The Product Owner role (PO) is one of the three key roles of the Agile Scrum method, interacting with the Development team, as the Scrum Master. But he is also involved in other Agile approaches such as the top 5 agile at scale methods.
Who’s the Product Owner?
In the Scrum Agile method, the Product Owner is literally the owner of the product vision. A part of the agile project team and his main role is to define both the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and the project’s budget over time. The PO’s know-how is generally two-fold: they have both a technical profile enabling them to collaborate with the development scrum team and strong interpersonal skills to manage relationships with customers and other project’s stakeholders.
What are the role and responsibilities of the Product Owner?
Ensuring the project’s success, the Product Owner is responsible for monitoring several activities:
Responsible for the value to be delivered, not for the delivered product itself
According to the Scrum Guide, the Product Owner’s role is firstly defined as follows:
The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team.
However, its actual meaning turns out not to be that clear most of the time. Differently from what you might think, the Product Owner is not accountable for the delivered product itself. Instead, the product owner plays a key role in building up and sharing a clear product vision while properly managing the product backlog. In fact, the PO has to provide development teams with accurate user stories as well as to make sure these latter are cristal clear for anyone. As a consequence, the development team will efficiently work on them, developing high-quality features that meet users’ expectations.
Hence, the Product Owner works together with the development team as to deliver the highest possible value.
Responsible for the backlog, not for the tasks in it
The PO is responsible for servicing and monitoring the product backlog, which is a prioritized list of deliverables. The Product owner’s role is hence to assess and collect customers’ needs – and more broadly market’s expectations – and subsequently to define and prioritize a set of user stories corresponding to them. Not to forget: these definitions and work prioritizations are made together with their clients, the customer-centric approach being an essential agile value.
Since the product backlog is key for the development team, actually embodying the basis for their work, the Product Owner has to make sure that all the requests displayed in it are cristal clear, as to avoid any potential misunderstanding and wrong deductions. Moreover, it is important to share as much as possible not only the product backlog but also the sprint planning as well as the upcoming iterations; all this, with both the customers and all the project’s stakeholders.
As far as tasks and subtasks are concerned, they are created and managed directly by the team, who’s actually in charge of splitting user stories into smaller tasks. Generally, these tasks corresponds to more technical and operational actions that aim at satisfying customers’ needs and requirements.
Responsible for the vision, not for the team
As for the case of the Scrum Master, the Product Owner is not the team manager. Theoretically, there is no hierarchical relationship, or at least, the product owner doesn’t have to be considered as the number-one leader. Although it is actually possible, this principle is not compatible with agile Scrum ideology, according to which teams are encouraged to get self-organized. The development team will therefore define its own way of working. In other words, the team will be fully responsible for their actions and overall work. For its part, the product owner has to provide the agile Scrum team with the product vision: he has to align all the project’s stakeholders (i.e. customers, managers, marketers, developers, partners…) with the same vision.
The delivered product will definitely be optimized, so the expected one, since everyone will have actively contributed to its development, thanks to a shared common goal.