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Insights / Agile Transformation / What Is the Role of a Product Owner?

March 23, 2018

What Is the Role of a Product Owner?

3 mins read

One of the most glorious things about Scrum is that anyone can do it. While that’s a statement with no strings attached, it doesn’t mean anyone that buys my book for six easy payments of $79.99 can implement Scrum on their team. It means that with some observation and a little independent study, anyone can become part of a Scrum team and actively participate. However, in order to operate at maximum effectiveness, a Scrum team should have its core roles filled by individuals that are knowledgeable and experienced. One of those key roles is the Product Owner. Let’s break down just what this person does on the Scrum Team.

The Product Owner on a Scrum Team

Every Scrum team has their own understanding of the role. If you were to ask several people what a Product Owner does, you would likely get as many answers as people you asked the question. “The Product Owner maintains the Product Backlog” and “the Product Owner gives us the list of needs to be implemented” are some of the answers you are likely to hear.

However, to define a Product Owner this way misses the very essence of what a Product Owner is and what he or she is supposed to do. While those statements are technically correct, a Product Owner’s primary responsibility is to maximize the value of the product delivered based on the Product Vision. To do this the Product Owner represents the needs of the customer by keeping key capabilities and desired outcomes in mind, which keeps the team on track towards delivering the best possible solution.

Becoming a Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO)

The CSPO certification is acquired by taking a course from a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). During a well taught CSPO class, attendees gain a thorough understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the Product Owner. This includes:

  1. Working with stakeholders, end users, and customers to understand needs and goals and answer questions.
  2. Defining and refining the Product Vision, Product Roadmap, Release Plans, and the Product Backlog.
  3. Communicating stakeholder needs to the Scrum team, answering their questions, and validating the product.
  4. Presenting Product Increments to the stakeholder, end users, and customers to ensure the team is building the right thing.

All of this happens continually to ensure the team is building effective solutions.

The CSPO course differs from the Certified Scrum Master® (CSM) course. While it does provide an overview of Scrum to establish a common understanding, the main focus is the role of the Product Owner, diving into vision, planning, forecasting, prioritization, and product backlog creation and refinement.

The CSPO is an interactive learning experience that cannot be effectively replicated by reading a blog (like this one!) or watching a video. Individuals that complete the course and earn their certification can be relied upon to know how to facilitate communication with both the stakeholders and the team to deliver the best possible solution to their customers.

Is That All?

While getting your CSPO certification is a good first step, it won’t magically make you an effective Product Owner. As is often the case, experience is crucial. But beyond experience, being a great Product Owner requires several key traits including bandwidth to do the job, decision-making power, subject matter expertise, passion and an understanding of the product vision.

Having the requisite subject matter expertise allows the Product Owner to speak intelligently for the user community which helps the team build the right features. Being available to share this knowledge with the team and answer their questions is equally as important. And without the authority to make decisions, the team’s hard work may never get to see the light of day.

What other traits do you think are key to effective product ownership? How else would you describe the role?

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