Product Owner: Responsibilities & Characteristics

Posted on June 2, 2011

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The Product Owner is the most critical role in Scrum.  Without a strong Product Owner, your team will likely struggle to realize the benefits that Scrum advertises.  With this observation being the consensus among most agilists, I compiled a list of responsibilities for a good Product Owner.  You may notice that my definition of a Product Owner differs slightly from the original Scrum dogma.  However, this is the compilation of the latest and greatest that has come from inspecting and adapting…

The product owner is a new role for most, that unites the authority and responsibility traditionally scattered across separate roles, including the customer or sponsor, the product manager, and the project manager.  The product owner is responsible for the ‘what’ is being built, and ensuring that the best form of the ‘what’ gets delivered, given the budget and time constraints.

Responsibilities:

  • Maintain and communicate vision and direction
    • Maintaining a clear product vision and keeping it visible to the team
    • Setting goals and objectives for releases and sprints
    • Prioritizing the Product Backlog
    • Making scope decisions/trade-offs
    • Setting delivery dates
  • Keep customers and key stakeholders highly engaged
    • Communicating with Key Stakeholders
    • Represents the customer, interfaces and engages the customer
    • Maintain a thorough understanding of the customer needs
  • Define deliverables for the team
    • Specifying Acceptance Criteria
    • Elaborate Themes, Epics, and Features into Stories at the granularity necessary to fit into a single sprint
    • Describe, prioritize, and communicate the requirements
    • Express what value-added is from a customer perspective and focus the development efforts toward providing that value
  • Ensure project success
    • Communicate status externally
    • Ensures profitability (ROI)
    • Track and forecast the team’s progress
    • Manage the budget
  • Collaborate closely with the team
    • Participate in Sprint Review, Sprint Planning, Daily Stand-up, and Retrospective meetings
    • Accepts or rejects work results based on Acceptance Criteria
    • Provides day-to-day JIT tactical decisions to system level questions and defect triage
    • Closely collaborate with the team on an ongoing basis to guide and direct the team
  • Facilitate deliverable related meetings
    • Facilitate adaptive planning
    • Facilitate Release Planning
    • Facilitate Backlog Grooming
    • Facilitate Story Storming
    • Facilitate Estimation Workshops
    • Facilitate definition of Minimum Marketable Releases and Features

Characteristics (mostly drawn from Roman Pichler’s book, Agile Product Management with Scrum):

  • A successful product owner is confident, enthusiastic, energetic, and trustworthy
  • Visionary and Doer
    • Ability to maintain and enthusiastically communicate the vision
    • Must also get their hands dirty and do the work that needs to be done to support the vision (requirements elaboration, collaborating with the team, steering the project, etc.)
  • Leader and Team Player
    • Ensure guidance and direction are maintained and the tough decisions are made
    • Respects the team and the process, but maintains a clear, blunt voice
  • Communicator and Negotiator
    • Must be able to keep everyone informed and drive transparency
    • Must be able to facilitate negotiation of project deliverables
    • Ability to communicate with and align different parties (customers, users, development, engineering, marketing, sales, service, operations, and management)
  • Empowered and Committed
    • Must be empowered to do their job by the highest levels of the organization
    • Must be committed to the success of the project
  • Available and Qualified
    • Typically a full-time job, even on smaller initiatives
    • Need intimate understanding of the customer and the market
    • Ability to manage a budget and GUIDE a development project
    • Comfortable working with a self-managed, self-organizing cross-functional team

References:

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