The role of a Product Owner is one of the most pivotal roles in an Agile project environment. The role demands a specific set of knowledge, skills and capabilities which has resulted in Scrum Alliance even coming up with a separate professional certification called Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO®). (CSM®) Certified Scrum Master certification training as well as the exam too places key emphasis on the product owner’s role and the responsibility of the role in delivering customer value.
This article is an attempt to look at the role of a Product Owner in an Agile Scrum Project in different perspectives. The perspectives considered are-
- The position of the product owner within the organization’s hierarchy or structure
- The type of requirements that the product owner is dealing with
- The life cycle stage of the product
- The project location and communication structure
The Product Owner role in theory is to be assigned to one single individual. But the complex nature of projects sometimes demands the responsibilities to be divided in a logical manner so that these responsibilities can be met properly.
Position & Requirement Type based classification
Primarily applicable for a scaled agile environment is the classification of the product owner role, based on where the individual sits in the organizational hierarchy & has a best value for certified scrum product owner nowadays in many organisations. In a project spanning multiple business units or organizations having major impact on organization’s strategic objectives, it is common to see product owners assigned based on their position.
A large project that may run for several years or may span the boundaries of multiple business units may have a strategic level product owner responsible for defining the business requirements of the project. The product owner may even be the project sponsor, someone from the director board, a C-Level professional or even a business unit head and may define the business goals and objectives and the roadmap for the product keeping things in line with the strategic direction of the company.
The product may impact multiple stakeholders. Hence there can be product owners assigned to define stakeholder requirements for the product. For example, a CRM solution to be developed may impact HR division, Sales division and the Finance division of the company. Product owners may be assigned from each division to define the stakeholder objectives for each module. Hence, this classification may be identified as module level product owners.
The intended users of the product or the lowest level functional users are the ones who shape the features and functionality of the product. Hence, product owners may be assigned to define solution requirements or more specifically functional, non-functional and transition requirements. These product owners may be identified as solution level or feature level product owners and they will define the features, UI / UX requirements for the product. This group of product owners will be the ones who would most often directly liaise with the implementation team to discuss and prioritize requirements and to evaluate the solution developed providing feedback for improvement.
Product life cycle based classification
Every product goes through different stages during its lifetime. Software products are no different. The 4 common stages of a product are,
The type and number of product owners allocated at each stage may differ as follows.
Normally the idea for a product comes from one single visionary or a group of visionaries, from a business leader or from a business unit head. At this inception stage of ideation stage of the product it may be one business / strategic level product owner assigned to the project. With time from the stage of prototyping, development until the launch of the product and then during the growth stages it may be a group of feature product owners who share the ownership of the product requirements.
Once launched, the product owner’s responsibilities change towards how they are going to market the product, continually improve the product and ensure that the product goes through multiple life cycles without petering out to a sudden death. The responsibility of extending the lifetime of the product by adding more features, by devising more marketing strategies such as bundle offers, discounts etc. may be assigned to a group of product owners focusing on different aspects of product management. The product owners at these stages must be skillful to experiment ideas, apply learning from other industries or products and constantly be strategically ahead of their competition.
Location based product owners
This is one of the most common types of requirements for product owners which arises as a result of geographically dispersed product development teams. More often than not, the principal product owner from the client organization resides in a country different from that of where the implementation team is located.
As a result, a business analyst is assigned as the proxy product owner to collaborate with the principal product owner to elicit, understand and document requirements, and in doing so become as knowledgeable as the principal product owner. The responsibilities of the proxy product owner is not limited to assimilating and transferring information, but also extends to shaping the product by studying the market trends and patterns.
Product owner is the most important role in terms of shaping the product life cycle and in turn the journey the implementation team experiences in delivering it. The product owner role should be defined and used wisely in order to ensure value is added to the stakeholder at each stage.