July 2, 2014

The Product Owner

The Product Owner’s role is defined as part of the Scrum methodology. It is one of the three roles defined in Scrum. The Product Owner is responsible for what features are in the product, what order the features get developed and it is the Product Owner’s responsibility to accept or reject the feature based on their idea of the acceptance criteria.

Ownership

The Product Owner is just that, they own the product. It is the Product Owner who decides what the development team build and when it is acceptable to be deployed. The Product Owner has the final say in what features and the priority.

A good Product Owner will of course consult and take advice from the team, they will understand the external pressures, feedback and market demands from the product and weigh all of this up to direct the team.

Managing the work through the backlog

As well as meeting and discussing the priority and features with stakeholders, customers and the team, the Product Owner will manage the backlog of stories that the team will discuss and ultimately deliver.

The Product Owner creates the stories and acceptance criteria (not necessarily the tests, although I have worked on projects where the Product Owner does write the tests using BDD technology such as Spec Flow).

The backlog must be kept up to date through constant ‘grooming’. This is re-organisation and re-prioritization as business, technical and political needs change.

Program backlog

The product the team is working on maybe part of a larger program. The Product Owner may need to co-ordinate and feedback progress and accept prioritization from other parts of the program.

Prioritization

The stories are added to the backlog which is kept in priority order by the Product Owner. The Product Owner must ensure that at every sprint planning meeting, the stories with the highest priority are clear and ready to work on. These stories are the ones which the team will estimate and plan in the meeting and commit to delivering in the sprint. If the stories are unclear, or more work needs to be done on them at this time, the team may decide not to take them into the sprint and in that case they have to wait until the next one.

Priority has many facets and the value of a story may have many inputs. It is the Product Owner’s job to understand what makes value for the business and weigh up things like:

  • Value in monetary terms of feature
  • Risk of implementing the feature
  • Cost of implementing the feature
  • Cost of supporting the feature
  • Dependencies on other features
  • Technical challenges
  • Political value in the feature

All of these are taken into consideration when prioritizing the backlog.

Direction

During development of a story, the team will certainly uncover questions that need answering from a business perspective and it is the product owner to find out these answers and give the team direction as to what to build.

Difficult role

It is my opinion that the Product Owner’s role is the hardest in Scrum. They have to know and give guidance to the team in a very clear and unambiguous way. What they are asking must make business and technical sense. Most Product Owners take some time to write good stories that the developers can take into the sprint. It is the Scrum Master’s role to help them achieve this.

The Product Owner must have very good people skills to engage with all levels of the business and customers as well as the development team.

Experience

Usually, but not always, the Product Owner has some experience of the domain in which the Product sits. For example, if the product is a tool for Hedge Funds to manage their portfolio, the Product Owner would have some previous experience with such tools.

For this reason, Product Owners sometimes come from the business area rather than from IT However, the role also requires a lot of interaction with the development team and so the Product Owner sometimes comes from the technical side as well.

Certification

If you are serious about becoming a Product Owner I would recommend taking the two day course from Agil8 run by David Hicks.

The course will give you all you need to know to do the role and to pass the Certified Scrum Product Owner Certification Course.

Further reading

Simon Powers
Simon Powers is an Agile Coach specialising in large scale transformations and agile adoption. He has a background in very large enterprise architecture which has led on to organisational design and agile process refinement. Simon is the founder of Adventures with Agile.