What is the essence of the product owner role? As the name suggests, a product owner should own the product on behalf of the company and be responsible for the product success, for making sure that the product creates value for its customers and users and for the company providing it.
You can think of the product owner as the individual who champions the product, who facilitates the product decisions, and who has the final say about the product, for instance, if and how feedback is actioned, or when which features are released.
The following diagram provides a summary of how I view the role of the product owner for commercial products.
As the picture above shows, a product owner should have strategic product management skills such as product strategy and roadmapping as well as tactical ones including the user experience (UX) and the product backlog. I have circled the areas, which are required by Scrum — the framework in which the role originated — in dark orange. The other areas are necessary in my experience to allow the product owner to do a great job and achieve product success even though they are not mandated by Scrum. You can find out more about the knowledge areas in my product management framework.
If you work as a product owner for in-house applications, you should adjust the picture above. Consider replacing “Marketing” with “Operations” and removing “Sales and Support”. The other areas still apply although your market will consist of the in-house users. Similarly, if you manage a tech product, you may want to promote the “Development/Technologies” area and move it to the inner circle.
I find it a mistake to view the product owner as a product backlog manager and user story writer. Instead, the role should interact with the customers and the users as well as the internal stakeholders.
The product owner of a commercial product should directly interact with customers and users, the development team, the ScrumMaster, marketing and sales and other relevant business group required, and the senior management sponsor. I have circled the Scrum team, the unit consisting of product owner, ScrumMaster and development team, to indicate that product owner should have close and trustful relationship with the other Scrum team members. Great products happen when the product owner takes her market and business knowledge and collaborates with the team members who know what technically possible.
[This post was last updated on 1st December 2014.]
More on the Role of the Product Owner
The product owner responsibilities
Which UX skills should product owners have?
The product ownership test
The Picasso product owner: Balancing users, team, and stakeholders
Two common ways to apply the product owner role
The Highlander Principle
Avoiding common product owner mistakes
Scaling the product owner
Desirable characteristics of a product owner
Product owner = product manager?
Business analysts in Scrum
Every great product owner needs a great ScrumMaster
The product owner’s guide to the sprint retrospective
Product Owner Tools
The Product Vision Board to describe the vision and the product strategy for new products.
The GO Product Roadmap to communicate how a product is likely to grow in the future.
Product Canvas to facilitate the development of a new product.
Persona Template to effectively describe target users and customers together with their needs.
User stories to describe the functionality of the product.
Constraint stories to capture non-functional requirements such as performance.
Design sketches and mock-ups to illustrate the user interface design.
Product backlog to manage the outstanding work to create a product (update).