What is a Product Owner? Overview of Key Responsibilities

Lately, we have been talking about the different roles on a scrum team. Another important scrum role is the product owner. The product owner is the most difficult to equate to a specific traditional project management role, and is therefore sometimes the most misunderstood scrum role. The product owner is responsible for bridging the gaps between the customer, business stakeholders, and the development team. Although an ideal product owner may have some previous business analysis or product management experience, the product owner should have negotiation experience and good decision-making skills to be successful on an agile scrum project.

The product owner must be decisive and possess not only the responsibility but also the authority to determine the priority of the work the project team is performing. The product owner must also constantly protect the best interests of the customer in terms of delivered functionality, and protect the organization as a whole, in terms of strategic direction and ROI.  The product owner:

  • Organizes and prioritizes the product backlog (feature list)
  • Adjusts features and priorities as needed
  • Ensures the product backlog is visible to all team members and stakeholders
  • Is involved daily in the sprint to provide clarifications to the development team
  • Accepts or rejects work results throughout the sprint
  • Creates a definition of done, in agreement with the development team
  • Is the voice of the customer
  • Is responsible for product profitability (ROI)

The product owner should also be pragmatic when dealing with the competing interests of their own scrum team and other scrum teams on concurrent projects being executed by the organization.  The product owner will better understand how their project fits into the organization’s strategic initiatives by participating in product release planning, and by using their relationship-building and negotiation skills.

Considering the importance of the product owner role on an agile project, it is crucial that there be only one product owner on each scrum team, and that their role be exclusively as a product owner.  This will help ensure that the product owner meets the interests of all agile project stakeholders and team members in support of project success.


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