Agile is as much about roles as it is about processes. Scrum has three defined roles: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Developers. While all three are critical roles, the Product Owner’s role is one with huge responsibilities. Product Owner responsibilities go beyond just stakeholder management and extend to driving product value and helping developers practice agile software development.
The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals. —Scrum Guide
This definition in the Scrum Guide outlines the most basic responsibility of the product owner, who as the name suggests represents the product. They may not be the user or customer, but they are a proxy for the customer. The product backlog is an ordered list of items or tasks that need to be accomplished or developed during the project and the product owner manages the product backlog.
The Product Owner is a role accountable for maximizing the value of the product, by ensuring that the backlog is always up to date and reflects the prioritized list of features. The Agile product owner must ensure that work is always carried out as per Agile principles and values which leads to customer satisfaction.
“Think of the product owner as the person who champions the product, who facilitates the product decisions, and who has the final say about the product.” -- Roman Pichler
A Product Owner:
A Product Owner’s role can be narrowed down to the following:
Based on these skills, a product owner can take on several roles in the organization, including:
The product vision defines what your product is about, who it serves, what problems it solves and what benefits it provide. The PO should have a noticeably clear understanding of the product development goals. The Product Owner must be able to communicate this vision to the developers and help them create the product the customer wants and is happy with.
The Product Owner’s role in defining the product vision also goes beyond just relaying what the customer wants. They should be able to think out of the box and suggest enhancements and features for the product that even the customer may have not thought about. So, in a sense, the Product Owner has the capability to wow the customer with their vision for the product. The product owner can define the product vision by:
Although the Scrum Master and the developers help the Product Owner in prioritizing and refining the product backlog, the primary responsibility of maintaining it lies with the Product Owner. The product backlog is a living artifact and managing it, prioritizing and refining it will ensure that the team is able to continuously inspect and adapt.
Prioritization of the product backlog is an important aspect of a Scrum project. The Product Owner must have the requisite skills to understand how to prioritize items on the backlog by identifying items that would need to be delivered first. But how does the Product Owner know which items to prioritize? Here’s where their domain expertise and inherent knowledge of the product and the market comes into the picture.
Product Backlog refinement is the act of adding detail, estimates, and order to items in the Product Backlog. This is an ongoing process in which the Product Owner and the Development Team collaborate on the details of Product Backlog items—Scrum Guide
Prioritizing features is an important part of the Product Owner’s responsibility. This comes under the purview of the product backlog management. The Product Owner can take inputs or stories from the development team and the stakeholders but the final act of prioritizing the stories on the backlog is the role of the product owner. The items on top need more priority than the items that are lower down.
The product owner must co-ordinate with the rest of the agile development team to prioritize product needs. This they do by considering the budget, scope, and timelines. The product owner must prioritize needs by considering project constraints, identify areas that have fewer constraints, determine which product feature will be developed when, and ensure that prioritization is carried out at every iteration.
The product owner’s role goes beyond just creating the product backlog. They must ensure that the developers are doing the right thing and that all times Agile and Scrum processes are followed. In their quest to maximize value, the product owner will be involved throughout the development process to identify ways in which the process can be made more efficient and productive. The product owner is involved in all the sprints and should:
Customer satisfaction through continuous delivery of the product—Agile Manifesto
Agile is all about placing customer needs at the top. The most efficient way to achieve that is by anticipating what the customer would want and adapting the development process and product backlog to achieve that. Agile is also about flexibility and adaptability and helps teams to refine requirements at every iteration. This is necessary in the markets we live in today, where change is rapid and customer requirements also fluctuate.
A product owner can anticipate what enhancements or improvements the customer may want by having foresight and domain expertise. This helps them be prepared and does not spring any surprises on the developers if the customer produces any new needs.
A product owner must work with multiple team members and stakeholders. They are the primary bridge between the teams and the stakeholders and must ensure that there is alignment with respect to time, budgets, and requirements. The skill to collaborate is essential for a product owner working on critical projects. This liaising does not just involve relaying messages to and from the stakeholders and the developers, but involves facilitating the conversation and decision making, thus empowering the team and aiding transparency between all parties. Their skills of liaising and communicating also comes in handy in motivating team members, keeping stakeholders happy and getting support of senior management by effectively conveying the product vision, features and objectives.
A Product Owner should be involved at every stage of product progress, making sure that there is no deviation from the original scope and the needs of the customer. This they do by always being aware of how the developers are proceeding with the development of the product and making sure that the product backlog is being adhered to.
“To achieve truly great Scrum, an empowered, dedicated Product Owner with a strong vision is crucial.” --The Product Owner Manual by Scrum Sense
Product Owners drive the product development and have several responsibilities within the agile team and the organization. Organizations look for certain criteria in product owners and hire those product owners who they think will be able to perform responsibilities like managing businesses and stakeholders, motivating teams, engaging in Scrum processes and practices and more.