A question I’m asked in many of my training sessions is about the difference between a Product Owner and a Business Analyst. Are they different names for the same role in different project management styles? Is a Business Analyst the person accountable for the project requirements when the software is developed using waterfall methodology; and is a Product Owner the person accountable for project requirements when the project is carried out using the Agile methodology? This article attempts to help you understand about the warrior in Agile projects called the Product Owner. Is he / she the person in charge of software requirements? Or is he / she from the business side who will coordinate with the Business Analyst who in fact is a member of the development team? There is also an added confusion if this role belongs to the Product Management area.
Who is a Product Owner?
A Product Owner is an integral part of a product development or Scrum team. They are responsible for supervising the product backlog by making sure that it is up to date in terms of priorities and aligned with the vision of the product. The Product Owner represents the business or user, and is accountable for collaborating with the consumer to define what features will be present in the product release
Scrum Framework was developed in the early 2000s and since then there have been many different definitions floating around in the industry on who is a Product Owner. So, one day I decided to do some good old internet surfing on the topic “who is a Product Owner”. I got the following answers from the Internet.
Definition 1: A product owner is similar to a Business Analyst. He / she gathers software requirements from the various stakeholders and gives it to the development team. The development team goes to the Product Owner in case of any queries.
Definition 2: The Product Owner is a part of the product management or development team. He / she creates the product backlog and prioritizes it. He / she will ensure that the development team is doing their job properly and are working on items that the Product Owner has prioritized.
Now which of the above definitions is correct? What I have realized over the last few years as a Scrum trainer is that there is no globally accepted standard definition of a Product Owner role. The Scrum Guide does chalk out a few responsibilities of the Product Owner role, but different companies have different interpretations of this.
In some companies this role is a strategic role that involves collaborating with various stakeholders on the project and coming up with the software vision. The Product Owner then makes sure that the product vision is percolated down to the development team. And the development team develops the product exactly as per the Product Owner’s vision of the Product.
In some companies this role is a very tactical or a hands-on role. The Product Owner is a very task-oriented person. He / she will write down software requirements, test the product developed by the development team, participate in the sprint review and make sure user stories are completed one after the other.
What do Product Owners do?
Ever since I embraced agile, I got to work with several Product Owners and mind you, this role is really critical as it collaborates with both the development team and the stakeholders. On the one hand, the Product Owner works with the stakeholders to get the right requirements or devise the requirements which they might not see or comprehend at that point. This not only improves the relationship with our customers but also helps to build trust. And on the other hand, the Product Owner helps the delivery team/development team understand the vision and the requirements. Hence, this role is similar to a bridge between the two ends that effectively paves the way for smooth communication.
Deep dive into the Product Owner’s role:
According to Roman Pichler, a leading Agile expert and the author of “How to Lead in Product Management”, the ultimate responsibility of a product owner is to ensure that the product creates value for its customers and users, as well as for the company. Think of the product owner as the person who champions the product, who facilitates the product decisions, and who has the final say about the product.” Pichler also says. “This includes if and how feedback is actioned, and which features are released.”
The roles and responsibilities of a Product Owner include making sure that they understand the core of the product as well as how to facilitate collaboration at a 360-degree level, being both a liaison and the face of the user.
At the most rudimentary level, as defined by the Scrum Guide, the Product Owner is responsible for maximising the value of work done by the development team. Let’s chalk out a few of the Product Owner’s responsibilities.
1. Defining the vision:
The purpose of the product is defined in the product vision. It is the Product Owner who creates this vision, manages it for the entire life of the product and owns the same. The Product Owner has the responsibility of creating a vision so that the development team clearly visualizes the expected outcome by the user. It is the Product Owner who interacts and collaborates with the users to understand their requirements, so that it can be effectively communicated with the team. Also, it is equally significant to communicate to the stakeholders the vision and goals so that they have a clear-cut understanding of the outcome.
The Product Owner has to be very passionate about this product vision. The product vision is not developed at one go but rather over many iterations, and improves over a period of time. The Product Owner makes sure that this product vision is in line with the vision of the company. He / she also creates a product roadmap for this product vision. Roadmap is a visual summary of the vision spread across a period of time. The vision will define the future state of the product and the motivations that the product tries to fulfil.
2. Managing the product backlog
The primary responsibility of the role of a Product Owner is managing the product backlog. Today’s market is really dynamic and every customer wants to stay on the top of the latest trends in the industry. This product backlog is derived from the roadmap created by the Product Owner. Even the items in the product backlog might require some movement due to changing priorities. It is the Product Owner’s responsibility to build up a stack of items in the backlog and prioritize them as per the business goals and the global approach. The product backlog is a dynamic list of items and as we call it in agile, it is a ‘live document’ that should be frequently updated, based on changing project requirements, all the way through to development. The Product Backlog exists as long as there is a Scrum team that works on the product.
3. Prioritizing and Ordering Items in the Product Backlog:
Another area where the product owner focusses on is to prioritize the needs of the stakeholders. A product owner should be able to determine the priority of product backlog items in order to deliver the maximum outcome. The Product Owners are constantly in touch with the stakeholders and understand the environment in which the product operates. When the needs and market conditions for the product change, the Product Owner will change the priorities in the Product backlog. He / she may add new items in the Product Backlog and remove the ones which are now obsolete due to new stakeholder needs. This means that the Product Owner must order the items in the Product Backlog to best achieve goals and missions. There are many tools to help Product Owners do this. The Product Owner is required to have the Backlog sequenced prior to the Sprint Planning Meeting. This means that each user story must be ordered by relative importance. The Product Owner will determine what needs to be developed in each iteration and how the product element will be developed over the life of the product.
4. Overseeing development stages
Once we have the basic entities in place – vision, product backlog, and the prioritization, the product owner has to make sure that he/she is participating in the overall development stages of the product. The team might need their Product Owner to get the clarity on a few queries or they might need to demo the committed item. The Product Owner will participate in the ceremonies with the team. In some ceremonies, this role can be active such as planning or backlog grooming but can also be passive or inactive such as in the daily Scrum.
5. Anticipating client needs
In today's competitive environment, it is really important for someone in the role of a Product Owner, to understand the client/customer’s needs. The product owner should understand the market, the competition, and the users’ pain points. With those valuable pieces of information, the product owner can determine what features should be implemented, and in what order, with respect to time and importance. Sometimes the Product Owner can help the customers in configuring and penning down the items which they want but are not able to comprehend. And here communication plays a big role.
6. Acting as primary liaison
As we have talked about at the start of our discussion, a product owner role involves acting as a primary liaison between the teams and the customers. The person in this role has to make sure the information flow is quick and clear so that there is no misinterpretation. The Product Owner has to make sure that the goal and the vision are correctly aligned with the work items on the product backlog. The Product Owner also acts as a liaison for business stakeholders and end-users, determining whether each story meets their shared expectations. When we say stakeholders, we mean the end users, or their representatives; they could be sponsors (who are paying for the product) or stakeholders who are also a part of the company's management. A stakeholder could be anyone with an interest in or an influence on the product. A Product Owner understands these stakeholders' needs and builds a vision that will drive the development team to develop the vision. Good product owners ensure that development teams can communicate directly with stakeholders, as long as they work on the priorities as chosen by the product owner.
7. Evaluating product progress at each iteration
In every iteration, a product increment is created by the development team. The product owner inspects this product increment and decides if this is developed as per the vision created for the product. If it not as per the vision he / she may direct the development team to revise it in later sprints. Work that is either not complete or un-done needs to be re-prioritized or sequenced. The Product Owner makes sure that the development delivers the expected outcomes from the stories they worked upon and accepts it.
Thus, a Product Owner wears multiple hats throughout the product development effort.
8. Participating in daily Scrum, Sprint Planning Meetings, and Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives
Scrum ceremonies give a chance for the Product Owner to inspect and adapt. And as a result, being present at these ceremonies is identical to success. It is important for the product owner to join the Scrum meetings as it not only keeps the development team up to date with the priorities, but also helps the product owner understand the perspective of the team if there are any impediments.
9. Terminating a Sprint if it is determined that a drastic change in direction is required
If the Sprint goal has no meaning (will not deliver business value) because of the extreme change, the product owner can terminate the sprint. The termination is most frequently the outcome of an intense change in business priorities; something previously considered important is no longer needed, or something even more significant is learned.
How to become a Product Owner?
Becoming a product owner requires a thorough understanding of the product as well as analytical and strategic skills. The person who wants to deep dive and become a good product owner needs to understand the market and the stakeholders. He/she should be able to create a vision and know when to juggle with the items in the product backlog so that the bucket is always prioritized.
You can opt for some good certification programs provided by different authorities and gain a confidence in this area. As per my experience, I would recommend you to select a domain and master it!
As defined by the Scrum Alliance, a Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO®) is someone who has been trained by a Certified Scrum Trainer in Scrum terminology, practices, and principles that will enable them to fulfill the role of Scrum Product Owner.
Is the Product Owner the Project Manager?
Both a project manager and a product owner watch over teams who work to carry developments across the finish line together. But the path to that finish line deviates entirely from the start. The Product Owners are product driven and customer focused. They need to be actively engaged with the team because they are the ones responsible for deciding what features will go into the final product.
Also, there is a confusion between a Product Owner and Product Manager. Let us understand the difference between the two.
A Product Manager is a high-level role that has responsibilities for the entire product lifecycle. The role starts by focusing on customer discovery to product delivery. The product manager will drive the overall product strategy. This is a multidisciplinary role and is very strategic in nature.
The product owner works primarily with the production team to ensure that the development team develops a product that is aligned with the product roadmap.
To summarize, the product manager decides on what products to build next, and the product owner coordinates with the development team to build these products.
What are the challenges a Product Owner comes across?
Below are the major challenges a Product Owner is more likely to come across:
1. Missing product road map 2. High-level acceptance criteria 3. Spending too much time dealing with product support instead of grooming the backlog 4. Changing priority while sprint is in progress
Product Owners can escape these usual snares by working around the product road map, centering on high-value backlog items, defining crisp acceptance criteria, concentrating on grooming quality backlog item, and avoiding disturbing sprints.
What is the learning path for a Product Owner role?
Are you a business analyst who is now unable to figure out his / her new duties as Product Owner? Are you looking to venture into a Product Owner role? Or are you looking to clear your understanding of Scrum Framework and understand the Product Owner role? Then embark on this journey with us in becoming a great Product Owner.
Why should you go for a CSPO certification?
Every high-functioning Agile team has a well-trained Product Owner making critical product decisions. A Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO®) is one such certification that helps holders become successful product owners by training them on aspects of on-time delivery of high-value releases and maximizing the ROI. The globally recognized CSPO certification, therefore, is a career-defining credential for anybody willing to take up the challenging role of a Product Owner on a Scrum team in an organization.
Increasing Demand for CSPO® Certified Professionals
The industry today is ripe with endless opportunities for Product Owners. With 90% of modern teams using Scrum, the demand for Certified Scrum Product Owners has seen a steep rise. Their presence on an Agile team is guaranteed to ensure early ROI while maximizing business value. Scrum Alliance underlines the importance of Product Owners as follows:
38% of the Product Owners act as an intermediary and are responsible for maintaining relationships with the Stakeholders.
24% of the Product Owners set project business priorities and work directly with the customers.
15% of the Product Owner work directly with the Scrum team.
The Future of a Product Owner
A Product Owner is indispensable for the Scrum teams. This role can be compared to that of a deeply rooted tree which has a firm foundation on the product side and provides vision, approach, and planned execution on the outer side. The product owners carry the ownership of the product in terms of quality and delivery as per the expectations set with the stakeholder.
A Product Owner needs to have an all-inclusive view of the product along with all the other factors like business understanding, go to Market, organizational readiness, and product capabilities. All of these should be collectively managed, coordinated and aligned to drive product success.
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The ScrumProduct Owner Certification from the globally renowned Scrum Alliance endorses and validates your Scrum expertise while enabling you to take on the Product Owner role and responsibilities with dexterity, as you lead successful projects and ensure high-velocity releases of marketable products.
Deepti is an Agile Coach by profession and Freelance Trainer with over 11 years of industry experience working primarily with healthcare & finance clients in delivering business. She has played a wide variety of roles in the graph of her career, whether it be, management, operations or quality. She likes reading fiction, management and loves to write her experiences. Her colleagues mostly describe her as very detail oriented person with a knack of creativity and imagination. And yes, she loves feedback more than her coffee!!