Intro to Scrum (6 of 16): What is a Product Owner?

What is a Product Owner?

What does the Scrum Guide tell us about the Product Owner? Is a Product Owner the boss on a Scrum Team? Do they write all the user stories? Do they participate in the Scrum Events/Meetings? What is a Product Owner? We will discuss what a Product Owner is and what a Product Owner is not in this vlog.

Never miss a post.

Sign up now and receive updates when we post new content.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value that the Scrum Team can deliver. Exactly how this is done can vary quite a bit from team to team, from organization to organization, and of course depending on the type of product you’re developing.

The Product Owner is also accountable for the Product Backlog and its effective management. Some things a Product Owner might do for that backlog are developing, creating, and communicating effective Product Goals. They’re also generally responsible for creating and communicating Product Backlog items -all the work that lines up to a Product Goal which is on your Product Backlog.

Of course, most of us know that Product Owners are responsible for ordering that Product Backlog. How you might order it is going to depend greatly on the type of organization you’re in and what kind of product you’re developing. Typically you’re going to see the higher priority things float to the top, higher value things at the top, things that are higher bang for your buck are going to be at the top. Things that we shouldn’t do till next week, those are going to be further down the backlog.

One other thing that they do with the Product Backlog is ensure that it’s transparent. It’s understood. It’s available. We all have access to it. If we can’t see the Product Backlog, is it really transparent?

Here’s something to note: The Product Owner is accountable for this Product Backlog and its management, but they may delegate the actual responsibility of the details of creating it and manipulating it to maybe somebody else on the Scrum Team.

I love this quote straight from the Scrum Guide. “For Product Owners to succeed the entire organization must respect their decisions.” Is that shocking to you? The entire organization must respect their decisions? Well hear me out. The decisions Product Owners make are visible in the Product Backlog. They’re also visible in the inspectable Increment at the Sprint Review.

Get this, When you release things, you get to find out how your customers react to what you release. That’s really where you get to find out if a Product Owner has made the right decision. So you might think you’re making the right decisions. Release. You’ll find out. Assume everything you believe is valuable is just that, it’s an assumption until you can validate it by the marketplace. 

Another thing that Scrum Guide says is that the Product Owner is a single person. Think of them like the CEO of your product. They get to make all the decisions, but, you know, ultimately if they’re making a lot of bad decisions and customers are rejecting what they are releasing you can always fire your Product Owner. They’re not a dictator for life. But they are not a committee. So unlike Congress, we don’t have to vote in order to make priority decisions. The Product Owner can just make those decisions all on their own.

Who should be your Product Owner? Well, it should be somebody who has deep domain knowledge. Somebody who’s got a lot of background in your particular value delivery. I would not choose somebody fresh out of college, I would not choose somebody new to the company, as they might not have all the domain expertise that you need.

They should have a backbone. They should know how to say no to people sometimes. They should know what things to say ‘yes’ to. They should be available to your Scrum Team or the Scrum Team likely won’t have the ability to deliver on their expectations. They should spend enough time with the Scrum Team or they’ll be surprised by the Increments that are produced. So with all that said, choose the right Product Owner, it’ll be a recipe for success. 

What a Product Owner is not, is a person who writes all of your user stories and creates shovel ready requirements. This is not the intention of the role of the Product Owner. If you need to write user stories, anybody on your Scrum Team can write those. As a matter of fact, better if the Developers are working with the Product Owner to create those user stories.

Why do I say that? Because the Developers are the ones that actually have to build the thing. So if they understand it, and the work is all in their own handwriting, they’re most likely going to understand what they need to do to build a successful product.

The Product Owner is also not your project manager. We don’t have a role called the project manager as defined by Scrum because the entire project is basically self-managed by the entire Scrum Team. 

Do you have experience with Product Owners in your organization? Contact us we’d love to hear what you think of the role of the Product Owner and how it’s been implemented where you work.

If all of this information about Scrum is interesting to you and you’d like to learn more, please join us in one of our Applying Professional Scrum courses, Professional Scrum Master courses, or Professional Product Owner courses. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us.

Robert Pieper

Robert Pieper has been a licensed Professional Scrum Trainer since 2014 and National Public Speaker since 2013. Robb holds an MBA from Marquette University and an Electrical Engineering Degree from Milwaukee School of Engineering. Robb has 15 years of professional software development experience with a passion for making Scrum work delivering real products and services