Scrum Roles – Product Owner

The Product Owner is a key role in Scrum, but many organisations struggle to effectively apply it. As the name suggests, a product owner should “own” the product; he is responsible for ensuring that the product creates value for its customers and users as well as the company providing it.

The primary goal of a product owner is to represent the needs and desires of the stakeholder community to an agile delivery team, being the first source of information about the problem domain for the team. Each agile team, or in the case of large programmes an agile subteam, has a single product owner to go to for information and prioritization of their work and they do so right away. A secondary goal for a product owner is to represent the work of the agile team to the stakeholder community. In traditional terms, a product owner is in many ways an empowered business analyst.

Part of the product owner responsibilities is to have a vision of what he or she wishes to build, and convey that vision to the scrum team. This is key to successfully starting any agile software development project. The agile product owner does this in part through the product backlog, which is a prioritized features list for the product.

Is important to note that although a Product Owner says what features needs to be implemented first, he never interferes with the team planning. The Scrum team selects the features to implement for each sprint, according to their velocity and feature priority; the Product Owner cannot push more features in a sprint just because he wants them faster. Team members know best what they are capable of, and so they select which user stories from the top of the product backlog they can commit to delivering during any sprint.

As a reward for the Scrum team's commitment to completing the selected user stories from the top of the product backlog, the Product Owner ensures that no new requirements are introduced during the sprint. Requirements are allowed to change (and change is encouraged) but only outside the sprint. Once the team starts on a sprint, it remains focused on the goal of that sprint.

Communication is a large part of the product owner responsibilities. The product owner role requires working closely with key stakeholders throughout the organization and beyond, so he or she must be able to communicate different messages to different people about the project at any given time. The reality is that the product owner can't possibly know all the details known by the true range of stakeholders at all points in time and as a result he or she will need to bring stakeholder experts to the team to share their expertise with the team at appropriate times. The implication is that the Product Owner isn't always the direct source of requirements.