The Product Owner
The Product Owner role is a very flexible concept in Scrum. In practical implementation, there are a variety of ways in which the Product Owner appears. Scrum, however, defines the Product Owner as an individual with the following responsibilities:
- Defines and communicates the product vision to the Scrum team.
- Maintains the Product Backlog, ensuring that the content of the Product Backlog supports the vision of the product.
- Prioritizes the Product Backlog to maximize the return on investment of the Scrum teams and is permitted to modify the prioritization at any time.
- Negotiates acceptance criteria with the Scrum team.
- Communicates directly with stakeholders (including business owners and customers) to understand their needs and update the Product Backlog accordingly.
- Can accept or reject work completed by the Scrum team at the end of the Sprint.
- Has the final decision on any question or issue regarding product requirements.
- Decides whether or not to continue development (i.e., stop and deliver now or stop and terminate any further development of the product).
The Product Owner helps to delineate accountability by being the single role responsible for what gets developed, in what order, and to what degree of robustness and functionality. It is, in fact, extremely important that a Scrum team have one and only one Product Owner to look to for the “final answer” on many questions. In practical implementation, there are a number of variations on the Product Owner role. In one instance, the Product Owner is actually part of a team of Product Owners; click here for more information. Given how busy the Product Owner frequently is, you might even see one or more analysts supporting the Product Owner as described here.
- Defines and Communicates the Product Vision - working on their own or as part of a team, the Product Owner is responsible for defining and communicating to the Scrum the vision of the product being developed. The Product Owner needs to do this in a manner that is both clear and compelling. The goal is to ensure that the developers on the Scrum team have more than just their jobs as a reason to build the product -- they must be made aware of the reason for building the product and how the product will help. I'm reminded of an old story when I discuss this need with Product Owners and Scrum Teams alike. The story goes like this:
- Maintains the Product Backlog - the Product Owner is responsible for the condition of the Product Backlog at all times. This means that the Product Backlog must always reflect the vision of the product. Items that do not further the vision of the product should not be added to the Product Backlog.
A wandering minstrel came upon a large group of laborers, breaking stones with large hammers. Nearby, a building was under construction -- based on its outline, it was to be a large one. The minstrel, curious as to what was going on, asked one of the laborers what he was doing. His reply, "I'm cutting this stone," told the minstrel little and he wandered off to another laborer. Asking the same question, he was rewarded with, "I'm helping to build a cathedral." Satisfied with the answer, he wandered more and came across another laborer. Unable to resist the urge to ask again, he put the question to the laborer, "What are you doing?" The laborer replied, "I'm building a house of God that will provide solice and comfort to thousands of people for hundreds of years."
- Prioritizes the Product Backlog - All items on the Product Backlog should be given some kind of a value estimate determined by the Product Owner (we talk more about this here) and some kind of effort estimate determined by the Scrum team. The value of each item is then used as input to prioritization decisions made by the Product Owner to maximize the return-on-investment (ROI) of the development activities.The Product Owner must also be careful to maintain the relevance of the Product Backlog (learn more about backlog items here) by ensuring proper backlog grooming.
- Negotiates Acceptance Criteria with the Scrum Team - When it comes to determining what, exactly, is to be built, the Product Owner provides the vision, but it is only through negotiation with the Scrum Team that final decisions can be made regarding the fine details of a feature or enhancement.
- Communicates Directly with Stakeholders - The Product Owner is responsible for communicating directly with customers and stakeholders and translating their needs and wants into backlog items on the Product Backlog. The Product Owner must balance the needs of the customer and the needs of the business in their prioritization of the Product Backlog.
- Can Accept or Reject Work Completed by the Scrum Team - Because the Product Owner is ultimately responsible for the content of the product and the extent to which it satisfies both customer and business requirements, the Product Owner has the final approval authority over anything produced by the Scrum Team. If, for any reason, the Product Owner is not satisfied with a feature or enhancement, they can refuse to recognize the backlog item as completed and direct the Scrum Team to re-address the item in a future Sprint.
- Understand and exemplify the role of the Product Owner based on the Scrum definition of the role.
- Motivate the Scrum team
- Respond quickly to questions and try not to change your decision if you can avoid it
- Keep your backlog items as customer-focused as possible
- Give your Scrum team as much latitude as you can afford.
- Understand your product, your market, your customer, and the business requirements of your product.
- Ensure at all times that your product backlog appropriately reflects the needs of the product, the market, the customer, and the business.
- Excellent communication skills
- Can communicate complex ideas clearly
- Can motivate the Scrum Team
- Excellent product vision
- Can make decisions quickly when necessary
- Knows what efforts provide value to the customer and can say “No” otherwise.
- Strong customer-orientation
- Good technical knowledge (unless provided through an effective application architect)
- Excellent multi-tasking skills
- Respects and understands the process and the role
How to Become a Certified Scrum Product Owner
The Scrum Alliance handles the certification process in terms of 1) defining the requirements, 2) certifying the trainers, and 3) tracking the certifications.
Click here to learn how to become a Certified Scrum Product Owner.
You can also click here to see what CSPO courses are being taught by Artisan Software Consulting.