Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Product Owner role

What's a Product Owner - and what do they do?
There are a lot of opinons out there, so let me just throw mine into the ring as well.

What's not a Product Owner?

The Scrum Guide is quite clear that a Product Owner and a Business Analyst are not the same roles. Neither is a requirements engineer or a project manager a Product Owner. A Product Owner is not responsible for "writing user stories". Neither proposing solutions, architecture or design. Nor for tracking developers' progress, the quality of their work or the approach they use in generating results.

Likewise, there's a huge misunderstanding that the PO is a kind of go-between, mediator, between stakeholders and developers. Oddly enough, the Scrum Guide doesn't say any of that.

Indeed, a PO who acts in any way as above is more likely to negatively impact the outcome than to add value.

Then what is a Product Owner?

When taking a close look at the Guide, the Product Owner can delegate almost everything to the Development team. They only need to make sure that transparency on a product level exists, that developers know what is important and why. How they do this - no constraints.

In one sentence, the PO can be called "value maximizer". How do they do that? They learn and understand customer needs, problem statements and expected benefits from having such a need met by solving said problem. To be most effective, it helps if they have an understanding of what their development team is capable of, have a knack on linking the solutions of the team back to the problems that exist and can make clear business-oriented decisions based on cost and ROI.

Like customers own the "problem space", developers own the "solution space". The Product Owner brings these two spaces together by linking them via value and priority. No more, no less. The more the development team can contribute here, the more the Product Owner can focus on exploring further needs that can be met to make the product more valuable.

So here's a short infographic as a summary:


  1. Hi Michael,
    looks interessting.
    What will be the function of the PO then? More a filter or more bottleneck? Or something else, like a translator between tech and business?
    Why shouldnt the Team learn how to put their skills and efforts into the Stakeholders demands?
    So let us drop the PO, he will not provide us with value
    Instead it will be better to hire a coach, who provide skills of priorization and value identification for the Stakeholders
    and e.g. facilitation skills to teams ...more a flexible problem solver skill then a value maximizer?

    1. Oh, none of these.
      Instead of filtering, the PO should channel, stream, broadcast. Instead of being a bottleneck, open up communication.

      Think of the PO like a company owner. They have a budget to spend and are set out to multiply the investment. What would you expect from the CEO of a company? Wouldn't the best use of their time be to discover fields where investments end up with a positive ROI, and enable their developers to obtain said revenue with maximum effectiveness?

      A PO who can't maximize the value of the product by directing the development team to where this value lies, is indeed useless. A PO needs to be an entrepreneur and a good one at that, too.

      Would you fire your CEO and hire a coach to teach you how to do business instead?
      It might be a smart move - you'll end up being self-employed and may actually discover that you no longer need anyone else to help you earn money.

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