Product Owner Interview Questions

Are you planning to make a career as a Product Owner? Are you worried about the interview? So what exactly you need to crack the same? Have no fear! Go through these frequently asked Product Owner interview questions. The following list of interview questions on Product Owner for freshers and experienced will help you answer questions like what are the characteristics of a good Product Backlog Item? Can the Product Owner and Scrum Master be the same person? What is ‘Definition of Done’? Master the top interview questions on Product Owner role and crack your interview with ease and confidence.

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Beginner

This would be one of the initial questions, which will help interviewee to open up and also will give interviewer the opportunity to understand the exposure of the candidate.

The answer will vary a bit from candidate to candidate, but will typically will be:  Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective, Grooming. If the PO says Daily Scrum (Daily Standup), ask what he does there. It is ok for PO to attend daily scrum, but he just need to be observer there and should not speak.

Yes. PO helps the team in understanding the user story which will help them in right user story splitting and correct estimation. While PO will act as an SME for User story point of view, he will help team to understand it better, he will NOT give or suggest story points in User story estimation.

No. Product Owner and Scrum Master are two separate roles and mixing them can have a very negative effect on the development process. Both role requires 100% involvement. One person will not be able to fulfil all his responsibilities in 100 %. Scrum Master sometimes needs to act as a mediator between the development team and PO when their goals start to diverge. In such case, if the same person is acting as both, there will be a conflict of interest.

Typical answer will be MoSCoW – Mo (Must be), S(Should be), Co(Could be), W(Won’t be). But a good and experienced PO will also talk about other techniques such as WSJF.

 A good product backlog item should be DEEP – D (Detailed appropriately), E (Estimated), E (Emergent), P (Prioritized).

Product backlog refinement meeting is for upcoming sprint. The Items in the current Sprint are no longer on the Product Backlog. They are in the Sprint Backlog.

No. A Product owner gives a big user story to the development team. It is the team that discusses it further and splits it.

 A good user story should be Independent (I), Negotiable (N), Valuable (V), Estimable (E), Small (S), Testable (T).  In short – INVEST.

As a Product owner, I will see if there is any challenge understanding the large user story given by me or in understanding the business requirement. I will discuss and with them and will answer those queries. However, if the issue is because of incorrect splitting technique, I will inform Scrum Master to further facilitate it and plan for any grooming or training session.

Definition of Done (DoD) is the shared understanding of what “Done” means for a user story. It is a simple list of activities such as writing code, coding comments, unit testing, integration testing, release notes, design documents, etc.

 The Development team creates DoD

Acceptance Criteria is a set of accepted conditions or business rules which the user story or feature should satisfy and meet, to be accepted by the Product owner. They are a set of statements, each with a clear pass/fail result, that specify both functional and non-functional requirements applicable at the current stage of project integration.

The Product owner sets the acceptance criteria.

No. 

Definition of Done (DoD) is a simple list of activities such as writing code, coding comments, unit testing, integration testing, release notes, design documents, etc.

Definition of Ready (DoR) is a sort of criteria or at times checklist that determine whether a story is “Ready” to be picked it for next sprint.

As long as it’s the same product on which different teams are working and the product owner can give sufficient time to each of the team, is it acceptable.

No. A team should not have more than one PO or a committee of product owner acting as a PO. PO is someone who steers the scrum team towards the product vision and goal. Having more than one PO will create confusion and issues of alignment of development team with the product.

Burn-down chart is a graphical representation of work left to do versus time. The outstanding work (or backlog) is often on the vertical axis, with time along the horizontal. That is, it is a run chart of outstanding work. It is useful for predicting when all of the work will be completed

Yes. It’s only the product owner who has the authority to cancel the sprint. However, this should be in consultation with business stake holders and development team.

In case the sprint is cancelled, any ‘Done’ product backlog item should be reviewed. If they are potentially releasable, product owner will accept it.

 Sprint backlog item which could not be completed during the sprint as per DoD, will not be demonstrated during sprint review. Extending it to next sprint might not be good idea. Rather than extending it to next sprint, the right approach is to move it to product backlog and then re-evaluate, if it should be picked for next sprint.

 There is nothing wrong in a Product Owner coming from a technical background, but a PO should never be part of the development team. Also, a PO coming from technical background should practise restrain and should not act as a technical SME during story splitting etc.

It is very important for Product Owner to look and understand the reason for development team failing the sprint commitment. There might be multiple reason for that. It might be because of incorrect estimation or over commitment. It might be because of lack of trust and collaboration in the team. It might be because of not understanding the user story and not slicing it  correctly. A PO needs to identify it and based on it, needs to work with the development team and Scrum master to find the solution. 

Yes. While development team is one who measures sprint performance, it’s the product owner, who measures project performance.

In practise, distributed agile projects , especially those working on on-shore/off-shore model has a proxy product owner. Proxy product owner acts as local product owner to answer to development team questions. They do not own the product backlog but helps the product owner in managing and maintaining it.

Product owner. Defining sprint goal or objective is one of the most important goal of product owner.

A good product owner is someone who should be 

  1. Available and engaged with the team.
  2. Have good knowledge or product and domain.
  3. Good at communication.
  4. Empowered to take decisions related to the product.

 A product increment is the cumulative sum of all the PBIs completed during the sprint and the value of the increments of all previous sprints.

 Since a product owner is part of estimation meeting, for larger stories, he may try to explain it to the development team to ensure that they have understood it correctly and have sliced it properly. If still he finds a challenge, he could further discuss it with Scrum master. The SM can coach the team further.

There cannot be a fix answer to this question. What interviewee will be looking for is that the product owner should talk about design, functionality and usefulness of the product and should clearly articulate it.  Also, the interviewer will give some point on the creativity of the product being picked. 

Agile manifesto uses the term ‘Over’, which means a higher preference to working software, it does not say that we do not need any documentation in agile. This means one should do the necessary documentation to support the development and use of the product. An open discussion explaining the development team about it with involvement of Scrum master would help.

 The role of PO and SM has some overlaps and a good coordination between the two is key to a successful scrum team. Scrum Master facilitates activities like backlog grooming, Scrum master communicates the outcome of sprint retrospective to Product owner so that next sprint could be improved. Since Scrum master works closely with scrum team, he also helps the product owner to overcome any teaming challenge within development team. In general, the role of SM and PO complements each other.

Early design in Agile means creating just enough design up front to give a good foundation to start from and helps to mitigate risk, without wasting unnecessarily time. As the product evolves, the design emerges.

Intermediate

A ‘product’ is a tangible/non-tangible item created to produce specific value for a group of customers and to the organization that provides it. A product can be anything, it can even be an idea. From that, a spoon would be a product. The Facebook application would be a product. Agile consulting services would be a product. A painting would be a product. A product can be something physical (the spoon). It can be a digital product (Facebook application, an e-book or online videos). It also can be a service (consulting). As stated by Mike Cohn – “Products Can Be Defined Recursively” which means a product can exist within another product. Another important thing to note is, the product should deliver some value to the customer. Even the smallest entities in the product (sub-product) should be beneficial to the market.

Scrum is an iterative and incremental way of delivering value to the customers in a time-boxed manner. It is a simple framework for effective team collaboration on complex products. Jeff Sutherland, together with Ken Schwaber created Scrum as a formal process at OOPSLA'95. Scrum is a very lightweight model and easy to understand the model for any team but though it is easy to understand it is really difficult to master. The foundation of scrum lies in its values which are Courage, Focus, Commitment, Respect, and Openness, any team opting for scrum should be open to adopting these values to make the team successful. As mentioned earlier, scrum is really lightweight and it does not prescribe much of hierarchy or embedded roles, it just talks about three(3) basic roles – The Product Owner, The Scrum Master, and the Scrum Team, that it! Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Self-organizing teams select how best to achieve their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team. Cross-functional teams have all capabilities desirable to achieve the work without depending on others not part of the team. As per the survey by Version 1, scrum is the most widely used framework across the globe, isn’t it interesting!!

Before talking about the traditional requirements, let’s understand what a user story is. Nowadays, if you are in an agile organization, everyone would be talking in terms of user stories.

User stories are short descriptions of functionality told from the user’s perspective where the focus is on why and how. The user story concentrates on the experience — what the person using the product wants to be able to do. A traditional requirement concentrates on functionality — what the product should do, it talks more in terms of the ability of a product. Traditional requirements documents go into excessive detail on how an area of software should be designed. They typically provide instructions to the software team on how to build it. Requirements documents often contain things like executive summaries, scope, risks, and more. In contrast to the traditional requirements, a user story is a much simple with acceptance criteria to define the completion. Also, a user story talks about what exactly is the user’s need at the very lowest level of implementation.

All the requirements generated from a customer needs are stored a Product Backlog. Whenever a requirement is received, it is first placed in the product backlog, the business owner or the product owner can then prioritize the items as per the market and customers’ needs. It is a kind of a bucket which accumulates all the necessary items to deliver a complete product. There are several ways to create a product backlog, some use manual charts, others use excel or the tools available supporting Agile such as Rally, Version 1, etc. One should always remember, the product backlog is not a substitute for a requirements specification.   Any feedback from the customer during the demo or and the grooming call should be captured and logged in the product backlog. This way it makes sure nothing gets missed, even if it is a low priority item.

The product backlog consists of the wide variety of items such as – new requirements, enhancements, bug fixes, refactoring stories, etc. but to make sure the items are in a state for a team to commit is really important. To elaborate more, the items which the team commit in a sprint should meet a few criteria to make sure it has everything required to work upon it.

The definition of Ready is an agreement between the team and the product owner where the backlog items have to pass through a few agreed points to mark it as ready. For Example, Definition of Ready for a story will have User Story defined, User Story dependencies identified, User Story sized by the delivery team, performance criteria identified, no open questions, the team has a good idea what it will mean to Demo the User Story.

In the same way, we can have the definition of ready for the features as well. Although, the components might differ from product to product. This shared definition then allows the team to discard the stories that don’t have clearly defined acceptance criteria. It will save a lot of time if each user story meets Definition of Ready before the Sprint Planning meeting.

The product backlog is owned by the product owner, it is one of the roles in a scrum team and is aligned completely to the product. Per scrum guidelines, the product owner is responsible for maintaining the product backlog. But that doesn't mean Product Owner is only the input source for the product backlog.

Any stakeholders (Business analyst/Tech architect/software architect/tester/developer/customer) in the organization/project can contribute to the product catalog. But Product owner has the ultimate responsibility for prioritizing them (with or without Development Team). It is the responsibility of the product owner to capture and add anything and everything into the backlog. Also, the product owner will make sure that the items in the backlog reflect the prioritization as the market needs. The item delivering the highest value should be at the top. There are several ways a product owner can use to prioritize the backlog such as – Ranking, Moscow, and Hundred Dollar method, etc., the goal is to keep the backlog healthy and prioritized. You can even say that the product owner is the mini CEO for his own area.

A Release Burndown Chart is one of the information radiators for an agile project team and is a way for the team to clearly see what is happening and how progress is being made during each sprint. The release burndown chart has sprints or timeline on the X-axis and the story points on the Y-axis. Just by the glance of the chart, you can tell exactly how the release is going. It captures how much scope has been increased during the course of a release, it also gives us the insight into the stories getting acceptance on time from the PO or the stakeholders.  With the help of this chart, we can even identify if there are any risks to the delivery in the said amount of time. It is majorly used by the product team, management and sometimes the stakeholders to assess the delivery of the release. It is an important chart when we work with business owners as it also gives the view of items which might creep out of the boundaries.

It’s true that Scrum doesn’t define any project manager or agile product manager role, it only mentions three roles – development team, scrum master and the product owner. Each of them has their own boundaries and responsibilities. But, even before the delivery team starts working on the product, there is a lot to do like, team formation, procurement, risk management, etc. these are not mentioned in any of the three roles defined. So yes, even in agile development, we do have a project manager who takes care of all these things and ensures smooth startup of the teams. Even scaledagileframework.com talks about the evolving role of managers in Lean-Agile development. Like the project manager, the agile product manager role also exists, it is the same as the usual product owner role, and it is just how you want to address it. The role and responsibilities are the same because it’s just another name for a product owner.

Vision is a sort of a goal you see for your organization, the product or even for yourself. “Vision is knowing who you are, where you’re going and what will guide your journey.”– Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner. Thus, there are three elements which constitute a vision on a broader level, the purpose, the picture, and the values. Connecting the vision to our topic today, we will talk specifically about the product vision. For any product, it’s really important to understand why we are building it, what purpose will it serve to the customer or the client. Next comes the picture where we see how the end result should look like and lastly what value will it deliver. The vision statement can be just a few lines and it is not going to be very elaborative or prescriptive. To achieve this vision, a roadmap is created, it is a powerful means to define how a product is likely to grow, to align the stakeholders, and to procure a budget for developing the product and it is also a visual summary that maps out the vision and direction of the product offering over time. It outlines goals, milestones, and deliverables for a product in development.

Estimation plays an important role when we talk about the product backlog. Estimating is about creating a shared understanding of the requirements, and a shared understanding of the solution. When teams have problems estimating, it’s almost never an estimating problem, it’s a shared understanding problem. Estimation can be done at two levels:

  • Product Backlog level – Estimation at the product backlog level helps the team to predict much can they deliver in said time, it can be a release of three months or six months or as per the product need. It also helps the product owner in making prioritization decisions. Another purpose to estimate items on the product backlog is that team members become more well-informed about the detail by thinking about it enough to estimate it.
  • Sprint backlog level – Estimating at the sprint backlog level helps the teams to understand how much work they can pull into a sprint. The estimates at the sprint level are more precise which increases the possibility of the team completing all they say they will. In addition to it, this also helps the team to better synchronize their work.

When the team estimates at the product backlog level, it gives a rough or a high-level estimate, this gets further refined when they estimate at the sprint level.

When the agile team works on the product backlog, they break it down into chunks and align them into a roadmap for the delivery, during this process, they also estimate the product backlog which gives them the visibility on its completion, the functional approach, and complexity. Estimates tell at the high level of what it takes to deliver the item. Commitment, on the other hand, is the promise from a team assuring the delivery of items taken in a sprint or in a release. During the sprint planning meeting, the team pulls in some items as per the collective capacity and makes a commitment to the product owner or the stakeholders for its delivery in a time-boxed manner. Both estimating and committing are important activities in the scrum but they serve totally different purposes. Estimates are never a commitment from the team. An estimate is our best guess for what can be achieved and by when. One should always remember - Committing does not guarantee the delivery of items, there might be situations where the team gets stuck because of some very valid and reasonable impediment. There are several ways a team can estimate the backlog.

To start with any project, there is a need to have a backlog, it might not be perfect but at least it provides a starting point for the teams. There are challenges if we don’t have a proper backlog, which can be, backlog consisting of very big items or sometimes the items do not define the exact deliverable and miss on the details. Hence, there is a need to keep it healthy,  so that it can be used by the teams to openly see what is next, what it can be worked upon, and what they have to plan for the future. A healthy backlog has 1–2 sprints of work ready to go for the team to work on which should include tech debt, bugs, and new feature work. The backlog should be visible to all the team members and everyone in the team should be encouraged to contribute so that nothing gets missed, like, new additions the team feels can add value to the client or any tools the team wants to replace to increase productivity and capability. Most importantly, a healthy product backlog is regularly ordered and prioritized. The product owner has to keep the pile of items in a ready state which can be defined under the definition of ready.

The backlog grooming is intended for making sure that the team has the backlog which is relevant, detailed and estimated to a degree appropriate with their priority. In the backlog grooming meeting, the scrum team sits together to discuss the items from the product backlog and this meeting is done on a regular basis to keep the backlog healthy and up-to-date. They pull the items as per the priority order and refine them with rigorous discussion and brainstorming. They even talk about the blockers that might come up in their way and also the dependencies, whether it is upstream or downstream. In the backlog grooming the team takes up an item from the backlog and discuss how they can work upon it, they even talk about the ways of implementation. This meeting gives the team the time they need to understand new stories before estimating and working additionally providing time to optimize the design. It also helps in streamlining the planning meeting by saving the hours the team would have spent. By devoting time to backlog upkeep, the team safeguards that this preliminary planning occurs prior to the sprint planning meeting.

The Product Backlog is the master list of all functionality desired in the product in a prioritized order. Backlog prioritization is required to organize the product backlog items (user story/Defects/Spike etc) to make the sequence of its development and deployment. Prioritization leads the team’s work by concentrating the team on the most important items. It also freezes the backlog contents gradually. The product backlog items are detailed according to their priority. This constructs flexibility into the process and allows deferring decisions about the lower-priority items, buying the Scrum team more time to assess options, collect feedback from customers, and obtain more knowledge. This eventually results in better results and a better product. Few of the business benefits of prioritization includes – Faster return of investment, better management of dependencies, minimizing risks and focus on value-driven development. Prioritization not only helps the business but also the teams – They can do effective grooming by saving the time of selection, better visibility to pick up stories within the current scope. The team can pick up the first few items from the prioritized list to discuss and work upon, in this way a lot of confusion is eased out on what needs to be worked upon.

The main goal of release management is creating value to the customer. The deployment of releases into production and the establishment of effective use of the service are the goals of release and deployment management process. To meet this requirement, they create a clear and comprehensive release and deployment management plan. This helps the customer and the teams to align their activities, the release management team chalks out the dates which is then targeted by the teams. The release management team is also involved in building, installing, testing and deploying release packages efficiently and successfully as per the schedule. During all this, the release management team also makes sure that there is a minimal unpredicted impact on the production services and above all, they ensure that the customer or the users are satisfied. The definitive goal of service management is meeting and even exceeding customer expectations and ensuring customer satisfaction in service delivery.

The Product Owner has to understand that planning is adaptive, iterative, and collaborative which means, planning takes place at different levels in Scrum: 

Product, release, sprint, and day. Each level has some output which gets as an input for the next level. When we talk of planning in Scrum, it is more dynamic and change as more information about the customer needs and the product being developed becomes available. The product gets build over every iteration, at the end of every sprint, there is an increment which gets added to the product. The team plans for each iteration in a release with the collaboration of the product owner and the stakeholders. The release planning activities are carried out by the Scrum team often with the help of stakeholders, for instance, in the sprint review meeting, the team presents the backlog they have worked upon and take the acceptance from the product owner. If there is any feedback on the items, it will be added in the product backlog and later would be prioritized by the product owner. The product owner ensures that the necessary release management activities take place. It is more of a collaboration among the product owner and the teams which results in the success of the product.

The term technical debt was coined by Ward Cunningham and mentioned that some problems with code are like financial debt. As per Ward “With borrowed money, you can do something sooner than you might otherwise, but until you pay back that money you will pay interest”. Technical Debt is something where you are required to do refactoring or improvement related to the source code and its architecture. Factors adding up to technical debts cab be issues related to architecture, structure, duplication, test coverage, comments and documentation, potential bugs, complexity, code smells, coding practices and style. All these types of issues incur technical debt because they have a negative impact on productivity. Any compromise with the quality during the development lifecycle leads to technical debts, the software becomes fragile and expensive to extend and maintain. With the evolution of agile, we have witnessed a gradual decrease in the amount of technical debt and this was feasible because now we follow shorter cycles and frequent software updates require high quality, hence, the chances of piled up issues lower.

As per Atlassian “Technical debt is the difference between what was promised and what was actually delivered. Preventing technical debt is what allows development to be agile in the long run.”

Early and frequent delivery not only helps the team but also the customers. When we start working in iterations, there is an increment that gets added to the product, this increment is always (most of the cases) the highest priority item as expected by the customers. So, every time the customer gets the finished work which they have been seeking as critical or something which was highly desired. Short iterations also give the customers the time they need to shift the priorities and align the requirements as per the market needs. On the contrary, the team also gets positive notes while working with software development in short cycles, which is early feedback. They get the feedback as and when they reach out to the customers with some finished items. Sometimes, during the demo the customers get to see what exactly has come out of the requirements shared by them, accordingly, they tweak and provide feedback which is then converted into a story and taken up by the teams. The early and frequent release also ensures that the scope of change will be small as compared to releasing something big. Here, every release (“iteration”) has a specification, development and testing phase. This means that every couple of weeks the software is fully usable, although it may have very few features at the start.

“Velocity is a measure of the amount of work a Team can tackle during a single Sprint and is the key metric in Scrum. Velocity is calculated at the end of the Sprint by totaling the Points for all fully completed User Stories.” – Scrum Inc

Velocity is a simple but powerful method for accurately measuring the rate at which the scrum development teams consistently deliver business value. Velocity is measured in the same units as feature estimates, whether this is story points, days, ideal days, or hours that the Scrum team delivers - all of which are considered acceptable. It is a metric which can predict how much work a team can complete in sprint time. Velocity in agile is the total number of points delivered in a sprint. For example, if a team commits 30 points worth of stories in a sprint and by the end, they are able to deliver only 25 points then their velocity will be 25 points and not 30 points. Hence, velocity is the total points delivered and NOT the total points committed. The velocity helps the teams to predict the amount of work they can commit as a team, it also helps when we do our product increment planning in a Scaled Agile Framework.

The essential trait to win the scrum methodology is the continuous communication between the product owner and the development team. They both need to collaborate at every step in the development to make sure the team is delivery what is expected and there are no surprises at the end of the sprint. The product owner helps the team to look at the bigger picture, this role helps the team to understand the ‘Why’ of the product. During the sprint, the Product Owner helps the team in letting them know the priority so that in the sprint planning they commit as the priority. During the course of the sprint, the team touches base with the product owner as and when they feel, they can demo something to get the early feedback rather than waiting till the end of the sprint. Along with this, the team also sits with the product owner to groom the stories for the upcoming sprint so that they can refine and add the required details to the story and make it in a ready state to be pulled. The constant collaboration between these two helps in early resolution of dependencies or blockers and also reduces the chances of developing something which is not in the scope.

In scrum, we divide our work into iterations or cycles which are called sprints. The output of the sprint should add some value to the customer. For every sprint, we talk about time-boxing, which means it will have a start date and an end date. This timeboxing allows the customer to know when they can expect the output from the teams, also the team knows how much they can commit so as to deliver a quality item to the client. Time-boxing also allows the team to focus on the value, whatever they pull as commitment is expected to be the highest priority item from the backlog which will add the highest value. Protecting a sprint means, the scrum master will make sure that the team does not commit more than their capacity, else, they won’t be able to complete the work in time. Protecting a sprint also refers to ensuring the stakeholders are not over-doing the participation in the daily activities, as it impacts the team’s focus. The team can set some ground rules or can have working agreements to make sure they strike a balance in the scrum ceremonies. And lastly, protection is also in terms of shielding from outside interferences.

The team targets a pace of work that can be sustained for a long time or indefinitely. The team has to come on an agreement on how can they give to make sure that is balancing the overall structure. The term "sustainable pace", more general, was proposed by Kent Beck himself in replacement of the original "40 hour week" denomination for this Extreme Programming practice. In the first edition of “Extreme Programming Explained,” Kent Beck suggested working no more than 40 hours per week and never working overtime a second week in a row. Finally, one of the principles behind the Agile Manifesto was dedicated to "Sustainable Pace", which can be regarded as the most widely accepted definition: “Agile processes promote sustainable development. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”

As per Sustainable pace – “Sustainable Pace is not about taking it easy and going slow. It's just the opposite, you should expend energy vigorously, and regain strength by resting. In the long run, make sure you invest your energy wisely and set your priorities taking into account the findings of happiness research.”

A scrum team is a closed group consisting of the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the team. All three entities in the scrum team are aligned towards a single goal. In the scrum team, the scrum master will make sure that the team is focused and will protect the sprint from outer interferences. On the other hand, the product owner will align the prioritized requirements, so that the team has a lined up stories to work on. And the third entity in the Scrum Team is the development team who is focused on the delivery of the value to the stakeholder. The development team takes up the ‘actual work’ in terms of coding, testing, etc. As per the scrum.org “Development Team consists of professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable Increment of “Done” product at the end of each Sprint. A "Done" increment is required at the Sprint Review. Only members of the Development Team create the Increment.” The development teams are self-organizing and cross-functional, no one directs the Development Team how to turn Product Backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality. Specific Development Team members may have specific skills and areas of focus, but accountability lies to the Development Team as a whole.

Anyone from the team can add items to the backlog, there is no set rule for any role to add to the backlog. During the course of development, the team can find some requirements which were earlier not identified, they have the liberty to add that item to the backlog. Sometimes, the teams might identify some stories to improve the coverage or the quality, which is a good practice to follow. Keeping this addition to the backlog open for everyone in the teams ensures that we don’t miss the requirements even if it is low on the priority list. Though anyone in the team can add items to the backlog it is only the product owner who is responsible to prioritize the backlog and also the one who determines what happens to the product backlog item. In the grooming meeting, the team sits together with the product owner and goes through the backlog. Nowadays, the teams use online tools to help and create the backlog, this not only helps to work across the distributed teams but also helps in keeping things together. The sole intent of creating the backlog is to capture all the requirements at one place.

The Product Owner cannot be the Scrum Master for the delivery team. Both the Scrum Master and Product Owner are a full-time job and require strenuous efforts to fulfill their responsibilities. Also, the two have conflicting goals, as a scrum master, you will always try to help the team commit the optimum number of items as per the capacity but the product owner will just focus on delivering the maximum work. Also, the product owner is responsible for delivery but the Scrum master is not. In a case where a product owner plays a scrum master role, the scrum values and agile practices will take a back seat. The team becomes more pressurized to deliver the backlog items. The scrum master role is more on the process side and the product owner is towards the business end, mixing both the roles misbalances the transformation journey.

The sprint planning meeting is divided into two parts – committing the sprint items and creating the sprint backlog as per the capacity. During the first half of the meeting, the product owner should actively engage with the team to get the right stories being committed as per the market priority. The product owner can answer any open query the team has and can also talk about the expectations on the delivery. This role can also help the team in providing optimum estimates by clearing out any doubts. During the second half of the meeting where the team is creating tasks, the product owner might or might not attend as per the situation. If the team has all the queries resolved and they understand the priority, in this case, the product owner can step out and let the team create their tasks. But if there are few points for contention or the team feels they won’t be able to meet the goals, the product owner should be there to listen. Ideally, the sprint planning should be attended by the scrum team which is – the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the development team. Hence, everyone should be there to make it a success.

A product owner is a role in a product development team or a Scrum team who is responsible for the product backlog, making sure that it is up-to-date in terms of priorities and has the items which translate back to the vision. The Product Owner represents the business or user and is accountable for collaborating with the consumer to define what features will be in the product release. The Product Owner works with the stakeholders to get the right requirements, right in the sense, help the users to 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 up the trust. And at the other end, the Product Owner helps the delivery team/development team understand the vision and the requirements. Hence, this role is kind of a bridge between the two ends, holding tight the two corners and effectively enhancing the smooth communication. This role is really critical as it handshakes at both the ends – the development team and the stakeholders.

Product Owner role is much wider in its scope and comes with a lot more responsibility including researching market trends to fill gaps with a new product. A product owner is responsible for a particular product and works to grow it right from its inception stage to maturity with a vision. A business analyst, on the other hand, would work on parallel lines as a product owner, but, would be limited by the scope of the work.

Usually, a business analyst would be responsible for a particular section of the product and would work towards its requirements or coming up with ideas to improve or innovate the process pertaining to its scope. Both PO and BA have many similarities in terms of attributes such as strong relationship skills, ability to think outside the box and being clear on the expectations of the work. On the other hand, the Project Manager is the person who must ensure that the scope of a project is delivered against budget and timeframes agreed. This requires the Project Manager to create plans, negotiate budgets, resources, and track progress.

According to Roman Pichler, 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 of the person who champions the product, who facilitates the product decisions, and who has the final say about the product,” he says. “This includes if and how feedback is actioned, and which features are released.”

The role and responsibilities of a Product Owner are too deep so as to make sure he/she understands the core of the product and too wide that collaboration is done at 360-degree level, being a liaison and face of the user. Defining the vision - The Product Owner has the responsibility of creating a vision so that the development team clearly visualize the expected outcome by the user. Managing the product backlog - The most essential responsibility in a role a Product Owner is managing the product backlog. Today’s market is really dynamic, every customer wants to stay at the top of the new features being introduced. Even the items in the product backlog might require some movements due to changing priorities. Prioritizing needs - Making choices about the priority of product backlog items in order to deliver a maximum outcome. Anticipating client needs and acting as primary liaison.

The Product Owners are accountable to everyone involved in the product. They are accountable to the customers for quality product delivery, they have to make sure the requirements are translated well and there is a mutual understanding of the deliverables. The clients look up to the product owners for their requested work and the feedback loops to be taken care of by the product owners. In the same way, the product owners are accountable to the delivery team to make sure they have the right set of requirements to start their work with. Along with this, they are accountable for the milestones and the roadmap so that everyone talks the same language. They are even accountable to the management because of it the management who are dealing in terms of finances. The product owner is even accountable to their product backlog, to make it healthy! A lot goes into the accountability of the product owner, it’s like 360-degree accountability that they have performed. Whatever work the development team takes up, it is the accountability of the product owner and even making sure the team develops the right thing.

When the backlog is too big to be taken care of by a single product owner, there is a need for adding a person who can take care of the bigger picture. Hence the role of a release product owner comes up. For example, the team product owner works with the development team for feature delivery and in turn, the release product owner will work to formalize the release of those feature to the market. The feature product owner ensures the feature is well understood by the team and they also make sure, it gets delivered on time if there are no impediments. There can several features the team can be working on. The release product owner takes care at the higher level to consolidate the feature delivery through a release, they set the release dates, which can go from a month to six month time. The feature PO is more focused towards the team and collaborates with the delivery teams whereas the Release product Owner interacts with the team of product owners.

As defined in Scrum, the scrum team comprises of the development team, the scrum master and the product owner, so yes, the product owner is a crucial part of the scrum team. The product attends the scrum ceremonies with the development team and stays available throughout the sprint to assist the team members in terms of requirements. The product owner is part of the sprint planning to ensure the team commits the right work and also which adds value to the product. Throughout the sprint, the product owner may or may not join the daily scrum but will be there to assist. During the sprint demo, the product owner has to be there to accept/reject the work done during the sprint and also to provide feedback on the deliverables. The team along with the product owner also sits together for the backlog grooming where they brainstorm on the requirements and make it ready to be pulled up for commitment in the upcoming sprints. It is the product owner who acts as a bridge between the delivery teams and the client hence, it is an important role in the scrum team. Though this role might not be involved in the technical part they take care of the functional aspect.

Usually, the titles used in software development include Program Manager, Technical Program Manager, Technical Product Manager, Product Analyst, or Product Owner. Each of them has a common set of responsibilities, which have been defined below:

  • Creates and maintains the Product Backlog
  • Prioritizes and orders the Backlog as per the business value
  • Supports with the bifurcation of Epics, Themes, and Features into user stories that are small enough to be completed in a single sprint.
  • Delivers the Vision and Goals at the beginning of every Release and Sprint.
  • Epitomizes the customer, interfaces and involves the client.
  • Takes part in the daily Scrums, Sprint Planning Meetings, and Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives and another sync up meetings with the team.
  • Reviews the product development at the finish of every iteration
  • This role is the face of the Team to the outside world and should make sure that all methods of communications are open and that projects have the right amount of support required to succeed.
  • Dismisses a Sprint if it is found that a severe change in course is required

Yes, it is a full-time job, where the product owner works with the team sprint by sprint for effective delivery of the committed work. In the case of Release Product Owner, it again requires full-time involvement where they connect with the customers to understand their need and set expectations on the milestones and delivery. They work on managing the dependencies on the product which might extend to different teams, this requires a lot of effort because if any of the dependency goes unnoticed it impacts the overall release plan. They also work to keep the backlog stay up-to-date which ordered and prioritized requirements, this is a critical aspect as the client satisfaction is the key, they need to stay competitive in the market. Underestimating the role of the product owner or the release product owner can give a big set back to the teams and the organization, they should be given space to try out things and have them increase the collaboration with the customers and the teams.

Yes, for sure, if the product owner is missing the control, it will impact the overall product and even the work of the product owner. In this case, the product owner has to set up and understand the role and responsibility of being the PO for a scrum team. It might be a possibility that the product owner is not getting the space to work and his powers are being controlled. Hence, make sure that the person called the Product Owner actually OWNS the product. He has to create the product road map and set business goals for the upcoming quarters. As a product owner, you should have good communications flowing with the stakeholders along with good cooperation. The product owner has to work in enhancing the product backlog and keep it aligned with the market needs. It will be difficult for a product owner to handle messy backlog which lacks control.

Agile has helped the teams to manage changes within the development process. The Agile Manifesto talk about the ‘responding to change over following a plan’ and the Agile principle says ‘Welcome changing requirements’. The Agile team has to strike a balance between responding to change and working as per the sprint plan. If the change is being requested by the Product Owner, the team has to decide if they should accept it or not. Some of the deciding factors can be – the volume of change, if the change is too big, the team might ask the Product owner to break it into parts or commit the whole in the next sprint. Second, time of change, if it is inserted early in the sprint, the team consider it rather than in the end. Third, if the sprint commitments are getting changed or any new changes are introduced frequently, it should be addressed with the Product Owner.  Whatever might be case, it is a negotiation between the product owner and the development, the team gets to take the final call on the acceptance of change.

Advanced

The answer will vary a bit from candidate to candidate. If he is in a large organisation where there are multiple team working together on the same product lines, he will talk about his peers and coordination, the product line chain (something like Product Owner, Area PO, Product manager, Chief PM) or in case of distributed agile team, he will also talk about Proxy PO at off shore. If he is from a small organisation, he will talk about him directly discussing and coordinating with Business executive and Sales guys.

A Product owner is someone who focuses on product vision, roadmap and changing priorities. He does not give the solution. A Business analyst largely translates the product vision into solutions and at times recommends different ways or solutions. While Scrum does not requires a Business analyst, there is practise in many organisation to have a PO, who is focussed on product part and a BA, at times called as BA or even proxy PO, who is a techno-functional person who helps in defining then acceptance criteria, a solution etc.

MoSCoW is a Product backlog refinement technique, where Mo stands for Must be, S stands for Should be, Co stand for Could be and  W stands for Won’t be.

MoSCoW is a very basic prioritisation technique. Most of the PBI will be falling under Mo and S. An experienced PO would be using various other ways to differentiate between Mo and S. Popular one is WSJF – Weighted Shortest Job First. WSJF = Cost Of Delay / Job Size.

The answer will vary from candidate to candidate based on their exposure and the size of organisation they are working in. For a small organisation the PO might be directly involved in creating the roadmap however in large organisation, he would be someone whose input would be required.

Typically the answer would evolve around : Continuous exploration – Taking feedback after every release , checking how the features has been perceived by the market, analysing competitor’s offerings and our customers’ reaction to it. Not doing upfront design and freezing the requirements.  Having features variable for future releases and creating a roadmap which will follow Cone Of Uncertainty.

Cone of uncertainty shows, how much is known about the product over time. Its more variables and less fixed initially but as we move, it will have more fixed and less variable.

The answer may vary from person to person and organisation to organisation. If the person says that they spend 50% of their time on user research, that’s excellent. However, if a product owner says they spend 10% or less time, it’s not good. This means they are not doing enough customer exploration and feedback and might also be ignoring changing market condition.

When valuable new features are competing with bugs and technical debt in a product backlog, as a product owner, with every sprint, along with the features I will include a limited number of the most important bugs and the most pressing issues caused by technical debt. Based on the product, we can also have some basic thumb rule set for it, such as allocating 10% of the resources to bugs, 15% to technical debt and rest to new features.  

The best (and perhaps the only) way to deal with uncooperative stakeholders is to win their confidence by engaging them through regular meeting and discussions and demonstrating the value of agile product development. ID it still fails, the product owner should seek help from sponsor.

While team estimates the current sprint backlog, for future roadmap, which is highly flexible it is advisable, not to involve the team in estimation. The product line (Product manager, Product Owner etc) could do the rough estimation based on historical data.

It is very much required that the scrum team is aware of the changes happening in market place. It is one of the responsibility of the product owner. The PO does it continuously as a part of his informal interactions with development team and SM. He also does that through formal discussions and meetings.

No, it is not required to release every sprint. While deployment is a planning activity and could be per sprint or continuous, release is a business and strategic activity. The development team may continue to create a shippable product, the shipping is a business decision. The PO or the product manager will plan a release date , when it makes sense from business perspective.

Major stake holders with whom a Product Owner interacts are – Customers, Sponsors, Key decision makers, professionals, regulators.

 A PO can manage desire of various stakeholders by coordinating and collaborating with them through discussion while designing product roadmap, seeking their input and feedback in designing and defining Product backlog items and preparation of sprint events. A consistent and constant collaboration would help.

As a Product Owner, we should not out rightly reject any of ideas, nor can we accept all of them. Every idea that comes needs to be analysed. So ideation needs to be followed up with analysis. The analysis can be done in several ways like analysing through creating a prototype, working on pilot customers, based on experience etc. Based on the result of analysis, the idea should be added to the product backlog.

 Systems thinking means holistic thinking. It gives the complete view. For a Product Owner, it is very important to have the complete view of the product, then only he will be able to design a product vision. Also if he has in an environment where there is a complete product management line of product managers above him, a holistic view will help him to understand why there has been change in the Product roadmap and why he should adjust the product backlog items

That’s a great position . But with great position comes greater expectation. 

The answer of this question will unwrap the product owner inside a candidate. Different candidate may answer it differently. Someone may talk about adding new look and feel feature or adding UX (User Experience) etc, while few may talk about how gmail as a product would evolve, such as its integration to other existing product, or vice versa something like G-Pay integrated with Gmail or making it a one stop shop for all your needs – communication, collaboration, banking , shopping etc. This shows the vision of the person.

If the requirement is such that it may create new opportunity or help in gaining the market share for first mover (such as it happened for fintech companies like PayTM in India during demonetization announced by government in 2016), the product owner should act on it. The  Product Owner has the authority and can cancel the current sprint if he deems it fit, adds item to product backlog and reprioritize it.

 Yes. A DevOps team also works around a product. With automation, CI/CD, it becomes more important for DevOps team to understand business requirement and needs and then automate the delivery pipeline. The business need could not be understood correctly, and doubts answered without a Product Owner.

Next-gen product owner is not someone who just maintains and prioritize the product backlog with multiple features, next-gen PO is someone who plans how the whole product evolves and changes with time, how new product lines evolves from the same product branch and how it remains relevant and front runner with changing market and taste

Like any other entity, the sprint also has few properties like:

  • Timeboxing – Almost anything in a sprint is time-boxed, whether it is a ceremony or the sprint itself. Timeboxing allows the space for discipline and closed boundaries for any planned activity. It helps the team to focus, remember the good old days when the actual study would start the day exam dates are published?
  • Following a fixed time box in development creates a cadence, it also helps in gathering metrics on steady intervals, for instance, we calculate the velocity of the team every time box (Sprint).
  • Protected from any changes – Scrum says, once the team has made a commitment in the Sprint Planning, the scope of the sprint will be locked. Any changes in the commitment in terms of scope change is not encouraged. But if the change is small enough to be incorporated in a sprint, the team should pull it up as Agile Manifesto also talks about ‘Responding to Change over Following a Plan’
  • The maximum duration of a sprint should be a calendar month.

The product can only deliver value if it is aligned with the vision and goals. The Product vision defines the purpose of a Product, the intent with which the Product is being developed and what it aims to achieve for customers and users. When the product owner discusses the backlog with the development team, they refer to the order in the backlog which is based on the value. “The vision plays an important role in bringing a new product to life: It acts as the overarching goal guiding everyone involved in the development effort.” – Roman Pichler. Vision provides a high-level view of what the future product should look like, it helps the development teams shape the product in a way it meets the required goals, as set with the customer. The product owner helps the team in identifying the sprint goals which are in line with the product vision so that the teams can deliver maximum value to the customer. The vision and goals are even linked to the MVPs (Minimum Viable Product). In Agile, the vision statement becomes a guiding light, the “what we are trying to achieve” statement that the development team, scrum master, and stakeholders refer to throughout the project.

The vision forms the foundation of any product, it is something which encourages and inspires people to stay on the right path, hence it should be clear and firm; extensive and appealing. To list out few desired qualities of the vision, let’s look at the following points:

Clear and firm – The product vision should be easy to interpret and creates a common purpose for the teams. It should be able to give clarity on what’s in the future and it should not create confusion among the teams.

Extensive and appealing – It should provide a very high-level view of where we want to go, and also provides the development team with space to come up with ideas, to collaborative, to find solutions, to inspire to achieve more. It should encourage the team for better delivery in line with customer expectations.

Brief and concise – The vision is not something which involves long written paragraphs, it should contain only information critical to the realization of the product. It is not a list of requirements, hence, it should not cover the minute details. In simple terms, it should be short and sweet.

The scrum master role is very vast in nature, this role wears a wide variety of hat as and when required. At a high level, a scrum master is someone who will work with the Product Owner, help the team in sailing through the sprint smooth and work with the management in removing the impediments. Now, this is a high-level view but if you dive further into it, this will grow like an iceberg. This role is very crucial and important for the team in making a successful delivery. The Scrum Master serves as a facilitator for both the Product Owner and the team. The scrum will help the product owner in prioritization and slicing of the features or the user stories, the scrum master can even use a few tools available to help the PO with backlog alignment. For the team, the scrum master will work to remove the impediments faced by the teams. Along with the delivery, the scrum master also makes sure that the agile team lives by the agile values and principles and follows the processes/practices that the team agreed to use. As per Mike Cohn – ‘The Scrum Master is often considered a coach for the team, helping the team do the best work it possibly can. The Scrum Master can also be thought of as a process owner for the team, creating a balance with the project's key stakeholder, who is referred to as the product owner’.

Whenever there is a need from the client or the customer, it has to be captured in some form, here we can talk about product backlogs, and we capture the requirements in the form of user stories. It is one of the techniques where the stories are added to the product backlog. The User Story is a tool used in Agile software development to capture a description of a software feature from an end-user perspective. It defines the type of user, what they want and why they want it, also it helps to create a basic portrayal of a requirement. A user story template often uses the following type of format:

As a <role>, I want <feature> so that <reason>

The user stories are short enough to be accommodated in a sprint if not, they are further broken down into smaller pieces. It is written in a language which is understandable to both the client and the team, it is then the job of the agile team to take care of how to develop the code that will satisfy the requirements of the user story. To accomplish this, regular and close interaction is required from both the parties – the client and the team.

Non-functional requirements play an important role in the overall product development and delivery. These are the requirements without which the functional part cannot be termed as complete. Let’s first understand what a non-functional requirement is, “Nonfunctional Requirements (NFRs) define system attributes such as security, reliability, performance, maintainability, scalability, and usability. They serve as constraints or restrictions on the design of the system across the different backlogs.” – Scaledagile. There are different ways of handlings such requirements, like:

  1. Create user stories in the backlog – The non-functional requirements can be similar to “constraints” we put on the system. It can be written in the same format as the usual user story.
  2. Inclusion in DoD – The team can add these requirements as part of their definition of Done. If it is one of the parameters in the definition, it will make sure the NFR doesn’t get missed out and the team can keep track of it along with the original story.
  3. Acceptance Criteria – Non-functional requirements may also be articulated as part of Acceptance criteria which are circumstances that a product must fulfill to be accepted by a user, customer or other stakeholders.

Prioritization as a norm means “doing the first thing first”. Globally, the teams have been using several methods or techniques for backlog prioritization. It is really important that they understand few techniques that can help in way of prioritization such as MoSCow, where a list of requirements or user stories are categories into – Must Have, Should Have, Could Have and Won’t Have. Once the classification is done into the 4 groups, the requirements are graded in order of preference within each category. Another method of prioritization is the 100-Dollar Test or Cumulative Voting, in this method, the stakeholders are invited for a prioritization meeting and to make a list of options to be prioritized. All the stakeholders are given a finite amount of virtual entities (dollars, points, etc) which has to be divided among the given options (user stories, requirements, etc.) After that one can calculate the total units for each requirement. There’s another model which is comparatively more simple and effective – Stack Ranking. In Stack Ranking we consider each backlog item and place it in order of priority. The best part of this method is there can only be one number one, hence, helps to avoid a common issue where everything becomes a very high priority.

When the product backlog is being prioritized, there might be some factors which come in way of doing it effectively. To list out some, first can be, the time needed for completion, though the item is on high priority the development needs time to complete it and it is not fitting in a sprint. In this case, the product owner has to grill out the most important part of the requirement to be shipped first. Then we can have, Correlative or conditional relationship between urgently required tasks and other tasks. There may be dependencies between the urgently required tasks and other tasks in the pipeline. The team cannot deliver the prioritized requirement before resolving the dependencies. Another one can be, timeframe given by customers for feedback is not enough for the teams keeping in consideration the slippage. Even sometimes the customer emphasis is too much that the product owner has to guide the customer on what market needs are and how to get maximum return. Even the customers sometimes need direction to follow, this is where the product owner can pitch in.

In agile, we talk about the quality at all stages in contrast to the waterfall where attention to quality was being given more towards in the beginning part of the SDLC rather than later on. We make sure that in Agile, we have certain checkpoints to make sure whatever goes out, is as the quality standard. And hence, we set the definition of done where we set the parameters on quality. This definition of done is made as per the agreement between the team and the stakeholders and is fixed for a sprint (at the minimum). The stories committed by the team can only be marked as complete once it meets the criteria defined in the definition of done. In the definition of done, the team can set unit testing, code review, coverage, etc. as the parameters, if the team is working on accessibility, they can add the criteria in terms of compliance. Hence, the quality is frozen at the initial level so that whatever requirement is shipped, it should adhere to the set norms. In the same way, we can have a quality backlog to be entering into the sprints with the help of definition of ready.

When we have the data points from the historic velocity of the teams, we then can predict how much they can deliver in the upcoming sprints. In a release plan, we talk about the next three to six (or whatever is the release schedule) which comprises of the sprints. With the help of the historic data can align sprint with the numbers and subsequently can total out the effort the team can put in. “The release plan helps you track the development from sprint to sprint, anticipate if the relevant product backlog items can be delivered on time and budget (or how long it will take and how much it will cost), and to make the necessary adjustments, such as, reduce or remove a feature, or add a new team member to the team.” – Roman Pichler. If the teams’ average velocity is 30, we can say in the upcoming release which has six sprints, the team can take up the work worth of 180 points. With the release planning, we can even tell ahead of time what will be the dependencies which might crop with during the development phase. The release plan differs from organization to organization but the essential part of the planning of iterations.

Canceling a sprint usually happens when there is a drastic change in the priorities which means something which was earlier measured as important has moved down in the priority list and something with the critical priority has come up. If the requirements which were earlier considered as a high priority have been marked as low, will automatically impact the committed items in a sprint. Hence there is no point in continuing any further. It is actually not a good practice to cancel the sprint very often because in this case, it implies that the stakeholders or the product owner do not have the clarity on what exactly are they looking for. They are not able to prioritize the backlog and might need some help. There is a misconception that the sprint can only be canceled by the product owner, which is not true. The product owner can make a call to cancel the sprint but the other factors are also to be taken into consideration. Once the sprint has been canceled, the first thing that the team will do is – Planning for the new sprint.

In the role of a product owner, only managing the backlog is not the only job, the product owner wears different hats at different times to make this role a success. Product development encompasses tons of discussions with clients, with the development teams and with the leadership. Having a product owner playing a facilitator comes into the picture to ensure the team has a collective outlook on what needs to be done and getting the clients to have the right expectations on the output. The product owner can be visionary for the teams and they look up to this role to provide the product vision and help them stay focused to achieve it. For sure, the product owner drives the product for successful delivery, he/she will ensure teams are pulling up the right work and coordinates with the clients ensuring the alignment on the expected delivery. Being in a role of a product owner does not only involve a comprehensive understanding of the product but it also demands the analytical, strategic skills and needs to comprehend the company’s technology and interface with the development team in order to successfully lead the approach for the product.

The product owners wear multiple hats in during their role, hence, there can be many titles which they can write on their business card. As they are the owners of a business or the product, the best-suited title can be similar to the highest ranks we have in an organization, like Product Captain, Business Marshall, Product Magnate. The product owners create a vision for the team and help them walk the path towards attaining the desired goal, hence, the title can even be a Visionary, Servant Leader or Goal Keeper. They are often aligned with the strategic design of the roadmaps which makes them a Strategic Thinker or System Thinker. With the product development, the backlog over a period of time gets some in innovative ideas from the product owner which are liked by the clients too, and even the team works on them for launch, in such a case the title can be of an Innovator. There can be several titles a product owner can have on their business card, it all depends on how creatively a person can think of.

In scrum, the product owner is the face of the client or the customer, hence the person playing the role will have the authority over the product being developed. The decision of what all will go into the release and when it should go is taken the product owner. Yes, the product owner has the veto over the release of user stories. This applies to all the business requirements or defects being delivered. But the only thing which the product owner cannot decide is the technical debt. It is the developer who takes the ownership and releases with the product. The release dates and the release candidates are pre-decided the product owner well in advance so that the teams can get time to develop and deliver. The product owner can accept or reject the user stories if they don’t meet the acceptance of the expectations.

As everyone in the agile teams, the Product Owner also has few challenges to tackle with, let’s talk about a few of them:

  • Missing product roadmap - Product Owners should create a product roadmap based on research, business standards, and best practices instead of constructing product features exclusively from a client’s customization requests.
  • High-level acceptance criteria – The Product Owners should you INVEST model to create the structure. If the story is too much detailed, the team will fell that their questions are settled and there will be no room for discussion.
  • Spending too much time in dealing with product support instead of grooming the backlog
  • Changing priority while sprint is in progress

Product Owners can escape these usual snares by working around the product roadmap, centering on high-value backlog items, defining crisp acceptance criteria, concentrating on grooming quality backlog item, and avoiding disturbing sprints.

As per the Scrum guide “A Scrum Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Development Team." To meet this statement a product owner has to participate in several activities, talk to the stakeholders, do research work, etc. The product owner has to attend a meeting with the team which is planning or pre-planning or any of the scrum ceremonies. To make sure the product owner adding value to these meetings with his presence, he/she has to spend a lot of time talking to various stakeholders and understand their problems and area of work. They also capture the metrics related to the product backlog to understand the state and use for reporting. They speak with UX designers or the Architect to identify how we can improve the system to remove the customer pain area. During the course of the day, the teams contact the product owner to clarify the doubts on requirements. Apart from this, there will be status update meetings for each project. Along with all this, the product owner has to keep the backlog healthy and prioritized.

As per the Scrum Guide “The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from work of the Development Team”. To meet this, the product owner has to have mastery in many areas but only a few can be termed as critical because that is something which is a ‘must-have’ for this role. First, the product owner should have the ‘Business Analyst’ skill for concisely and correctly defining requirements but also have the domain knowledge and business knowledge to be a decision-maker to determine and prioritize what those requirements should be. Domain knowledge is the core subject for any product owner to master in their area and also know the market and how the workflows are one of the critical skills required. Second, “Project Management” skills to make good risk-based decisions on managing the project to make it successful from an overall business perspective (not simply meeting defined requirements). The person opting for the product owner role has to strike a balance between these two provides the team with the optimum work.

The role of a product owner demands a few basic skills like, good communication skills – this is the most important skill as the product owner has to work with the delivery teams and with the stakeholders. This role serves as a bridge to fill up the communication gap, the Product Owner needs to work with the clients to comprehend their idea and with the development team to bring it to actuality. If they are not communicating efficiently, things can go crooked in no time. The product owner should be able to clearly communicate the vision between the backlog items and the greater business goal. Hence, the person should be able to see the vision and how it aligns with the backlog. Another important skill entails around guiding the clients and setting their expectation correct. Sometimes, the customers can demand something which might not be feasible, hence the product owner should be able to say no. And lastly, they should possess curiosity, the person should be ready to learn and ask ‘why’ for things being developed or should be able to ask ‘why’ to the clients as well. This way they can understand the business rules better and can create a better vision of what the final product should be.

As discussed earlier as well, the product owner is the face of the customer, hence, it is really important for the product owner to stay in constant contact to understand the vision better and take updates on the product. The frequent interactions allow the product owner to stay up-to-date with feedback, market situations or any change in the requirement. This not only helps the product owner but it also builds a level of trust and confidence among the customers. In a few of the organizations, this interaction is being handled by the product managers, thus, these two roles can fill in the gap wherever required. The regular interactions also help in aligning the expectations from the customers, the product owner can, from time to time, showcase the developed product and ask for the feedback. In this manner, if something was missed out in the initial discovery phase that can be catered now. If we talk about scrum, there are no product managers, but in agile, we have product managers sitting above the product owners and looking at the product at a higher level. The product managers are more into the market side whereas the product owner’s involvement is more with the development team.

As we have been discussing, the role of a product owner is really critical and to make it successful, this role requires support from all ends, like management. The management can direct all the work for the teams through the product owner so that the incoming of items is from a single channel, thus, minimizing the haphazard behavior in teams.  Backing the product owner to make acceptance decisions during each sprint. The management can give feedback on product backlog content, priorities, and dates with a clear purpose. Development Leadership can assist the Product Owner in helping key stakeholders to understand and accept the need for making balanced choices on dates and/or feature content steady with definite team capacity. Apart from this, the management can help through coaching and skill-building activities so that the person in this role can enhance the competencies.

Each organization is different and so is their structure. With an organization with a product management group in place, the product owners can report to the product managers. But in an organization which is just starting up the practice of Scrum might not have a full-fledged hierarchy in Agile, hence, in this type of structure the product owners usually report to someone who is a level up in position, it can be the senior manager or the director. In case of SAFe environment, there is a proper structure with product group in place. Ideally, the product owner reporting should be made in such a way that they get full space on creating the vision, for innovations. It should bring out the best from the product owner role rather than diminishing its influence. The organizations need to understand accept the importance of this role, hence, the reporting structure should not hinder the product.

The success of the product owner depends on how much invested the person in this role feels and he/she understands the true meaning of being a product owner. But to measure the success, we can define some parameters like:

  • Strength of Product Backlog – If the product backlog stays healthy with prioritized items and has good user stories to worked upon by the teams.
  • Constant delivery of Value – Whatever the teams are delivering by the end of the sprints, should be adding value to the clients.
  • Attaining of Release Goals – At the start of a release, whatever the items teams commit should reach the end line. The goals should be met.
  • Understanding of Product Vision by team members – The delivery team is able to understand and comprehend the vision from the product owner, they should be able to understand why are they creating the product, what value is it going to add to the customers.
  • Defining a successful Product Roadmap is again important for the realization of the release goals.
  • Lastly, the customer is satisfied.

There can be many parameters to access the success of this role, every organization has its own set of KPIs for it. But most importantly it should the collaboration between the product owner and the teams plus the product owner and the customer.

Very large products need a complete product management team to deliver the working product through multiple teams, in this case, the product is divided into verticals which are being taken care of by different product owners. But if the product is small and can be delivered by smaller teams, a single product owner can suffice. In this case, the Product Owner will act as a single point of contact and can be the face of the client as compared to large products. Single product owner with smaller teams have a high rate of efficiency and delivery due to clarity in vision and goals, there is a lot of transparency among the scrum team and the stakeholders. In a few instances, the RPO may also act as team PO for one of the Scrum Teams with the help from other team Product owners on other delivery Teams. Having a product owner caters to multiple teams impacts the team functioning as they have to wait for the availability of the PO, along with this even the product owner has to ensure they are giving enough time to multiple teams.

The technical product owner is not a role but it describes a person in a Product Owner role with a technical background and who works on a technology product. And business-focused product owners are more towards the functional aspect. It is always good to have a product owner with technical knowledge, they can understand the product and can create a strategy for successful delivery. Also, if the Product Owner has the technical background, they can understand the technical blockers or impediments and accordingly visualize the impact on the release. But technical knowledge is just good to have, there is no expectation that the product owner should have it as an essential skill. Also having a technical background doesn’t mean that they have to jump in the code or work around the architecture. In the case of business-focused product owner, they totally rely on the development team for all the technical discussion and decisions. This helps the team to become self-organized, even the Agile principle says “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. Nowadays we have started noticing the openings for a technical product owner, wherein the organization needs Product Owners to understand the company’s technology at a deep level.

Yes, if there is a single PO, can also take care of the RPO role, which is Release Product Owner. As there is only one person taking up the responsibility, the product owner will perform the duties towards the scrum team and also towards a higher role, let us see what an RPO does and what are the essential responsibilities:

  • Creating a clear statement of vision, direction, release purpose and goals
  • Managing overall Product Backlog and publishing the Product Backlog so that the teams can pull the work items in their release commitment.
  • The features should be mapped with product roadmap to make sure the end result builds up as expected.
  • Once the initial set of requirements are up, talk to the stakeholder and get their buy-in on Product Backlog
  • Prioritization of Product Backlog and keeping it healthy throughout.
  • Prepare appropriate Product Backlog to drive release planning
  • Working on getting the ongoing release plan forecasting maybe for six months or a years’ time (as per the organization and client delivery expectations)
  • Deployment & release readiness checklist
  • Market launch split out to Product Management

When the organizations open the position of a product owner, it is the product management team who helps the recruitment team in getting the right candidate. They access the candidate on their domain knowledge and analytical skills. The candidate might even be required to go through where he or she can meet their cross-location counterpart. If the organization does not have a set product management team, the senior management can come into the picture and work with the recruitment team to get the best candidate. In some rare cases, where the teams are very mature, they themselves can be a part of getting their own product owner. As we have been discussing so far, every organization is different and so is their structure, it all depends on how they function. But majorly, the person who has good domain expertise and knows how to judge the other essential skills should be made to access the candidate.

Every organization is different, they have their own hierarchy. Scrum does not provide any ground rule on the reporting structure for the product owner. In large organizations where the product is fairly big, they have product managers at the highest level, who are the main owners of the product. At the team level, they have product owners who constantly stay in touch with the product managers. In this case, the product owners will be reporting to the product managers. But as stated before, there is no set criteria or hierarchy being followed at the organizations. Some even align the associates as per their position e.g. product owner at the lead level will report to someone at the manager level.

“As a Product Owner, your job is not to manage 'resources' or 'tasks'. Your job is to maximize the value of your product! To create those features that deliver the most value for the products' users! In order to maximize the value of your product, you don't have to manage stuff like tasks, what people do on a daily basis, what the progress of the team is in a Sprint.”- Scrum.org

Every role in Scrum is aligned to an area, like the development team takes care of the technicalities, code, quality, etc. in the same way the scrum master helps the team to deliver and stay focused in the same way the product owner has to take care of the business side. This role focuses on the business aspect, and hence connects with the stakeholders to define the exact requirements and passes on to the team for development. They have to understand the business, how it functions and how the market situation is. Therefore, it is all about the business, a product owner belongs to.

As the name suggests, the Product Owner is the owner of the single product. The product owner focuses on the given product by constantly being in touch with the customers and through the expertise in the market understanding. Aligning a PO for multiple projects will impact the quality of deliverable and it will also affect the individual playing the role of a PO. The focus gets divided, the time also gets broken down between different parties which in turn creates a mess for the product owner. It is not advisable to align one product owner with multiple projects as it also affects the strategy and timeline for the project. It is like asking an author to write two books at the same time, it is difficult to justify the efforts and we end up with chaos. It is difficult to multi-task, manage multiple stakeholders, manage his/her throughput of deliverables across products, prioritize the tasks across product teams, etc. Though few of the organizations are aligning their Product Owners to more than one product, again, it then depends on their ability to deliver the right thing.

The product owner role has a large number of responsibilities, which can be broken down into tasks that can actually keep the product owner-occupied for full-time. Ideally, it is not advisable to have a product owner is not available for the team half of the time. But in cases where they have a Part-Time product owner, they have to support a lot. There will be a few tasks which the team has to take over, like brainstorming alone as a team without the product owner and coming up with the queries. They might even have to do follow-ups which could have been taken care if they had a full-time product owner. Part-time product owner also becomes a challenge as the timely feedback from the client might not be possible all the time. In such cases, the team can take help from the BA (Business analyst) who can work as a proxy to help the team move forward. The BA can connect a regular interval to seek guidance from the Product owner. Usually, in cases where the teams do not have their product owner co-located, they take support from the BAs.

The Product owner can very well increase the value the team delivers. Continuous interaction is one of the factors that contribute to maximum value being delivered. Other factors can be –

  • Domain Training – Investing time in teaching the development team about the domain, helping them understand the business and how it works.
  • Vision – Taking out time explain the vision for the product and the organization.
  • Value Delivery – Making the team understand the value being delivered at the story level. How the story can impact the overall product? How can the team deliver the highest value item? As a product owner, you should have these discussions with the team.

These not only encourages the team and helps them own the product but it also helps the overall business.

“Teams need to understand who does what and how the various work fits together. This becomes even more important as companies grow.” - Brian de Haaff. The product owner role is really critical in an organization as it helps in translating the requirements to final products. As we have been discussing so far, it is a full-time job which requires constant collaboration with the clients, pulling up the feedbacks, working on the backlogs, helping the teams, etc. But if someone with an existing job title tries to fill in, he or she will not be able to justify the role and in turn, the product and the team suffers. There might be delays in the feedback loops, the vision and roadmap might not get clear to the team, even the backlog suffers as it requires continuous attention. It is not advisable to take someone with already a title to play this role. The organizations need to focus on quality and time to market to stay up-to-date, hence, a person with dual role might not be able to substantiate such expectation from the role. Also, it will impede his or her efficiency in their former role. Though, in very small organizations where the team size is small and the teams are directly interacting with the clients, in those cases, this dual role can work.

In Agile, there is no rule on the ratio of the product owner and the scrum teams. A product owner is aligned with a single product and this person takes care of keeping it healthy. It might be a possibility that multiple teams are aligned to deliver that product, in this case, it will be overwhelming for the product owner to take care of all the teams, answering their queries, sitting in their planning meetings, etc. In real-life scenarios, we try to align maximum of 3 – 4 teams per product owner, if it exceeds the number, one can have proxy product owners who can indirectly help the main product owner to manage the product and teams. With proxy product owners, there will be a need for coordination and alignment. All the proxy owner will need to stay in sync with the main product owner so as to achieve the desired results. Though it is encouraged to have a single Product Backlog and a single PO being responsible for return-on-investment when developing one product. Having a single Product Owner creates transparency and enables proper empiricism. It also depends on the size of the product, if it is too large, it should be broken down further to create sub-products and those should be aligned with different product owners.

“A distant product owner works separately from the team. But distance comes in many forms and degrees. It starts with working on the same site in different rooms, and it ends with the product owner and the team being separated across continents and time zones. I have found recurring issues with distant product owners, including mistrust, miscommunication, misalignment, and slow progress.” – Roman Pichler

To work with a distant product owner, the team has to stay in constant communication to avoid any gaps in the information being processed. Distant product owners should be on-site at least for the sprint planning, review, and retrospective meetings. They should have frequent video conferencing to help with face-to-face interactions, this not only instills confidence but also helps with getting the right product shipped. The teams having ‘Distant Product Owners’ should resolve their queries as and when they receive because any lag will cost them time in a sprint. It is always better to move from Distant to Co-located product owner as they are available runtime to answer the queries and help the teams follow the goal.

To become a product owner, there are no formal degrees that are being awarded but we do have certifications which an individual can go for. There are multiple platforms providing knowledge and certifications such as Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org or ScaledAgile. There are different levels of certification starting from basic to advanced. Each of them designed to cater to certain needs of the individual. The scrum.org provides Professional Scrum Product Owner I and Professional Scrum Product Owner 2. If you are working on a scaled environment, you can opt for SAFe® Product Owner/Product Manager certification. The training is of two days, during which the attendees will get an in-depth understanding of the Agile Release Train (ART), how it delivers value, and what they can do to effectively perform their role. Even though an individual acquires the certification still the in-built skills are the foundation of being a great product owner.

Every role demands some skills to meet the expectations of the position. In Agile, the role of a product owner is very important to keep the inputs and outputs up to the mark. Few of the essential skills to be competent product owners are:

  1. Communication - It is predominantly critical for the Product Owner to have good communication skills that can adapt to different teams and behavior types. The Product Owner needs to work with the business to understand their vision and the development team to bring it to reality.
  2. Commitment - The Product Owner should be committed to the project, vision, team and the business.
  3. Vision - In connection with communication, the Product Owner should clearly communicate the vision between the small backlog items and the larger business goal.
  4. Focus on functionality - A Product Owner has a focus on functionality, hours or even story points are less important. The goal of the Product Owner is to maximize value for the customer.
  5. Available - A Product Owner is available for the stakeholders, the customers, the development team and the Scrum Master.

People skills are a must, relationship building, conflict management, client relationship management, vision, understanding requirements, clearly communicating the requirements to the team, and other skills are needed. These are many of the responsibilities/skills that POs must have to be successful. Yes, all the critical skills required to be a product owner should be in a single person.

One has to have control over the product backlog to be a credible product owner. The primary and critical responsibility of the product owner is to keep the backlog healthy and updated with prioritized requirements. If the product owner has no control then the team will not get the right direction on what is to be developed. They will not understand the vision and goals of the product. Even it will impact the customers very hard, as they will not get what they expect to. No control also means anyone can add or edit the requirements which might or might not be in sync with the customer. The backlog will look like a bunch of random things thrown together. One cannot see the product development strategy behind the Product Backlog Items which gain is a big risk to the development. The product backlog is the backbone for any scrum team, if it goes out of shape, the team and the customer will not get any output from the efforts they are putting in. The Product Backlog eventually outlines the accomplishment of the product and assists as a master plan for the Scrum Team.

It is not always possible that the product owner agrees to what the team has developed. If the team has delivered the story/feature as per the acceptance criteria mentioned and has covered all the scenarios around that feature, then we can ask the product owner to accept the story/feature and anything which is not covered will be taken up in the new feature or a new story. But in the case where the product owner is not agreeing to the feature you delivered and it was part of the acceptance criteria then the product owner has all the rights to not accept the item. In this case, the team can take this up as the retrospective point as to where they missed, how it got shaped in a different way. The team should introspect what went well and how can they make it better. They should again set up a meeting with the product owner to get a clear understanding of the requirements so that they do not deviate from what is expected.

One of the primary responsibilities of the product owner is to make the team aware of the market demands and how the priorities get realigned due to market situations. The product owner provides a clear vision and sprint goals to the team to help them stay updated with the product. If there is any change in the backlog with respect to new requirements or priorities, it should be communicated to the teams. This helps the team to understand the bigger picture and what exactly is expected from them at that moment. The team even feels connected and understand their role critically. It ensures that the team is building the right product and consequently delivering the ROI anticipated. There might be cases where the backlog aligned for a sprint gets scraped off just because it is no longer required due to a fragile market situation, in this case, the product owner can terminate the sprint. The product owner is the voice of the outside world to the team and should ensure that all channels of communications are open and the team is very well understanding the market situations.