The Role of the Product Owner in a Scrum Team

Last week I wrote about the roles and responsibilities of a Developer on the Scrum team. This week is about the Product Owner (often simply referred to as the PO). It’s worth noting that the PO can also be a Developer. However, in my experience the Product Owner is more commonly a non-technical ally for the team, a specialist in the product or the industry.

The PO should not be confused with a Project Manager, that is not their role! A scrum team should be self managing.

The Scrum Guide’s first few words about the PO define their role the most succinctly.

The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value

The Scrum Guide 2020

In other words it is the role of the Product Owner to ensure that the Scrum Team are always working on whatever will deliver the most value to the customers and the business. Whether that’s a bug fix, a new feature, or an investigation into upcoming work.

They use Product Goals to avoid this vision becoming too short sighted and reactive, sharing a future state of the product they are working on and working with the Scrum Master and the rest of the team to make that goal a reality.

It is the responsibility of the Product Owner to ensure that the Scrum Team are focused on the most valuable work at any given team.

There are also a few key points around the PO’s role:

  • Should the Sprint Goal become obsolete the PO is the only person with authority to cancel a sprint
  • The PO is a single empowered individual, it is not a committee. Two (or more) POs cannot share a product however the PO can delegate work to other people within the team they remain accountable
  • The business must respect the decisions made by the PO

It is also the Product Owner’s resposibility to understand and articulate the work and make sure that the Acceptance Criteria is well defined and the Product Backlog properly ordered.

It is the Product Owner’s responsibility to communicate the work to the developers so it is clearly understood and can be delivered.

Finally, the Product Owner should always engage with stakeholders to properly understand priorities and requirements. In order to maximise value they must speak with the business and the customers to understand the biggest issues. They must then work with the team to deliver it.

There are a couple of great resources out there for POs if you’re interested. The first is a video by Henrik Knibergwhich gives a great overview of Agile Product Ownership. The second is an article on Scrum.org which discusses the PO’s role in managing and understanding technical debt.

However you cut it the PO’s role is very challenging and includes lots of difficult decisions. Be nice to your PO – create transparency and openness with your point of view and then respect their decisions.

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