What Is The Role Of A Product Owner?

TL;DR: From creating and maintaining backlogs to engaging every party in the business, the product owner plays a vital role in your organisation.

By Julian Wallis
18 min read

Firstly, Who Is A Product Owner? 🧐

A product owner is a member of an agile team dedicated to maximising the value of a product through continuous monitoring, supervision, and leadership. In other words, they develop user stories to help delight users, ensure all team members have a clear grasp on the product roadmap, and commit themselves to the success of the project.

To add a bit of context, an agile team is a collection of staff members, subcontractors, or independent contractors in charge of carrying out an agile or transformation project. This cross-functional team includes whatever and whoever is required to develop a working product.

A product owner is a vital team member who bridges the gap between what is initially planned in product strategy and what is actually done during product development. Our experience working with organisations in various industries has shown that without them, the development process frequently slows down, with deadlines missed and products delivered with fewer or unnecessary functionalities.

Moreover, product owners collaborate with stakeholders and end-users to envision the project’s final course, frequently using methods like early user interaction studies, A/B testing, and split testing. They must understand these feedback forms since they provide information about how users interact with the product and the features they value most. Finally, product owners compare that data and the company’s objectives before optimising the product’s value.

Similar to how a product owner builds a vision for how a product will work and function, this Scrum team member does so by developing a list of product features that may then be divided into product backlog items.

Product Owner Vs Scrum Master Vs Project Manager — What’s The Difference? 🤷‍♀️

As a business owner, you may wonder what the difference is between a product owner, scrum master, and project manager.

Here’s a quick rundown of each role and what they do.

A product owner is responsible for the product vision and roadmap. They work with stakeholders to understand what they want the product to do and then prioritise features accordingly. They are also responsible for communicating the product vision to the development team and ensuring that the team works on the most important things.

A scrum master ensures that the team adheres to the scrum process. They help remove impediments preventing the team from being productive and coach the team on how to use scrum effectively.

A project manager ensures the project is completed on time and within budget. In addition, they create project plans, track progress, and report to stakeholders on the project’s status.

So, what’s the difference between these three roles?

A product owner is focused on the product vision and roadmap, while a scrum master is focused on helping the team be successful with scrum. Similarly, a project manager is focused on completing the project on time and within budget.

What Is The Product Owner’s Role? 🤹‍♂️

Product owner explaining notes.

✍️ 1. Create & Constantly Maintain Product Backlogs

In product development, nothing is constant. Hence, the product owner must adjust the backlog in accordance with customer and market demands. Good product owners should also say no. The most challenging skill is this one.

Accepting a new suggestion or feature is simple because it adds another item to the product backlog. However, effective backlog management includes building a reasonable product backlog with features that are likely to be implemented. By adding items to the backlog, knowing that nothing would be done with them, “waste” and erroneous expectations are simply created.

The product owner should refuse some features and updates to prevent the situation where the entire development process takes too long, the project loses focus, and the generated solution might not genuinely solve the business problem. However, in these situations, they should effectively steer the team toward fruitful discussions and solutions by outlining why a feedback item will or won’t be built.

👨‍🔧 2. Customise Product Backlog As Per Business Priorities

The backlog is the heart of a product owner’s job, and the entire product development process can suffer if it isn’t managed well.

As a product owner, you need to be able to tailor the backlog to the specific needs of your business. This means prioritising items on the backlog according to their importance to the company.

There are a few key things to remember when customising your product backlog:

  • Make sure you understand the business priorities.
  • Work with stakeholders to ensure that all requirements are captured.
  • Prioritise items on the backlog according to their importance to the business.
  • Keep the backlog up to date as priorities change.

By keeping these things in mind, you can ensure that the backlog is tailored to the specific needs of your business and that all stakeholders are kept happy.

💸 3. Becoming A Gateway For Better ROI

As a product owner, you are the gateway to a better return on investment (ROI) for your company. By understanding the needs of your customers and stakeholders, you can ensure that your products and services are designed and delivered in a way that meets their expectations.

To be an excellent product owner, you must understand what your customers want and need. You also need to communicate this information to your team so that they can design and deliver products and services that meet these needs.

There are a few key things that you can do to become a gateway for better ROI:

  • Understand your customer’s needs: You must take the time to understand them. This means talking to them, listening to their feedback, and observing their behaviour.
  • Communicate effectively: Once you have a good understanding of your customer’s needs, you need to be able to communicate this information to your team. This includes clarifying what you want them to do and why it is essential.
  • Be responsive to feedback: You must also be responsive to customer and stakeholder feedback. This feedback can improve the products and services you offer and ensure that they continue to meet your customers’ needs.

By understanding the needs of your customers and stakeholders and communicating this information to your team, you can ensure that your products and services are designed and delivered to meet their expectations.

🎤 4. Communicate The Vision & Goals With Your Team

Product owners aid in keeping the group on task. They collaborate with stakeholders to develop a product vision while speaking for the customers’ interests.

The product vision guides every choice that is made. This supports sustainable product development, offers the development team clarity, and raises the likelihood that the product will succeed.

Product owner communicating with team.

Product owners must ensure that their teams understand the product vision and goals. This means communicating those visions and goals in a way that resonates with team members. The product vision is a north star that guides decision-making. Likewise, the product goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

When communicating the vision and goals to your team, it is vital to be clear and concise. Be sure to explain why these things are essential and how they fit into the bigger picture. It can also be helpful to provide some concrete examples.

The product owner’s role comes with a lot of responsibility. But by communicating the vision and goals clearly to your team, you can set everyone up for success.

☑️ 5. Validate User Stories

User stories are essential to agile product development, but they are only valuable if they are well-written. This means that the user story should be clear, concise, and easy to understand. It also needs to be testable so that you can check whether or not the user story has been met.

User stories need to be written from the perspective of the user. This means they should be written about what the user wants to achieve, not what the product needs to do.

For example, a user story might be, “As a customer, I want to be able to search for products on the website so that I can find what I’m looking for.” This user story is clear, concise, and easy to understand. It is also testable: you can check to see if the customer can search for products on the website and find what they’re looking for.

Product owners are typically the sole team members who can mark tales as complete. This verifies that the story complies with its Definition of Done and fulfils the required acceptance criteria and persistent acceptance tests. According to the definition of done, an agreed-upon list of tasks must be finished before a project or user narrative can be deemed complete.

👨‍💻 6. Participate In Backlog Refinement, Sprint Planning Meetings, Sprint Reviews, & Sprint Retrospectives

Product owners play a pivotal role in scrum teams, ensuring that the team is always working on the most valuable tasks. Product owners must be highly involved in all aspects of the scrum process to do this effectively, from backlog refinement to sprint planning and review.

During backlog refinement sessions, product owners work with the team to assess the value of each item in the backlog and prioritise them accordingly. This ensures that the team is always working on things that will have the most impact.

Sprint planning meetings are another vital opportunity for product owners to guide the team. In these meetings, they help the team identify which tasks must be completed to achieve the sprint goal.

Sprint reviews and retrospectives are essential opportunities for product owners to provide feedback and guidance. In sprint reviews, they review the team’s progress towards the sprint goal and give feedback on what could be improved. Sprint retrospectives allow them to reflect on the previous sprint and identify areas where the team can improve.

Product owners play a vital role in scrum teams and must be highly involved in all aspects of the process to succeed. By participating in backlog refinement, sprint planning, and review meetings, product owners can help ensure that the team is always working on items that will have the most impact.

⚔️ 7. Be A Mediator For Conflict Resolution

Product owners must have a strong understanding of their team’s capabilities and limitations to be effective mediators for conflict resolution. They should also be able to see both sides of every issue to facilitate productive discussion sessions.

In addition, they should be skilled at communicating with everyone involved in a dispute, including those who may not be directly involved in the conflict itself.

Product owners who can effectively mediate conflict resolution can help their team avoid unnecessary arguments and stress and keep everyone focused on the task at hand. In addition, by being a calming presence during the conflict, product owners can help their team to stay productive and efficient.

Here are some tips for effectively resolving conflicts if you are a product owner.

a. Be impartial

As a product owner, you must maintain an impartial perspective on conflicts. This means that you should not take sides in disagreements and instead focus on finding an acceptable resolution for all parties involved.

b. Facilitate discussions

Your role in conflict resolution is to facilitate discussions between stakeholders. This means that you need to be able to identify areas of agreement and disagreement and help stakeholders find common ground.

c. Help stakeholders understand each other’s perspectives

One of conflict resolution’s challenges is helping stakeholders understand each other’s views. As a product owner, you can help by facilitating discussions and providing impartial perspectives on the issues at hand.

d. Focus on the future

When resolving conflicts, it is essential to focus on the future. This means that you should not dwell on past disagreements or try to assign blame. Instead, you should look for solutions that will allow stakeholders to work together effectively in the future.

e. Be flexible

Conflict resolution requires flexibility. You should be willing to consider different solutions and perspectives and be open to changing your position if it means a better solution can be found.

Conflict resolution.

🗣️ 8. Interact With Customers & Stakeholders

The product owner should discuss technical difficulties with the client, not the development team. To put it another way, the product owner serves as the team’s public face and is responsible for ensuring that all lines of communication are open and that initiatives receive the proper level of support to succeed.

Rights Of A Product Owner 🤜

You have the following rights as a product owner:

  • Freedom to accept or reject any work done
  • Judge the results as per the plans formulated and rank them accordingly
  • Determine the priorities of the work and carry out accordingly 
  • Request that a sprint is terminated at any point if a drastic change in direction is necessary
  • Expect an involved team and excellent product quality
  • Decide on any changes to be implemented after every single sprint

What Makes The Product Owner’s Role Important? 🤔

In scrum, the product owner is responsible for maximising the product’s value and ensuring that it meets the needs of the stakeholders. The product owner is also responsible for maintaining the product backlog and prioritising the work to be done by the development team.

The product owner’s role is crucial because they represent the stakeholders’ interests and ensure that the product meets their needs. They also play a pivotal role in shaping the direction of the product and prioritising the work to be done by the development team.

The product owner’s role is essential to the success of scrum because they are responsible for ensuring that the product meets the needs of the stakeholders and delivers value to them. Without a firm product owner, the scrum team will not be able to achieve its full potential.

To become a product owner, first, you must understand the product and the needs of stakeholders. Second, you must be able to prioritise the work to be done and maintain a robust product backlog. And third, you must be able to communicate with the development team.

If you can do these things, you will be well on becoming a successful product owner.

Benefits Of Being A Product Owner 😎

Because they will be a crucial player in the product’s development, business stakeholders must choose the product owner for this project. In addition, they must clearly and concisely communicate the business’ vision for the product to the Scrum team. This is crucial for their business’s success and the agile product development process.

Being a product owner has certain benefits, which are as follows.

💡 1. Influence The Product’s Development

As the product owner, you must have a heavy influence on the development of your product. This means working closely with your development team and other stakeholders to ensure that the product meets the needs of your users. It also means being involved in every aspect of the development process, from conception to launch.

This can be a lot of work, but it’s important to remember that the product owner is the advocate for the users. Therefore, you must ensure their needs are met at every development stage.

Your product will likely suffer if you’re not involved in the development process. Users will be frustrated with features that don’t work as intended or that don’t meet their needs. And stakeholders will be unhappy with a product that doesn’t reflect their vision.

So, to be a successful product owner, you must be willing to work to influence your product’s development. Only then can you be sure it will be best for your users and stakeholders.

⏲️ 2. Decrease The Risk With Time

There are many risks that a product owner must consider when developing a product. One of the most significant risks is the risk of change. Change can come in many forms, such as new customer requirements, technology, or even changes in the marketplace. A product owner must be able to adapt to these changes and make sure that the product they are delivering meets the needs of their customers.

Another risk that a product owner must take into account is the risk of not being able to deliver the product on time. This can often happen when unforeseen delays or the product requires more work than initially anticipated. A product owner must be able to manage this risk by ensuring that they have a clear understanding of the product development process and by setting realistic deadlines.

Finally, a product owner must also be aware of the risk of being unable to sell the product. This can happen if the product is not appealing to customers or is not competitive in the market. A product owner must be able to identify these risks and take steps to mitigate them.

By taking these risks into account, a product owner can decrease the overall risk of the product and increase the chances of success.

3. Decide When The Work Is Complete

The product owner must decide when the work is complete based on the definition of done and acceptance criteria. If the team has not completed all of the work, the product owner may accept the work in its current state and release it. Alternatively, the product owner may wait until all the work is completed before releasing the product. In either case, the product owner must communicate their decision to the team.

If the product owner decides to accept the work in its current state and release it, they must ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the work that has been completed and what work still needs to be done. They must also ensure that all stakeholders understand the risks associated with releasing a product that is not fully complete.

Similarly, if the product owner decides to wait until all of the work is completed before releasing the product, they must communicate this decision to the team and all stakeholders. They must also ensure that the team clearly understands the work that still needs to be done and that they can complete all of the work on time.

Limitations Of Being A Product Owner 😬

Product owners have a lot to juggle to bring a product from concept to delivery, from business strategist and product designer to customer liaison and project manager. This is especially true in Agile teams where cross-functional cooperation and short turnarounds are the norms.

So it should be no surprise that product owners face various difficulties to handle, conquer, and balance — given the large number of moving pieces they must keep track of.

Below listed are the limitations product owners face.

🗺️ 1. Lack Of Information Before Planning

For product owners, data and information are essential to their work. However, to create and launch successful products, product owners and developers essentially operate in the dark without critical client, market, and user data. In other words, moving forward accurately or strategically is challenging without reliable data to guide your judgments.

🚚 2. Forecasting Delivery & Timelines

One of product owners’ most challenging responsibilities is forecasting delivery. Unfortunately, a precise delivery timeline is exceedingly difficult to anticipate due to many variables and unknowns that must be considered.

Forecasting is a crucial tool in the arsenal of the product owner, notwithstanding its difficulties. Effective forecasting supports your team’s autonomy and productivity while enhancing your leadership’s credibility. It is challenging for sales and marketing to plan and schedule campaigns when release dates can’t be predicted reasonably.

🥴 3. Overwhelming Product Backlogs

Managing the product backlog and making sure it is visible, accessible, and understandable to all stakeholders and developers is one of the significant duties of product owners. You risk misaligning objectives, accountabilities, and deadlines if your developers don’t have access to backlog information and updates.

Product Owner: Final Words 📋

Product owners represented by lit light bulb.

Overall, the product owner is crucial to an organisation’s ability to properly launch its products on the market. To ensure the continuous delivery of value to the consumers, product owners offer value by prioritising the correct work at the right times and providing everyone on the team agrees with the reasons behind that work. Because their decisions affect the work completed at every level of development, the product owner occupies a central position in the Scrum method. Their choices could make the product less or more effective overall and raise or decrease time consumption.

Likewise, product owners serve as a link between the development and product teams. They interpret the product manager’s vision and the user-centred goals for each functional area of the product. Because of this, they can communicate to the development team the hows and whys of all the user stories and other tasks they prioritise. To sum up everything, perspectives of the organisation and the product owner’s definition of the function and delegation to the team inform their duties and responsibilities, respectively. But, of course, this may differ significantly depending on the firm’s size, the product team’s size, and the capability.

If you would like to know more about the roles and responsibilities of a product owner, feel free to contact us for a friendly chat.

Published on October 24, 2022

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