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