What Is a SAFe Product Owner?

Read it in 8 Mins

Last updated on
07th Jun, 2022
Published
29th Jul, 2021
Views
10,320
What Is a SAFe Product Owner?

The Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) is, in the words of Dean Leffingwell, Creator of SAFe: “a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for achieving business agility using Lean, Agile, and DevOps.”  © Scaled Agile, Inc.To know more about SAFe agileclick here.   

Using SAFe, the process of scaling Agile across a large-scale enterprise can be streamlined. SAFe details out organizational workflows that enhance productivity and employee engagement and ensure customer delight through quick deliveries of quality products.  

A key role on a SAFe team is played by the Product Owner. In this blog, you will understand the role of a SAFe Product Owner, and how it relates to that of a Scrum Product Owner. You will also understand the SAFe Product Owner’s role with respect to that of a SAFe Product Manager.

But first, read about Product Owner Responsibilities to have more clarity.

What is a SAFe Product Owner?

The SAFe Product Owner is the member of the team who works as the voice of the customer. He or she liaises with Product Management and other POs, besides other stakeholders, to define and list out stories in the Team Backlog and order them as per priority.  

In an ideal situation, the SAFe PO is in the same office as the rest of the team. However, with today’s distributed teams, this does not always happen. 

One PO can support up to two Agile teams, at the most. The SAFe PO works with the SAFe Product Manager, who maintains the overall product vision. 

Get to know more about safe core values.

Fan-out Model for Product Manager, PO, and Agile Teams

Key Role & Responsibilities of a SAFe Product Owner

The main responsibilities of the SAFe PO extend across the team, and even beyond that to participate in Product Management events, where he or she will help to plan and create the Program vision and refine the Program Backlog. 

The following are the main responsibilities of the SAFe PO: 

1. PI Planning

The PO plays a significant role as a member of the larger Product Management team and has to participate in the events during Program Increment (PI) planning. The activity of program backlog refinement also requires every PO’s participation and close involvement. Before the event, the PO will keep the team backlog updated and will contribute to creating the vision and charting out the roadmap.

When the planning event is in progress, the PO should be at hand to give clarity wherever needed. The entire SAFe team will work to map out the team’s PI objectives for the upcoming PI.

2. During the Iteration

During the iteration execution, the PO holds extremely critical responsibilities:

  • The PO builds, updates and maintains the team backlog, with updates from all stakeholders and the team.
  • Reviewing and ordering the team backlog as a precursor to the Iteration Planning event is the responsibility of the PO. For this, they may need to coordinate dependencies with other POs.
  • During the Iteration Planning event, the PO gives clarity of user story details, and is around to ensure alignment and concurrence on a final iteration plan.
  • While the team elaborates on the backlog items and creates stories, the PO keeps track of the flow and maintains priorities.
  • POs work with the team to flesh out each story, adding acceptance criteria and acceptance tests, applying Behaviour-Driven Development (BDD) practices.
  • As the work progresses, the PO will work closely with the team to agree on the completion of accepted stories. and see whether they meet the Definition of Done and quality standards that have been laid down.
  • The PO does not need to be a technical expert but should be able to understand the scope of the work that is coming up. He or she should collaborate with the engineers to assist in making decisions and sequencing the technological infrastructures that will enable the business functionality.
  • During team demos, the PO coordinates between the team and stakeholders who are present.  
  • They also participate in events such as the Iteration Retrospective and the Agile Release Train’s Inspect & Adapt workshop, providing the customer’s perspective on the work progress.

3. During the Program Execution

During each PI, the PO will connect with other POs to check and coordinate other dependencies, ensuring smooth work progress without any hiccups. They will sync up typically during weekly events. 

Additionally, POs play a valuable role in creating the System Demo for all the stakeholders involved in the program value stream. 

4. Inspection and Adaptation

The Inspect and Adapt (I&A) workshop is held to address any large impediments to smooth progress. During this event, the PO works across teams to see how best to improve processes and increase team velocity and quality. During the I&A workshop, the PO participates in and holds the PI system demo for program stakeholders.

SAFe Product Owner vs Scrum Product Owner

Before we get into the differences in the roles and responsibilities of a SAFe Product Owner and a Scrum Product Owner, we need to also understand a third and more prominent role on a SAFe team: that of the SAFe Product Manager. 

The SAFe Product Manager is someone who works with several SAFe teams, typically two to four, and owns the Program Backlog—which gives him or her an overall view of the entire project (or the big picture).  

SAFe Team Reporting Structure

The table below talks about the differences in the roles played by a SAFe Product Owner and a Scrum Product Owner.


SAFe Product OwnerScrum Product Owner
Backlog ItemsA SAFe Product Owner undertakes the responsibility for the Team Backlog. This lists all the requirements (Backlog items) for the team.A Scrum Product Owner undertakes the responsibility for the Product Backlog. This is a prioritised list of all the requirements for the product.
Number of teams they supportA SAFe Product Owner can serve, at most, two teams.A Scrum Product Owner can work with two or more teams.
Vision and roadmapA SAFe Product Manager, not the SAFe Product Owner, defines the features and owns the vision and roadmap. A SAFe Product Manager is someone who works with two to four SAFe Product Owners. He or she will have an overall view of the entire program. As such, the SAFe Product Owner exerts less authority than the Scrum Product Owner.Scrum Product Owner defines the features and owns the vision and roadmap. So, as we can see, the Scrum Product Owner undertakes responsibilities that combine those of the SAFe Product Owner and the SAFe Product Manager (but to a smaller scale as the project is typically smaller).
Who has the final say on the product?A SAFe Product Owner does not have a final say on what must be done for a certain Product. This is done by the SAFe Product Manager, who is the final authority and owns the vision and roadmap on a SAFe project.It is the Scrum Product Manager who has the final say on what needs to be done for the product.

Similarities

  • Just like the Scrum PO, the SAFe Product Owner is also a core member of the team.  
  • He or she is the customer proxy on the team, ensuring that the vision is always kept in focus.
  • They have the responsibility of the Backlog- the Team Backlog in the case of the SAFe PO, and the Product Backlog in the case of the Scrum PO.
  • Both POs work on prioritising the tasks that the team will take up next, guiding them on the relative importance of the stories.
  • Again, both the SAFe PO and the Scrum PO work toward maximizing the product value.
  • They keep an eye on the goal for the next iteration.
  • They participate in reflections and inspect and adapt during and after each iteration.
  • The two roles take part in the Planning, Retrospective and Review of an Iteration in SAFe/ Sprint in Scrum in a similar way.

Scrum Product Owner Exercises as Full-Stack Product Ownership

Can one person do both roles in SAFe; that of the Product Owner and Product Manager?

The PO and the PM roles are completely distinct in SAFe, and each comes with its own set of responsibilities.

Difference Between Product Manager and Product Owner

There is a different focus for each role: 

  • The PM’s role is cantered on the benefits to the customer and the organisation. He or she is also the person with whom the business owners and members of the ART (Agile Release Train) connect. 
  • POs always have the needs of their own Agile team in focus.  

Product Owners and Product Managers work together collaboratively to understand the customer’s needs and work toward fulfilling them. The flow of information is from the customer to the PM, and then down to the POs and their team members. The POs and PMs meet up at all ART or PO planning and sync up events and stay aligned with the same set of overarching goals. 

As we have seen, one person cannot undertake the roles of the SAFe Product Owner and the SAFe Product Manager at the same time. POs and PMs must at all times be connected, and work in tandem to deliver a successful product; however, having one person playing both roles is a sure route to disaster!  

The last word…  

The SAFe Product Owner plays a role that is at the core of SAFe, setting up the product strategy, getting deep into customer requirements, and prioritizing the features as per their importance. They hold the responsibility of ensuring customer delight, even as they keep a pulse on the economic value that is to be derived from the product.  

In the end, SAFe is all about giving the larger enterprise a framework for scaling Agile — to build better products, respond to volatile markets, and keep in step with emerging technologies — and without the Product Owner’s expertise, all this will fall short. 

Profile

KnowledgeHut

Author
KnowledgeHut is an outcome-focused global ed-tech company. We help organizations and professionals unlock excellence through skills development. We offer training solutions under the people and process, data science, full-stack development, cybersecurity, future technologies and digital transformation verticals.