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The Scrum Product Owner Role on One Page

Published on 1st November 2010 Last Updated on: 16 Aug 2022

The product owner is a key product management role. But many organisations struggle to effectively apply it. In this article, I offer a concise overview of the role including its authority and responsibility.

Authority and Responsibility

A product owner in Scrum is responsible for maximising the value a product creates. This assumes that the individual manages a product and that this product offers some value or, in the case of a brand-new offering, is likely to offer value in the future. I like to think of a product as an asset that creates value for a group of people, users and possibly customers, and for the organisation that develops and provides it.

Product Owner, Users, and Stakeholders

To be able to maximise the value a product offers, a Scrum product owner has to have full-stack ownership and own the product in its entirety, from the vision to the product backlog. This means that the individual is not only empowered to make tactical but also strategic product decisions.

This does not mean that product owners should employ an authoritarian leadership style. Instead, stakeholders and development team members should be involved in important product decisions. But if no agreement can be reached, the product owner must be empowered to make a decision to progress the product and avoid a deadlock.

Note that the authority and responsibility described do not apply to product owners in SAFe, whose authority and responsibility differ, as I explain in the article Six Types of “Product” Owners.


Common Tasks

Here is a list of common tasks product owners take care of:

  • Carry out (continuous) discovery and strategizing work. This includes connecting with users and customers; performing competitive analysis; and monitoring market trends.
  • Creating and updating product plans like a product strategy and a product roadmap.
  • Stocking, prioritising, and updating the product backlog.
  • Breaking larger product backlog items into smaller ones so that they are ready for the next sprint.
  • Attending the sprint planning, sprint review, and sprint retrospective meetings, and answering questions from the development team that might arise during the sprint.

Please note that a product owner should not carry out the tasks above on their own. The key stakeholders and development team representatives should be involved in the activities as appropriate. This allows the product owner to leverage their perspectives and expertise and to secure their support.

Additionally, whenever a product owner looks after a large product that is too big to be managed by one person, the tasks above are shared with a group of product people. Please see my article Scaling the Product Owner Role for more information.


Artefacts

Common artefacts a product owner creates and updates include the following:


Desirable Skills

In order to succeed, product owners require the right skillset: leadership, strategic, and tactical skills, as the following picture illustrates.

Product Owner Skills

Leadership skills include empathy, vision, communication, decision-making, stakeholder management, and product ethics; strategic skills include product strategy and product roadmap, business model and financial forecast, KPIs, market research and validation, and product discovery; tactical skills, finally, include product backlog prioritisation and management, personas, user stories, product validation techniques, and technical understanding.

Post a Comment or Ask a Question

11 Comments

  • Manisha Mande says:

    Hi Roman,

    We don’t have in internal person who can perform the role of a product owner (PO) due to a lack of time, capacity, training or commitment. But all content I have read including your book “Agile Product Management with Scrum” suggests that the PO must be internal to an organization for all the right reasons – their knowledge of the business, decision making capacity, authority, managing expectations, committed to ensuring value is delivered etc. So what does one do, if an internal PO is not available? Should that role be performed by an external Consulting firm/ Vendor hired for that project? Why or why not?

    Thanks!

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Manisha,

      Thank you for sharing your comment. Here are the options I see when you can’t staff the product owner with an employee:

      1. Hire an experienced product owner, either as a regular employee or a contractor, and give the person time to become familiar with the product, market, and business
      2. Ask an agency to staff the role, assuming that you have hired a company to develop the product for you. This implies, however, that the agency is empowered to make product decisions.
      3. Don’t develop a new product or pause the development of an existing one until you have found a suitable product owner.

      Does this help?

  • Mary Laniyan says:

    The Product owner ultimately as the Voice of the Customer is responsible for the product and the prioritization of the backlog to deliver value early and frequently – But from working with the vision statement to the point where items are moved to the sprint backlog from the product backlog, it is a collaborative effort.

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Thank you for your comment Mary. I would suggest that a product owner should be responsible for maximising the value a product creates, thereby ensuring that the product becomes or stays successful. I describe the collaboration between product owner and team as well as separate areas of responsibility in my article “Product Leadership in Scrum“. Hope this helps!

  • Sebastien says:

    Managing a budget, being able to write usable user stories, crafting the vision, managing projects and a roadmap… I’ve never met someone being able to do it alone.

    Shouldn’t we stop talking about Product Owner as a role, but rather as a function executed by different people (UX designer, Product Owner, Product Marketing Manager,…) , led by a Product Director / Senior Product Manager ?

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Sebastian, The suggestion Scrum makes is that product ownership is ultimately exercised by one person, the product owner. The product owner, however, should closely collaborate with a cross-functional team including a UX designer, developers, and testers. I have written more about single product ownership here: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/the-single-product-owner/ It’s up to you to decide if a single product owner makes sense or not. What I do find crucial is that the people who create a product are empowered to make the necessary product decisions, for instance, which feedback is taken on board and which is not.

  • Marc Blanchard says:

    You forgot something…
    With all these responsibilities, the Product Owner is also a chronically stressed individual, perhaps even dead.

    I mean c’mon, give concrete examples of organisations beyond 1 simple product and < 20 employees where it is otherwise.

    The overwhelming truth is that these roles rarely exist in one individual and worse still, it is dangerous to even have them in one individual. If they win the lottery and quit the organisation loses vision, support and product direction in one go.

    I'm afraid to say that this is the type of theoretical dogma that does Scrum a disservice.

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Marc,

      You are right to point out that product owners are sometimes overworked. One of the reasons is a lack of support from the team and the stakeholders, as I explain in my post “Avoiding Common Product Owner Mistakes”: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/avoiding-common-product-owner-mistake/

      While Scrum suggests that one individual ultimately owns the product, carrying out the visioning, product backlog grooming, and release planning work should be a collaborative effort – and not a solo act! Scrum suggests, for instance, that the team members reserve up to 10% of their availability per sprint to groom the product backlog and size its items.

      When multiple teams are required to create a product, several product owners collaborate with one individual acting as the overall or chief product owner, as I explain in my post “Scaling the Product Owner”: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/scaling-the-product-owner/

  • Fabrice Aimetti says:

    Hello Roman,

    Your post is concise and so… helpful.
    I’ve translated it into french :
    http://www.fabrice-aimetti.fr/dotclear/index.php?post/2011/02/18/Le-Product-Owner-en-une-page

    Regards,
    Fabrice

  • Agile Scout says:

    http://agilescout.com/infographic-what-is-a-product-owner-responsible-for/
    You’ve been linked!

28 Trackbacks

  • Manisha Mande says:

    Hi Roman,

    We don’t have in internal person who can perform the role of a product owner (PO) due to a lack of time, capacity, training or commitment. But all content I have read including your book “Agile Product Management with Scrum” suggests that the PO must be internal to an organization for all the right reasons – their knowledge of the business, decision making capacity, authority, managing expectations, committed to ensuring value is delivered etc. So what does one do, if an internal PO is not available? Should that role be performed by an external Consulting firm/ Vendor hired for that project? Why or why not?

    Thanks!

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Manisha,

      Thank you for sharing your comment. Here are the options I see when you can’t staff the product owner with an employee:

      1. Hire an experienced product owner, either as a regular employee or a contractor, and give the person time to become familiar with the product, market, and business
      2. Ask an agency to staff the role, assuming that you have hired a company to develop the product for you. This implies, however, that the agency is empowered to make product decisions.
      3. Don’t develop a new product or pause the development of an existing one until you have found a suitable product owner.

      Does this help?

  • Mary Laniyan says:

    The Product owner ultimately as the Voice of the Customer is responsible for the product and the prioritization of the backlog to deliver value early and frequently – But from working with the vision statement to the point where items are moved to the sprint backlog from the product backlog, it is a collaborative effort.

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Thank you for your comment Mary. I would suggest that a product owner should be responsible for maximising the value a product creates, thereby ensuring that the product becomes or stays successful. I describe the collaboration between product owner and team as well as separate areas of responsibility in my article “Product Leadership in Scrum“. Hope this helps!

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  • Sebastien says:

    Managing a budget, being able to write usable user stories, crafting the vision, managing projects and a roadmap… I’ve never met someone being able to do it alone.

    Shouldn’t we stop talking about Product Owner as a role, but rather as a function executed by different people (UX designer, Product Owner, Product Marketing Manager,…) , led by a Product Director / Senior Product Manager ?

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Sebastian, The suggestion Scrum makes is that product ownership is ultimately exercised by one person, the product owner. The product owner, however, should closely collaborate with a cross-functional team including a UX designer, developers, and testers. I have written more about single product ownership here: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/the-single-product-owner/ It’s up to you to decide if a single product owner makes sense or not. What I do find crucial is that the people who create a product are empowered to make the necessary product decisions, for instance, which feedback is taken on board and which is not.

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    What is a “product”?…

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  • Marc Blanchard says:

    You forgot something…
    With all these responsibilities, the Product Owner is also a chronically stressed individual, perhaps even dead.

    I mean c’mon, give concrete examples of organisations beyond 1 simple product and < 20 employees where it is otherwise.

    The overwhelming truth is that these roles rarely exist in one individual and worse still, it is dangerous to even have them in one individual. If they win the lottery and quit the organisation loses vision, support and product direction in one go.

    I'm afraid to say that this is the type of theoretical dogma that does Scrum a disservice.

    • Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Marc,

      You are right to point out that product owners are sometimes overworked. One of the reasons is a lack of support from the team and the stakeholders, as I explain in my post “Avoiding Common Product Owner Mistakes”: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/avoiding-common-product-owner-mistake/

      While Scrum suggests that one individual ultimately owns the product, carrying out the visioning, product backlog grooming, and release planning work should be a collaborative effort – and not a solo act! Scrum suggests, for instance, that the team members reserve up to 10% of their availability per sprint to groom the product backlog and size its items.

      When multiple teams are required to create a product, several product owners collaborate with one individual acting as the overall or chief product owner, as I explain in my post “Scaling the Product Owner”: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/scaling-the-product-owner/

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  • Fabrice Aimetti says:

    Hello Roman,

    Your post is concise and so… helpful.
    I’ve translated it into french :
    http://www.fabrice-aimetti.fr/dotclear/index.php?post/2011/02/18/Le-Product-Owner-en-une-page

    Regards,
    Fabrice

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  • Agile Scout says:

    http://agilescout.com/infographic-what-is-a-product-owner-responsible-for/
    You’ve been linked!

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