully adopt #scrum or #agile, and create high-performance #productdevelopment environments leveraging the agile values and principles, visit our Professional Scrum Training page.

If you would like to work with Ralph and company as an #agilecoach, #agileconsultant, or powerful change agent to get your team back on track and on the road to high-performance #agile #productdevelopment, connect with Ralph Jocham.

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