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Product Owner Roles and Responsibility

by StarAgile

January 28, 2019
Category Product Owner


“Product Owner”: A Leader who creates a product vision, delivers the product backlogs, and ensures that the best product version is kept forward to excite stakeholders and most importantly customers.

After a small overview of Product Owner let’s dive in to understand:

  1. Who is a Product Owner?
  2. What are the Roles and Responsibilities of Product Owner?

Who is a Product Owner?

A Product Owner (PO) is a key stakeholder of any Agile project. He is the one who provides the vision of what he wants to develop, and he is the one who share his vision to customers and scrum team. A PO must ensure that his vision is correctly interpreted and understood by all the stakeholders, as it a MUST if the Product has to be implemented correctly and delivered successfully.

A product owner is a leader who is focused on maximizing the value of the products that is being developed by a Scrum Team. A PO is usually a lead user of the system and has solid understanding of the existing Products, their users, competitors that his / her organization already has. Apart from all this, a PO also analyses the future trend of the Product or system that is being developed and he/she is also aware of the real market value that the Product is going to bring to its customers.

Now, even though PO prioritizes the product backlog during the sprint planning meeting, it’s the scrum team that selects the amount of work they believe they can deliver. So, based on the work load under taken by the scrum team the PO gets to know the total number of sprints required to deliver the Product as a whole. And based on the sprints PO gets to know the date by when he can commit the stakeholders the delivery of the product.

E.g.: Assume, Product X is the product to be delivered and has 12 prioritized product backlogs with 3 members in scrum team. So, 3 members scrum team decides to take up 4 high priority product backlogs in one sprint then it will take 3 sprints to deliver the whole product to the customers. And, if 1 sprint takes 30 days then 3 sprints will take 90 working days to clear all the product backlogs and make the product shippable.

During Sprints, Product Owners job is to ensure that the team stays motivated, have clear goals to achieve with awareness of proper timelines being set and most importantly PO needs to ensure that everyone is on same page. Apart from all these, PO also must ensure one important thing. That is to give freedom to Scrum Team of what product backlog each one of them can work and deliver. A PO cannot interfere in the internal assignments, as he just needs to monitor them from far. Also, each member of scrum team knows best what they are capable of owning and committing to successfully delivering.

Now, once the sprint is started then PO will also need to ensure that no new requirements are dumped at the scrum team. As the team is now completely focused on achieving the sprint goals and taking up new requirement will not only affect the product delivery timelines but might also bring down the motivation level of the scrum team.

What is required to be a Product Owner?

The Product Owners role is one of the challenging and highly satisfactory role in the industry today. This role requires an individual to not only be tech savvy but at the same time be business minded too. It requires certain skills and traits, including availability, excellent communication, negotiation skills, go getter and can deliver attitude, highly motivated persona and hugely experienced across domains. Apart from all these he / she also needs to be actively participate in all the scrum related events and ensure that he keeps the scrum team motivated and engaged.

PO needs to be business savvy because it’s the PO who is bridge between the customers and scrum team. So, he / she is the actual decision maker and the negotiator. This means the PO should understand the customers, business and the market in order to make a sound business decision.

Most importantly, communication holds the large part of the product owner’s responsibilities. The PO needs to closely work with all the key stakeholders not only within the organization but at times outside the organizations too. So, the PO should be capable enough to communicate different messages about the project to different people (either they belong to technical background or from business end). Message must be crisp, clear and understandable to different people at any given time.

Roles and Responsibilities of Product Owner

So here are the list of roles and responsibilities of Product Owner:

  1. Clearly defining Vision
  2. Prioritizing and Managing Product Backlog
  3. Acting as a Mediator
  4. Evaluating Products Progress

1. Clearly defining Vision: It’s the Product Owners primary goal to clearly define the vision that he / she has envisioned for the product. But just having a clear picture of the products goal to achieve is not enough. PO will also need his / her vision to be properly communicated to the larger audiences like the customers, scrum team, decision makers etc. A slight misplacement of words in communicating products vision might result in failure of an entire project delivery timelines.

Apart, from correct communication, PO will also have to ensure that his vision for the product is in line with the overall projects objective and organizational goals.

                                                                    Product Vision

The above diagram states that the Products vision is part of Projects goals which is again a part of Organizational goal. And all three of them are inline, thus generating maximum value to the customer’s needs. So, when the Products vision is achieved it helps Projects goals to achieve its objective which in turn helps achieve the organizational goals.

One more important thing that Product Owner needs to have clarity on is the Projects road map. Below is the sample road map that will give you the look and feel of how the product is going to achieve its goal and vision.

Product Road Map

This products road map has timelines and is shared with each stakeholder’s related to that project. Thus, ensuring that everyone is aware of the delivery timelines and each of them stays on the same page. And if there is any update on the timelines then this road map must be updated and shared with all the stakeholders again.

2. Prioritizing and Managing Product Backlog: After clearly defining the vision, the product owner will have to list down all the backlog items that he had earlier gathered while having a requirement related discussions with customers. It’s the product owner who decides the priority of the backlog item. Priority is being decided based on the overall strategy and business objectives.

This product backlog is the to do list presented in sequence to the scrum development team by the product owner. Now setting the priority is one of the important responsibility but managing the backlog items is also extremely and equally important.

One way to manage the product backlog is to continuously update the backlog items based on the needs of the customers and how the product is evolving when the product development is in progress.

Now as the product evolves, the list of items will get updated. So, it’s the primary responsibility of the product owner to keep the development team and all the important stakeholders updated about the latest updates related to the product.

If there is any delay in this important communication, then it will straight away affect the delivery of the product which will indirectly affect the value that it would have brought. Thus, prioritizing and then managing products backlog is extremely critical and crucial for the success of an overall products delivery on or before time.

3. Acting as a Mediator: By now you would have realized that the product owner is the primary communicator and the main link between the customers, scrum development team and all the other stakeholders. So, the primary skill that the product owner should have is of excellent communicator and also an excellent negotiator and domain expert. Cause customers would definitely want more and more from the product, so they will go on increasing the requirements from there end and will expect these to be taken by the product owner and add them in his / her backlog items.

But it’s the negotiation skill and domain expertise of the product owner will help him out to understand which backlog items to accept and which one to reject. So that he can portray the realistic picture to the customers of what his or her scrum development team can really achieve. Now once the backlogs are accepted then the product owner will have to communicate as it is to the scrum development team and other key stakeholders.

Apart from this if there are any queries or changes that his or her scrum development team would suggest then the same message must be delivered to the customers very diligently and quickly (to avoid any delays in delivery timelines).

Product owner act as a key mediator between the customers and scrum product development team and other stakeholders.

4. Evaluating and Monitoring Products Progress: It’s the Product owners responsibility to evaluate the products progress right from the start. Also, he or she needs to keep an aerial view or monitor the product progress at every stage till the products get delivered.

Product owner will also have to compare the products part by part delivery against the expected products delivery, so that he / she is aware whether the development team is ahead of the delivery schedule and will meet the delivery target or are they going to miss. And if they are behind the delivery schedule and going to miss the products delivery target then a corrective action can be taken upfront by the product owner so that team comes back on the planned delivery timelines.

Thus, product owner gets to know the overall performance and its capabilities of his team. Based on which he or she can give valuable suggestions or inputs to the team so that it will help the team to grow and evolve over a period of time. Thus, evaluating and monitoring products progress gives real time view of the products progress based on which a timely decision can be taken which can avoid the risk of products failure.

Conclusion:

Well, hope this helps you in getting a clear picture of the roles and responsibilities and what is being expected from a Product Owner.

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