The Agile Product Owner Responsibilities

Roman Pichler

Written by Roman Pichler

on Thursday 24th March 2016



In theory, the product owner’s responsibilities are simple: The individual should “maximise the value of the product and the work of the development team”. But what does this mean in practice? In reality, the application of the product owner role varies greatly, as products and organisations differ. But my experience shows that there are two key factors that determine the duties of a product owner: the scope and the depth of ownership. This blog post discusses these two factors to help you apply the role successfully.

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Scope: Product, Feature, or Component Owner?

To get the product owner responsibilities right, start by asking what the individual owns. Is it a product, a feature, or a component? While this may sound like a trivial question, it can be tricky to answer it: I have seen a number of companies where people did not have a shared understanding of what a product is. As a consequence, there was no clear and common definition of product roles and responsibilities, and people looking after components or features were confusingly called product owners.

What’s a product? It’s something that creates value for the customers and users as well as for the company. It addresses a problem or provides a tangible benefit—think of a product like Google Search that solves the problem of fining information on the Internet or Facebook that offers the benefit of staying in touch with family and friends. Some digital products directly generate revenue, such as, Microsoft Office or Adobe Illustrator. Others, like Amazon Kindle, help sell other products and services—Kindle Paperwhite devices and Kindle books, for example.

A feature is product capability users can interact with, for example, search and navigation and checkout on an e-commerce website like Amazon. Every product contains one or more features in order to create value for the customers and users. A component is an architectural element or building block. It includes not only component in the narrow sense (like an Enterprise Java Bean, for instance) but also (micro) services and layers, for instance, a data access layer. The following picture summarised the differences between the three terms.


Many product owners I have met weren’t product owners but feature owners or component owners. While there is nothing wrong with being a feature or component owner, the responsibilities significantly differ from a product owner.

A product owner owns the entire product. Consequently, the individual should focus on making and keeping the product a success—by ensuring that it offers a strong value proposition to the customers and users and that it creates the desired business benefits.

A feature owner, in contrast, is focused on one or more individual features. The individual’s responsibility is to ensure that the features performs well, for example, that the drop-off number of the checkout feature is low. Similarly, a component owner looks after one or more component, such as, the user interface or data access layer. The person makes sure that the architectural element works as expected. To do so, the individual usually has to have the appropriate technical skills. The picture below illustrates the three different owner roles.


Using feature and component owners is a scaling technique: It can help you grow your product by dividing the product responsibilities. A common approach is to have one overall product owner who manages the entire product and several feature and component owners who look after its parts.

Depth: Strategic or Tactical Product Owner?

Say you are a product owner in the sense discussed above. Then that’ great. But to which extend to you own the product? Are you responsible for the tactical and strategic decisions, or do you focus on the tactics? Strategic responsibilities include deciding on the product strategy, developing the product roadmap, and managing the stakeholders; examples of tactical duties are managing the product backlog, writing user stories, and working with the development team

Individuals who own the strategic and the tactical decisions are referred to as “big” product owners. Product owners who focus on the tactics are called “small” product owners. Depending on the ownership depth, small and big product owners have different responsibilities, as the diagrams below show.


Some people view a small product owner as a partial product owner—something I have suggested in the past too. Unfortunately, the definition of the role in Scrum—the framework that gave birth to it—is not clear. While the Scrum Guide states maximising value of the product as a responsibility, it only lists tactical tactical duties like managing the product backlog and working with the development team.


I find it not uncommon that small, tactical product owners work with a product manager or chief product owner who owns the strategic product decisions. This setup is usually chosen help grow the product—it’s another scaling technique. It tends to work well when the product is growing steadily or when it has become mature. It is less suited for young products, which require a closer alignment of strategic and tactical decisions.

Learn More

You can learn more about the product owner role and its responsibilities by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner training course and by reading my book Agile Product Management with Scrum.

[This post was first published on Jul 25, 2013. It has been updated and rewritten this then.]

Article Name
The Agile Product Owner Responsibilities
This post explains the responsibilities of the product owner by taking into account if the individual owns a product, feature, or component, and if the person makes the strategic and tactical decisions.
Pichler Consulting


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20 comments on “The Agile Product Owner Responsibilities

  1. Aaron Sanders

    Hi Roman,

    As one of the *very few* authors out there with anything written on product ownership, it’s pretty easy to pay attention to what you have to say. 😛

    I’m very pleased to see that you give consideration to research/validation techniques as part of the responsibilities. It’s what we’re calling discovery.

    One of the patterns we see (and encourage) is to form a triad with ux and development, to answer the questions: what do people want, can they use it and can we build it? Hae you seen this? What is your take?


    • Roman Pichler

      Hi Aaron, Thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree that discovery (or problem validation aka customer discovery) should be a firm part of what a product owner does. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case in my experience. I also agree that product owners should collaborate with the right people including UX designers and developers to understand what the desired user experience is and if building the product is feasible. I find it helpful to focus on these two aspects once we understand that there is a problem that’s worthwhile addressing. Does this make sense?

  2. Johnathan

    Hi Roman – Where do you see ongoing management of the released product sitting in the responsibilities of the Product Owner? If you have multiple versions of your product being supported, the burden of sustaining and maintenance, as well as net new development, can be significant.

    Be interested in your thoughts.


  3. Johnathan

    Hi Roman – Thanks. Yes. I have seen this before. It reflects a large organisation/mature product well. In reality, the challenge comes when you are growing. There is often a long (12-18 months) where the product revenue supports a single Product Owner but the existing customer demands (for new features, education and sustaining) are high enough to make the Product Owner responsibilities you outline above very challenging. It’s when you need 1.5 -2 FTEs on the product.

    I wonder how you would prioritise the different PO activities in the case where the individual can’t do it all.


    • Roman Pichler

      Hi Jonathan, When your product is growing rapidly, and being the single product owner becomes unsustainable, I suggest you consider the following two options:

      The first option is to break up your product into vertically aligned feature clusters thereby creating a “product suite”. This approach is depicted in the blog post and slide deck referenced in my earlier comment. In sum, several product owners work in parallel each owning a product part/feature cluster. The benefits include a minimised scaling overheard, the ability to develop the different parts/clusters at different rates, and to expose different feature combinations to different segments. The second option is to grow slowly, and to continue working with one product owner and a small number of teams.

      Without knowing more about your product and organisation, I cannot make a recommendation unfortunately. While it can be a huge temptation to grow quickly, scaling too fast can damage the product performance and the brand in my experience.

      Does this make sense?

  4. Eleonora

    Hi Roman,
    first of all thanks for your very interesting post.
    I’m interested in Product Ownership and it’s a pleasure to find good content about it.
    I have a question: how would you manage Product Ownership in a small team (3/4 people) in a mid-size company, where the Product Owner is – due to budget needs – also one of the developers?
    Is it possible – in your experience – to successfully function both as developer and Product Owner?

    • Roman Pichler

      Hi Eleonora, Thanks for your feedback and comment. I have worked with a few teams where one of the team members played the product owner role successfully. Generally speaking, I find combining the roles challenging. There are two main reason: First, as the product owner, you require a different perspective and skill set compared to a designer, developer, and tester. Second, playing both roles can become quickly unsustainable due to the time required doing both jobs well. I suggest you try playing the two roles giving priority to the product owner job. Use the retrospectives to get feedback from the team, and to reflect on how effective it is to combine both roles. Hope this helps.

      • Eleonora

        Hi Roman,
        thanks for your answer.
        We’ll surely try playing the two roles giving priority to the product owner job and than use the retrospective to give/receive feedbacks.
        Thanks again for your prompt advice 🙂

        • Roman Pichler

          Glad my answer was helpful. Good luck with playing the product owner role!

  5. Kristi

    Hi Robert,
    Do you believe the product owner is responsible for detecting and troubleshooting software bugs of the product in post-production?

    • Roman Pichler

      Hi Kristi, I don’t think that the product owner is responsible for detecting and troubleshooting software bugs in production unless the in is also a development team member. Does this help?

      • Kostas Chairopoulos

        Hi Ronan.

        Can the same physical person work with two hats in agile team?

        It is possible the product owner to perform acceptance tests to inspect the increment? Thanks and regards

        • Roman Pichler

          Hi Kostas, You can be the product owner and a member of the development team. But I find that playing both roles is usually challenging and often not sustainable. I therefore recommend that you specialise and work as a full-time product owner. As the product owner you should review product increments and assess if and to which extend it is done. You should be able to expect that automated acceptance test were successfully run before any functionality is shown to you. Does this help?

          • Kostas Chairopoulos

            Yes, it helps a lot. I had a discussion with another scrum master. His view is that product owner performs acceptance test by himself if necessary. I never heart this case before. What do you think?


          • Roman Pichler

            As the product owner, you should ensure that you know which product backlog items or user stories are “done” at the end of the sprint, so you can confidently expose them to the users and customers, for example, by demoing the product increment, employing a usability test, or releasing the software. I would expect that the development team has successfully run the necessary tests before showing me a piece of functionality. If you haven’t agreed with the team on what “done” means for your product increments, then get together and list the criteria. These typically include that the increment is tested, documented, and can be released.

  6. Maria

    Hi Roman, Great comments. I feel you are genuinely interested in Product Ownership and have very wise comments about the role.

    In my company (40 employees) we have a challenge at the moment. There are five different products and five different Product owners, but I feel that the responsibility of the Prod owners is very vague in our company. The only function they have is actually to make a decision about whether something should be developed or not. Responsible for what is put into the product so to say.

    I was offered the role as Manager for the Product Owners, but I’m still considering if I should take it on or not… I have also been given the possibility to look over the responsibilities and come up with a suggestion.

    Do you have any ideas? What should the Manager of the Product Owner be responsible for and what should the Product Owners be responsible for?

    Hope that you understand my question…otherwise feel free to ask.

    Thanks in advance,


    • Roman Pichler

      Hi Maria,

      Thanks for sharing your question. It’s difficult for me to make concrete and helpful recommendations without knowing more about your company and the products you provide. Generally I would expect that as the line manager of the product owners, you are the head of product management. This requires you to carry out the usual line management responsibilities including developing and growing the individuals you look after and ensuring that they understand their roles and responsibilities. You may also act as the portfolio manager, the person who helps align the five products, manage dependencies, and sets priorities.

      Does this help?

  7. Varun Bansal

    Hi Roman,
    Thank you for sharing such great insights on Product Owner roles and responsibilities.

    I am contemplating to make a move from a Business Analyst to Product Owner. What be the career options available for Product Owner role? How can one grow past the Product Owner role.

    I hope that you understand my question, otherwise feel free to ask.

    Thanks in advance,

    • Roman Pichler

      Hi Varun, Thanks for your feedback. It’s difficult for me to comment on the career options available for product owners, as this depends on how the product owner role is applied in a company. But I recommend that you take my product management test to find out which product management and product ownership areas you should strengthen. You can find the test here:

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