The role of Product Owner is a key part of the process of simplification on which Agile relies. In fact, unless the team chooses to create a specific relationship with an outside group, the Product Owner replaces all the relationships the traditional project team has with governance bodies, PMOs, architects, procurement, etc.
- The Product Owner is the single point of contact between the Agile team and the business/organisation.
- They are the sole channel through which stakeholders can contact the team.
- They are normally the only individual the team needs to have direct access to.
- They fix any issues between the team and its stakeholders.
- The Product Owner manages how the organisation sees the Agile team.
- They are cheerleaders for the team.
- They champion the team’s work.
- The Product Owner owns the product vision & strategy.
- But at the same time, the Product Owner is just one of the team.
The Product Owner stands at the interface between the Agile team and the wider organisation.
- Maximises the overall business return on development effort.
- Owns & explains the Product Vision.
- Advises on business/organisational drivers & priorities.
- Final judge of business issues.
- Team’s single point of contact for external stakeholders.
- Unless specific ‘Extended Team’ arrangements have been created.
- Single voice representing the business domain.
- Champions the team to the rest of the organisation.
- Owns the backlog.
- Scopes & schedules releases.
- Keeps the team aware of changes in the wider organisational & business context, strategy, priorities, changes, etc..
- Sets work & story priorities.
- Accepts working software.
- Decides when to ship product.
- Articulates features & epics.
- Approves allocation of stories to Releases.
- Prioritises stories.
- Approves changes to stories.
Key knowledge & relationships
The Product Owner needs to have:
|In-depth knowledge of:|
- Business & operational strategies.
- Current & target markets.
- The competition.
- The functional & operational domain.
- The user community.
|Strong relationships with:|
- The Agile team.
- The product domain.
- Owner, leads, SMEs.
- Business & operational areas.
- The impacted user groups.
- By user type.
- By organisational unit.
- Executive management.
And these all need to include both the current situation & trends.
What do Product Owners do each day?
Agile Product Owners are more heavily involved in their team’s work than similar roles are in other methodologies. They will normally work with the team most days, and when they are not working directly with the team, they are often working with other stakeholders on issues and obstacles related to the team work.
Here is a typical sample of the Product Owner’s more routine tasks.
|Before each iteration|
- Checking that the Backlog is complete, correct & up to date.
- As defined by the Product Vision, Roadmap & the organisation/business’s valuation & priorities.
- Collaborating with the team (including assigned users) to ensure Stories:
- are fully defined & understood.
- are correctly prioritised.
- have full Acceptance Criteria.
- Confirming stories in the Backlog are in alignment with the current Product Vision and Roadmap.
|During each iteration|
- Supporting Iteration Planning.
- Keeping the team focused on the wider Product Vision, strategy, etc.
- Explaining & evaluating changes to individual Stories.
- Explaining & refining Stories, Epics, Features, Themes, etc.
- Communicating changes in business & operational conditions, strategy, plans, etc.
- Reporting & explaining changes to Story priorities.
- Updating the Backlog.
- >Attending the Daily Stand-Up Meeting.
- Collecting impediments & opportunities that need their action.
- Monitoring the team’s progress.
- Tracks completion of individual Stories.
|At the end of each iteration|
- Attending Showcases.
- Attending Retrospective.
- Collaborating with Iteration Lead to ensure that the Backlog is defined fully enough to support planning the next few iterations.
- Reporting to the wider organisation:
- On the team’s activity & progress.
- On stories completed & solutions delivered.
- Work with external SMEs, stakeholders, authorities etc.
- Identifying changing conditions & needs.
- Removing barriers.
- Providing information, decisions, resources, etc.
- Capturing new Epics, Stories, etc.
- Developing new Stories.
- Including filling in gaps in the Backlog & eliminating gaps & inconsistencies.
The right person for the job
The Product Owner has more power to ensure the success of an Agile team than any other individual. So they need to be:
|The Product Owner may come from many backgrounds. Which is best will depend on what the team is developing:|
- A commercial product.
- A commercial service (e.g., SAAS).
- Internal processes & functions.
- Operational function or service.
- Support queues.
|Here is a selection of the areas a suitable Product Owner might come from:|
- If it is an internal development.
- Business unit owner.
- Product owner.
- Process owner.
- Senior architect or business analyst.
- Lead system user.
- Programme director or portfolio manager.
But whatever their background, they need to be:
|Personal characteristics||Professional characteristics|
- A visionary.
- A doer.
- Both a leader & a team player.
- A communicator.
- A persuader & negotiator.
- Fully empowered to make decisions about the product.
- Committed to the product, release and iteration objectives.
- Committed to – and very familiar with – Agile.
- Dynamic, proactive, innovative.
- Highly available.
- Strong on communications & people-management
- Including the team, its stakeholders and external authorities.
- Respected by all the relevant communities.
- Driven to succeed – but only by doing what is right.
- The best product, the best way.