In the Scrum framework for practicing Agile, the Product Owner is the person who represents the business and user community, and is responsible for determining what features will be in the product release.

This person is typically a project’s key stakeholder and is responsible for maximizing the business value of the product. Serving as a proxy for the end-user or customer, the Product Owner is responsible for maintaining a vision of what he or she wishes to build, and conveying that vision to the Scrum team. This is essential to successfully starting any Agile software development project.

What Makes a Good PO

Product Owners can come from a variety of backgrounds, ideally bringing experiences and relationships that have prepared them to think like their customers (users). Experience in customer service, marketing, product development, and business process management will give Product Owners a head start in performing the role successfully.

People who have a talent for leading groups, strong interpersonal and listening skills, and above average emotional intelligence will also do well in the role. Since the PO will manage communications among organizational stakeholders, pre-existing relationships up and down the organization are a huge benefit to new POs.

While specific subject matter expertise can be helpful, the most essential trait of a good PO is a willingness to be curious and engaged in learning about the users that the product is meant to help or serve. POs do not need technological experience, but it is helpful if they have an interest in technology as a tool and recognize its importance to the project.

What Does a Product Owner Do?

The Product Owner maximizes the value of the product and the work of the Development Team by owning specific operational responsibilities within the Agile Scrum team. It is important that the PO fulfill the responsibilities for their own role without overstepping into other roles.

Responsibilities Facing Inward to the Agile Team

  • The PO must articulate the overall vision and priorities for the project. They do not necessarily have to write user stories, but they must make sure that the user stories represent what the user really wants.
  • The PO must be able to prioritize work. Presented with a variety of conflicting goals and opinions, they must make the final call for hard product decisions.
  • The PO is responsible for making trade-offs between features and effort in order to maximize the value of the product and the work of the Development Team.
  • The PO must require a burndown chart and use it to predict the progress of the team in order to make good priority decisions and to communicate progress to stakeholders.
  • The PO approves or accepts completed work (or gains sign-off by others) upon completion of acceptance criteria that has been previously agreed upon.
  • The PO is not expected to have technical expertise. However, they do have to understand the Agile process enough to get straight answers from the Development Team and to treat the developers as equal peers.

Responsibilities Facing Outward to the Rest of the World

  • The PO serves as a conduit carrying communications to and from the Scrum team and acting as liaison with upper management and other departments that have a bearing on the project’s success. Part of this responsibility is managing stakeholder expectations.
  • The PO must manage relationships with stakeholders to make it possible to discover exactly what the user most needs. The stakeholders include executives, but the end-user is the most important.
  • The PO must understand the user, and this means understanding approaches and technologies for learning about the user. These include user interviews, surveys, design studios, and other user experience design approaches.
  • The PO ensures that features developed for the website (or other product) meet Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or forward key business initiatives. They keep their eye on the ball, and keep the organization’s resources focused on the most important things