The Product Owner is a value optimiser who turns the client’s needs into value. In Scrum, you create value at the end of each sprint by providing a new product, the increment. In addition to this role there are two other roles within Scrum; the Scrum Master and the Development Team. Earlier we explained the differences between the role of a Scrum Master versus that of a Product Owner. Having someone who provides high quality in this role is crucial in order to deliver a valuable product to the client.
The range of tasks
A Product Owner has a versatile range of tasks, focused on both his/her development team and the broader organisation. The core tasks of this person are:
- Forming a vision for the product which the team works on
- Decision-making about the relevance of the work items and saying ‘no’ to stakeholders
- Prioritising all the wishes and questions from stakeholders and clients
Without a vision, there is no valuable product
Before the team can start with the development work, you need a vision. This vision consists of the client’s wishes, discussions with stakeholders and/or clients. A Product Owner retrieves information from inside and outside the organisation. This requires the Product Owner to have a strong network from which valuable information can be retrieved.
When the Product Owner has enough input, a vision is created for the product to be delivered. The sprints are the guiding principle for outlining the first steps towards development. The sprint is a forecast, or in other words a short-term plan for the product. The plan consists of the work items that a Product Owner represents on the product backlog (the work list).
In order to keep the process uncomplicated and streamlined, there is one Product Owner per product, with one backlog. This backlog is clear to the team at all times. This ensures transparency about both the team’s shared vision and its work process and steps.
Making difficult deliberations
Within complex organisations, there are a lot of choices to be made, such as: which work items should we deal with first? Which ones deliver the most value at the moment? What should we do after? Which team is best placed to deal with this? Does a stakeholder’s question tie in with my vision? The Product Owner’s mandate is crucial here, without it he/she can’t make any decisions and the team will suffer under a lack of control over content.
In response to the vision, he/she will indicate to the stakeholders what is and isn’t taken up by the team. This requires strong decisiveness and communication skills from a Product Owner. It is thus a constant deliberation about who will be informed when, and in which form, about advances within the team.
The Product Owner has primary responsibility for the product backlog. Updating and keeping up with this work list is an important and time-consuming task. In order to ensure that the team always works on items that deliver the most value at that moment, the Product Owner must carry out a number of tasks with respect to the Product backlog:
- Prioritise the backlog items in line with the product vision and objectives
- Design the product backlog items, detailed in user stories during refinement meetings
- Ensure the transparency and availability of the backlog for the team and the organisation
- Ensure that the backlog items are understood within the development team (by means of refinement meetings)
‘A good Product Owner is crucial in order to deliver a valuable product to the client.’
Together we stand strong
The Product Owner can delegate the work to the product backlog, but this person does maintain final responsibility. A Scrum Master coaches the Product Owner in this process. The Scrum Master also ensures that the team is not disturbed by the Product Owner or stakeholders, in order to focus on performing the work.
Stakeholders that want to change an item on the product backlog must allow this to be done by the Product Owner, who can then adjust the priorities where needed. A good and efficient cooperation between the Product Owner, Scrum Master and development team is crucial here.
So all in all the role has a very varied range of tasks and responsibilities. This person thus has a big influence on the substantive work of the development team. If you want to read and learn more, grab the Scrum Guide!
To find out more, take a look at the training webpage.
About the author: Renate Cremer
Renate is a certified Scaled Agile Program Consultant and is thus qualified to teach and examine all Scaled Agile courses: SAFe Agilist (SA), SAFe Practitioner (SP), SAFe PM/PO (SPMPO), SAFe Scrum Master (SM). She is also qualified to teach, facilitate and examine for Agile Scrum Foundation (Exin), Professional Product Owner (PSP01) and Professional Scrum Master (PSM1) by Scrum.org and is DISC certified. Her interest in human behaviour, development and growth originates in a background as a work and organisational psychologist and a specialisation in Training & Development.