Scrum Product Owner: Role & Responsibilities

Instructor: Stephen Meyer

Stephen has worked as a Project Manager and is PMP certified, as well as certified by the Scrum Alliance.

Projects need a clear vision and a firm decision-maker to communicate that vision. In Scrum, the product owner casts the vision for the project. Learn the responsibilities and understand the product owner role.

Scrum Roles Defined

Kate's company has recently transitioned to Scrum, the most common version of Agile project methodology. She has been asked to take on the role of product owner and is excited for the opportunity because she's been involved with Scrum teams before and knows that the success of a project often starts with the product owner. Before she accepts the position, she wants to go over the role and responsibilities to make sure everyone has the same expectations. She plans to discuss these in specific detail, but the first thing she does is go over the various Scrum roles. These roles include the following:

  • Product owner - decision-maker for a project; literally owns the product and decides what it should be
  • Development team - creates and tests the product requested
  • Scrum master - helps the development team build the product as quickly and efficiently as possible

Product Owner Role Specifics

After coming to a common understanding of the different Scrum roles, Kate further defines how she views the product owner role and what it means to truly own the product. There are two functions that help clarify ownership of a product:

  • Be the primary stakeholder with accountability being to the other project stakeholders
  • Cast the vision for the project with accountability being to the development team

As the primary stakeholder, the product owner is the most invested in a project, typically because she is most affected by it or will receive the most benefit from it. She has the authority to make decisions for the project and is empowered by the other stakeholders to do so. Effective product owners collaborate with other stakeholders, both internal and external, to better understand what is needed. However, the product owner makes the final decision. Because of this, she is accountable to the other stakeholders for the results of the project.

Aside from making the decisions for the project, the other function is to cast the vision for the project to the development team. The development team needs to know what is needed. It also is beneficial if she communicates why it is needed. This helps create buy-in from the development and gives meaning to their work. It is important that what is needed does not change significantly throughout the project. The product owner should take enough time and do enough research that the project work is well-defined before the development team takes it on so that significant changes or rework is not needed.

Product Owner Responsibilities

After Kate has defined the product owner role, she wants to finish setting expectations by identifying the responsibilities. Defining the role has a broader focus, while the responsibilities focus more on the day to day. There are three main responsibilities for a product owner:

  • Creating and maintaining project work requirements
  • Attending and participating in project meetings
  • Providing feedback and approval for project work

The primary responsibility for a product owner is project work requirements. In Scrum, these are known as user stories, which are portions of the project work focused on a specific user and functionality desired for that user. The product owner needs to understand the end users of the product, as well as have an understanding of what functionality is possible from a technology standpoint. The development team fully develops and tests user stories in cycles, typically 2 to 4 weeks, known as sprints. User stories that are not in the current sprint are in a product backlog, which is a collection of user stories kept in priority order by the product owner.

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