The Product Owner Responsibilities

Posted on Thursday 25th July 2013

Summary

The product owner plays a key part in bringing new products to live. But many organisations struggle to apply the role effectively. This post helps you apply the role successfully.

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The product owner plays a key part in bringing new products to live and enhancing existing ones. But many organisations struggle to apply the role effectively. One reason for this is a wrong or partial understanding of the product owner responsibilities. This blog post shares my insights. I hope that it helps you apply the role successfully.

The post is based on an interview Kristin Runyan and Sondra Ashmore conducted with me for their upcoming book. It was last updated on 4 November 2013.

Overview

The product owner is the person who owns the product on behalf of the company. The individual is responsible for the success of the product, and has to be empowered to make the necessary decisions. The product owner should understand the user and customer needs and the business goals, and collaborate with the development team and the stakeholders, as the following pictures illustrates:

A Context-sensitive Role

It is important to understand that the application of the product owner role varies in practice. It is influenced by several factors including the market, the product lifecycle stage, and the organisation. For instance, working as a product owner of a brand-new mobile app developed by a small team in a mid-size company will differ from looking after an existing healthcare product, which is developed by several teams in a large enterprise.

In the early lifecycle stages when the product is developed and introduced to the market, the product owner should act as an intrapreneur, an entrepreneur within the enterprise, as the following picture shows:

As the product matures, the entrepreneurial aspect of the product owner work declines and a  focus on maximising return on investment (ROI) is usually required. As a consequence, there is no one right way to apply the role.

Product Success

The product owner should be responsible for the success of the product. But what does this mean? A successful product does a great job for its users and customers, and it benefits the organisation developing it, as the picture below illustrates. Sample business benefits include entering a new market or market segment, meeting a revenue target, and strengthening the brand.

A great way to determine the product success is to carry out some customer discovery or problem validation work including business modelling. Tools like the Vision Board, the Business Model Canvas, and the Lean Canvas help you determine what success means for your product.

Responsibilities

Product owners should take on the following strategic and tactical responsibilities:

ProductOwnerResponsibilities

Techniques such as user observations, problem interviews, competitor analysis, business modelling, product roadmapping, personas, user stories, scenarios, design sketches, product demos, user tests, metrics and analytics, and release planning usually help the product owner do a great job. But be aware that you have to choose the right techniques and tools for your product depending on the factors discussed above. Business modelling, for instance, is an important skill for product owners of a new product, but less beneficial when working with a mature product.

Wrap-up

The product owner role is a multi-faceted job that requires a broad range of skills. But it provides the exciting opportunity to create something new, to develop new products and features that benefit the users and the organisation. It’s a fascinating and rewarding job in my mind.

You can learn more about the product owner responsibilities by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner training course.

13 comments on “The Product Owner Responsibilities

  1. 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. :P

    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?

    Thanks,
    Aaron

    • 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. [...] The product owner responsibilities [...]

  3. Johnathan says:

    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.

    Johnathan

  4. Johnathan says:

    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.

    Thanks
    Johnathan

    • 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?

  5. Eleonora says:

    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?
    Thanks.

    • 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.

  6. Kristi says:

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

    • Hi Kristi, I don’t think that the product owner is responsible for detecting and troubleshooting software bugs in production unless the inhttp://www.romanpichler.com/wp-admin/edit-comments.php#comments-formdividual is also a development team member. Does this help?

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