How the PO Relates to the Customer

The Product Owner’s chief responsibility is to represent the needs and desires of the customer or end-user to the rest of the Agile team. The PO gives the team a single point of contact, providing regular updates and clarifications to the central question “What are we trying to build?”

The PO must first discover what the population of customers want. In practice, one customer may want the Agile team to build something different than what another wants. Or a dozen customers may want a dozen different things. The PO must use experience and judgement to pull together all the customer voices into a single, coherent message to the Agile team.

How the PO Relates to Government Executives

Just as they must represent the needs and desires of customers, the Product Owner must also represent the needs and desires of executives and other internal organizational stakeholders to the Agile team. By communicating through the PO, executives provide inputs to the team and receive outputs from them, such as demos, briefings and reports.

In addition to direct inputs, executives shape the organizational environment within which the Agile team works. The organizational capability granted by executives to the team will have an impact on the PO’s answer to that central question “What are we trying to build?” Just because a customer wants the team to build a certain something, doesn’t mean the team has the organizational capability (i.e., budget, staffing, strategic alignment, etc.) necessary to build it. The PO is responsible for figuring out what the customers want, balancing that with the organizational capability granted by executives to the Agile team, and finally communicating the resulting product direction to the rest of the team.

How the PO Relates to the Scrum Master

The Product Owner and the Scrum Master overlap in some of their skill sets, which means the individuals filling them should be able to collaborate well as peers. They both play leadership roles within the Agile team, but the PO typically has greater authority in the organization.

Several specific areas are well suited for collaboration between the two:

Team Communication and Morale
Working closely with the Scrum Master, who works directly with the team every day, the PO can make sure all necessary communications regarding the project are clear to the team. The PO and Scrum Master can keep a team’s morale and productivity at the highest levels simply by keeping lines of communication open and setting clear priorities.

Managing Dependencies With Other Teams
Both the Product Owner and Scrum Master likely have close relationships with other teams, and may be in contact with past team members that work elsewhere in the organization. Leveraging those relationships can help to improve the current project.

Clarifying the Product Vision
While the PO is responsible for establishing and communicating the strategic vision behind the product, the Scrum Master plays a role in bringing the team on board and making that vision a reality. It makes sense for both to be fully engaged in the vision and be able to communicate it appropriately and clearly.

The Product Owner and Scrum Master roles also serve as a check and balance to each other. For example: the Product Owner may prioritize work, but the sprint work but must fit within the capacity allowed by the Scrum Master. Another example: the Scrum Master encourages the team to rapidly accomplish work, but sprint points are not earned until the Product Owner approves the quality of the work. An imperfect – but useful – analogy from traditional project management methods is the role relationship between a project manager focused on keeping to the schedule and a business analyst focused on preserving quality and value.

How the PO relates to the Development Team

The Development Team plays a critical role in bringing the Product Owners’ vision into reality. Beyond setting the vision, the PO must also collaborate with the Development Team to prioritize work, clarify requirements, and review quality of outputs.

Unlike some other project management methods, Agile management gives the Development Team exclusive responsibility to estimate the complexity and effort a product feature will require. The PO has no right to change or apply pressure to change the Development Team’s estimate. If initial estimates are higher (or lower) than expected, the PO may work with the Development Team to identify trade-offs in feature requirements that may cause an update to the estimate.

How Product Ownership Differs from Project Management

Product Ownership is about representing the end-user, customer, and other stakeholders. Project Management is about managing the Development Team to realize the vision of the Product Owner.

In Scrum, the role of the Product Owner and of the Project Manager (or Scrum Master) are completely separate roles filled by two different people. Each role requires the complete focus of a single individual, and more importantly, the roles are in healthy conflict with each other. A Scrum Master should be agnostically removing blockers for the team with no opinion about customer-set priorities; the Product Owner specifically represents the priorities of the customer with no opinion on how the team meets those priorities. It is literally and truly impossible for the Scrum Master and Product Owner positions to be filled successfully by one person.