The product owner is a key product management role. But many organisations struggle to effectively apply it. In this article, I offer a concise overview of the role including its authority and responsibility.
Authority and Responsibility
A product owner in Scrum is responsible for maximising the value a product creates. This assumes that the individual manages a product and that this product offers some value or, in the case of a brand-new offering, is likely to offer value in the future. I like to think of a product as an asset that creates value for a group of people, users and possibly customers, and for the organisation that develops and provides it.
To be able to maximise the value a product offers, a Scrum product owner has to have full-stack ownership and own the product in its entirety, from the vision to the product backlog. This means that the individual is not only empowered to make tactical but also strategic product decisions.
This does not mean that product owners should employ an authoritarian leadership style. Instead, stakeholders and development team members should be involved in important product decisions. But if no agreement can be reached, the product owner must be empowered to make a decision to progress the product and avoid a deadlock.
Note that the authority and responsibility described do not apply to product owners in SAFe, whose authority and responsibility differ, as I explain in the article Six Types of “Product” Owners.
Here is a list of common tasks product owners take care of:
- Carry out (continuous) discovery and strategizing work. This includes connecting with users and customers; performing competitive analysis; and monitoring market trends.
- Creating and updating product plans like a product strategy and a product roadmap.
- Stocking, prioritising, and updating the product backlog.
- Breaking larger product backlog items into smaller ones so that they are ready for the next sprint.
- Attending the sprint planning, sprint review, and sprint retrospective meetings, and answering questions from the development team that might arise during the sprint.
Please note that a product owner should not carry out the tasks above on their own. The key stakeholders and development team representatives should be involved in the activities as appropriate. This allows the product owner to leverage their perspectives and expertise and to secure their support.
Additionally, whenever a product owner looks after a large product that is too big to be managed by one person, the tasks above are shared with a group of product people. Please see my article Scaling the Product Owner Role for more information.
Common artefacts a product owner creates and updates include the following:
- Product vision and product strategy
- Product roadmap
- Business model and financial forecast/business case
- Personas or other user models
- Product backlog
In order to succeed, product owners require the right skillset: leadership, strategic, and tactical skills, as the following picture illustrates.
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.