The Scrum Product Owner Role on One Page

Published on 1st November 2010

Last Updated on: October 11, 2019

The product owner is a key role in Scrum. But many organisations struggle to effectively apply it. This post wants to help you get it right by providing a concise overview of what it means to be the product owner.

As the name suggests, a product owner should own the product on behalf of the company. The individual is responsible for ensuring that a product creates value for its customers and users as well as the company providing it. You can 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. I like to think of the product owner as an agile product manager, someone who looks after a product for an extended period of time and is responsible for achieving product success.

To fulfill this responsbilibity, a product owner has to connect with the users, collaborate with the development team, and understand how the company works. As the product owner, you should directly interact with the customers and users, the development team, and other key stakeholders, as the picture below shows.

Product Owner, Users, and Stakeholders

I have circled the Scrum team, the unit consisting of product owner, ScrumMaster and development team in the picture above to indicate that the product owner should have a close and trustful relationship with the other Scrum team members: Scrum views the product owner as part of the wider Scrum team. This makes sense, as great products emerge when the product owner takes her market and business knowledge and collaborates with the development team.

In order to succeed, product owners require the right skillset: leadership, startegic, and tactical skills, as the following picture illustrates.

Product Owner Skills

Leadership skills include empathy, vision, communication, decision-making, stakeholder management, and product ethics; strategic skills include product strategy and product roadmap, business model and financial forecast, KPIs, market research and validation, and product discovery; tactical skills, finally, include product backlog prioritisation and management, personas, user stories, product validation techniques, and technical understanding.

For more information, download my Product Owner Guide, a comprehensive yet concise summary of the role—just click on the image below:

Roman's Product Owner Guide

Post a Comment or Ask a Question

11 Comments

  • Manisha Mande says:

    Hi Roman,

    We don’t have in internal person who can perform the role of a product owner (PO) due to a lack of time, capacity, training or commitment. But all content I have read including your book “Agile Product Management with Scrum” suggests that the PO must be internal to an organization for all the right reasons – their knowledge of the business, decision making capacity, authority, managing expectations, committed to ensuring value is delivered etc. So what does one do, if an internal PO is not available? Should that role be performed by an external Consulting firm/ Vendor hired for that project? Why or why not?

    Thanks!

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Manisha,

      Thank you for sharing your comment. Here are the options I see when you can’t staff the product owner with an employee:

      1. Hire an experienced product owner, either as a regular employee or a contractor, and give the person time to become familiar with the product, market, and business
      2. Ask an agency to staff the role, assuming that you have hired a company to develop the product for you. This implies, however, that the agency is empowered to make product decisions.
      3. Don’t develop a new product or pause the development of an existing one until you have found a suitable product owner.

      Does this help?

  • Mary Laniyan says:

    The Product owner ultimately as the Voice of the Customer is responsible for the product and the prioritization of the backlog to deliver value early and frequently – But from working with the vision statement to the point where items are moved to the sprint backlog from the product backlog, it is a collaborative effort.

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Thank you for your comment Mary. I would suggest that a product owner should be responsible for maximising the value a product creates, thereby ensuring that the product becomes or stays successful. I describe the collaboration between product owner and team as well as separate areas of responsibility in my article “Product Leadership in Scrum“. Hope this helps!

  • Sebastien says:

    Managing a budget, being able to write usable user stories, crafting the vision, managing projects and a roadmap… I’ve never met someone being able to do it alone.

    Shouldn’t we stop talking about Product Owner as a role, but rather as a function executed by different people (UX designer, Product Owner, Product Marketing Manager,…) , led by a Product Director / Senior Product Manager ?

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Sebastian, The suggestion Scrum makes is that product ownership is ultimately exercised by one person, the product owner. The product owner, however, should closely collaborate with a cross-functional team including a UX designer, developers, and testers. I have written more about single product ownership here: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/the-single-product-owner/ It’s up to you to decide if a single product owner makes sense or not. What I do find crucial is that the people who create a product are empowered to make the necessary product decisions, for instance, which feedback is taken on board and which is not.

  • Marc Blanchard says:

    You forgot something…
    With all these responsibilities, the Product Owner is also a chronically stressed individual, perhaps even dead.

    I mean c’mon, give concrete examples of organisations beyond 1 simple product and < 20 employees where it is otherwise.

    The overwhelming truth is that these roles rarely exist in one individual and worse still, it is dangerous to even have them in one individual. If they win the lottery and quit the organisation loses vision, support and product direction in one go.

    I'm afraid to say that this is the type of theoretical dogma that does Scrum a disservice.

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Marc,

      You are right to point out that product owners are sometimes overworked. One of the reasons is a lack of support from the team and the stakeholders, as I explain in my post “Avoiding Common Product Owner Mistakes”: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/avoiding-common-product-owner-mistake/

      While Scrum suggests that one individual ultimately owns the product, carrying out the visioning, product backlog grooming, and release planning work should be a collaborative effort – and not a solo act! Scrum suggests, for instance, that the team members reserve up to 10% of their availability per sprint to groom the product backlog and size its items.

      When multiple teams are required to create a product, several product owners collaborate with one individual acting as the overall or chief product owner, as I explain in my post “Scaling the Product Owner”: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/scaling-the-product-owner/

  • Fabrice Aimetti says:

    Hello Roman,

    Your post is concise and so… helpful.
    I’ve translated it into french :
    http://www.fabrice-aimetti.fr/dotclear/index.php?post/2011/02/18/Le-Product-Owner-en-une-page

    Regards,
    Fabrice

  • Agile Scout says:

    http://agilescout.com/infographic-what-is-a-product-owner-responsible-for/
    You’ve been linked!

29 Trackbacks

  • Manisha Mande says:

    Hi Roman,

    We don’t have in internal person who can perform the role of a product owner (PO) due to a lack of time, capacity, training or commitment. But all content I have read including your book “Agile Product Management with Scrum” suggests that the PO must be internal to an organization for all the right reasons – their knowledge of the business, decision making capacity, authority, managing expectations, committed to ensuring value is delivered etc. So what does one do, if an internal PO is not available? Should that role be performed by an external Consulting firm/ Vendor hired for that project? Why or why not?

    Thanks!

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Manisha,

      Thank you for sharing your comment. Here are the options I see when you can’t staff the product owner with an employee:

      1. Hire an experienced product owner, either as a regular employee or a contractor, and give the person time to become familiar with the product, market, and business
      2. Ask an agency to staff the role, assuming that you have hired a company to develop the product for you. This implies, however, that the agency is empowered to make product decisions.
      3. Don’t develop a new product or pause the development of an existing one until you have found a suitable product owner.

      Does this help?

  • Mary Laniyan says:

    The Product owner ultimately as the Voice of the Customer is responsible for the product and the prioritization of the backlog to deliver value early and frequently – But from working with the vision statement to the point where items are moved to the sprint backlog from the product backlog, it is a collaborative effort.

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Thank you for your comment Mary. I would suggest that a product owner should be responsible for maximising the value a product creates, thereby ensuring that the product becomes or stays successful. I describe the collaboration between product owner and team as well as separate areas of responsibility in my article “Product Leadership in Scrum“. Hope this helps!

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  • Sebastien says:

    Managing a budget, being able to write usable user stories, crafting the vision, managing projects and a roadmap… I’ve never met someone being able to do it alone.

    Shouldn’t we stop talking about Product Owner as a role, but rather as a function executed by different people (UX designer, Product Owner, Product Marketing Manager,…) , led by a Product Director / Senior Product Manager ?

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Sebastian, The suggestion Scrum makes is that product ownership is ultimately exercised by one person, the product owner. The product owner, however, should closely collaborate with a cross-functional team including a UX designer, developers, and testers. I have written more about single product ownership here: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/the-single-product-owner/ It’s up to you to decide if a single product owner makes sense or not. What I do find crucial is that the people who create a product are empowered to make the necessary product decisions, for instance, which feedback is taken on board and which is not.

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    What is a “product”?…

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  • Marc Blanchard says:

    You forgot something…
    With all these responsibilities, the Product Owner is also a chronically stressed individual, perhaps even dead.

    I mean c’mon, give concrete examples of organisations beyond 1 simple product and < 20 employees where it is otherwise.

    The overwhelming truth is that these roles rarely exist in one individual and worse still, it is dangerous to even have them in one individual. If they win the lottery and quit the organisation loses vision, support and product direction in one go.

    I'm afraid to say that this is the type of theoretical dogma that does Scrum a disservice.

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Marc,

      You are right to point out that product owners are sometimes overworked. One of the reasons is a lack of support from the team and the stakeholders, as I explain in my post “Avoiding Common Product Owner Mistakes”: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/avoiding-common-product-owner-mistake/

      While Scrum suggests that one individual ultimately owns the product, carrying out the visioning, product backlog grooming, and release planning work should be a collaborative effort – and not a solo act! Scrum suggests, for instance, that the team members reserve up to 10% of their availability per sprint to groom the product backlog and size its items.

      When multiple teams are required to create a product, several product owners collaborate with one individual acting as the overall or chief product owner, as I explain in my post “Scaling the Product Owner”: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/scaling-the-product-owner/

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  • Fabrice Aimetti says:

    Hello Roman,

    Your post is concise and so… helpful.
    I’ve translated it into french :
    http://www.fabrice-aimetti.fr/dotclear/index.php?post/2011/02/18/Le-Product-Owner-en-une-page

    Regards,
    Fabrice

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  • Agile Scout says:

    http://agilescout.com/infographic-what-is-a-product-owner-responsible-for/
    You’ve been linked!

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