How To Be a Product Owner

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Elizabeth Raley


July 19, 2011

How To Be a Product Owner

In this next post in my series on using Scrum, I'll discuss some of the do's and don'ts of being a Product Owner (in the Scrum meaning of the words). Often the role of the Product Owner is new to the person who is taking it on. It does take some time and practice to get into the groove and to get used to the demands of being in this role, but ultimately it is a role that is both necessary and important to the success of a project. 

The Product Owner role during the sprint cycle

Before a sprint starts, the Product Owner is busy gathering requirements and grooming the Product Backlog.  The Product Backlog should contain all of the user stories and the high level descriptions of functionality - it's the wish list from the stakeholders regarding this project. Although anyone can contribute to the Product Backlog, the Product Owner owns putting priorities on these items in terms of their value to the organization. These values can change, as things change within the organization, but they must be there in order to indicate which items need to be pulled into the next sprint.

The Product Owner comes to the Sprint Planning Meeting fully prepared with a Sprint Backlog -- a list of items that have been prioritized and is ready to relay the vision of the sprint to the Scrum Team. After this meeting, she must be available to answering questions from the team as the requirements are broken into tasks.

During the sprint, the Product Owner is available to the team as questions arise. As work is completed, she can be a part of testing and approving the tickets. She is communicating progress to stakeholders if need be. During this time she is also grooming the backlog and starting to think about what to put in the next sprint.

At the end of each sprint, the Product Owner, along with any other necessary stakeholders, attends the Sprint Review Meeting and approves the work that the team completed.

Key Requirements of the Product Owner

  • Is a subject matter expert and understands what the stakeholders want
  • Has autonomy to make decisions
  • Owns and creates the requirements (and does not need to be technical, just relay the requirements as user stories - as an x user, I want to do y, so that z.)
  • Communicates the vision to the team
  • Is present and available to the team
  • Manages conflict (this could be with Management or the Scrum Team)
  • Is always thinking about the next sprint and filling in details
  • Considers Release Planning in regards to stakeholder needs and product readiness

What does the Product Owner NOT do?

  • Usually does not attend the Daily Scrum Meetings (or if she does, is only there to hear an update)
  • Usually does not attend the Retrospective meeting (although she can give feedback and may also receive feedback)
  • Does not choose how much work will be accomplished in the sprint - the team will do this, based on the priorities she has set and what they feel they can accomplish. She is welcomed to give opinions and to move things in and out during the Sprint Planning Meeting
  • Does not change anything within the sprint once it has started and she cannot add items to the sprint

The role of the Product Owner can include other things as well, and can be specific to the project needs. What is important to keep in mind here is that the role has very specific responsibilities and there is a nice balance between this role and the ScrumMaster and the rest of the Scrum Team. The Product Owner determines the vision and the priorities, and while she may receive and incorporate feedback from the team, the Product Owner has the final say.


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I was actually searching for info on product launches, I'm usually a travel agent but have now inadvertantly got myself into software. Alot of the info here is very relevant for me anyway - thanks
At CivicActions  is the product owner the client or someone internal to the team?  In our firm, we put the client as the product owner however giving them "rules" on how to interact with our team as the "product owner" is sometimes challenging.  Do you have any strategies on making the client ( especially small time clients ) the best possible "Product Owner"?
Great question James! Yes, we also put the client in the Product Owner role and it can be challenging. Being a PO requires a large chunk of the client's time and needs their commitment and dedication. We have a few strategies in place to make this easier: the SM coaches them on how to be a PO, we offer them support throughout the process, and we are clear about our expectations of them. All this being said, it still depends on the person and their willingness to dive in. We know that the success of the project has largely to do with the PO role and so we do a lot of coaching - and we push back if they start slacking! We did an NTEN session earlier this year with 3 of our clients on the panel, who were new Product Owners (and all became great POs!) You can read more about their experience in this Managing Stakeholders blog post. 
Thanks again Elizabeth, you all seem to have this down to a button.  Not sure if you heard about this event in Denver where 20 web teams and 20 nonprofits get together for a weekend and build something together, I'm flying out tomorrow to attend and will definitely apply lots of what I've learned from CiviActions PM processes and from what I learned with all the SCRUM readings I'v been reading.  You should stop by if you get a chance!  Cheers!
What a cool project! Best of luck to you and your team - remember to get your client to identify the highest value items and start on those first ;) I won't be able to make it - but I'd love to be a part of the next one!