This article presents what are the Scrum Product Owner activities and how he has to keep the balance of interests between the Scrum team and the other stakeholders.
Author: Marion Eickmann, CEO of agile42, www.agile42.com, first published in German in the IX-Magazin 8/2009
What role does a Product Owner have?
Scrum is counted as an iterative and incremental process used for product development and the organization of teams. The classical roles and structures are actually replaced by this procedure method through agile and transparent sequences. There result some new roles from this method. One of them is the role of the person responsible for a product, which is –in scrum jargon- called the Product Owner. This first part is about the Product Owners’ tasks, responsibilities and personal capabilities. A second article will appear in the next magazine regarding the role of the Scrum Master, which is also a new role resulting from this new procedure. Scrum is based on simple rules, as is every other agile method, and for that very reason easy to understand. But still it requires a high amount of discipline at the same time.
It’s a struggle on two sides
One of those sides is the project team with its high self-motivation. In order to work fast and effective the team needs to organize itself; therefore it sets the tasks that need to be done and can be realistically done in a given amount of time. This given time is short and called a sprint. This responsibility leads to the self-motivation of the project team. The most important thing for the success of scrum though is the role of the Product Owner, who serves as an interface between the team and other involved parties (stakeholders). It can be said that in companies that use scrum, the tasks and responsibilities of the particular Product Owner are never the same. Starting with the choice of that person provided with the proper and necessary skills, make them take specific trainings, up to the responsibility they take; the role of the Product Owner –short PO- is the most complex one regarding that procedure.
Often the PO has to “fight” on both sides. Whereas the team can work a certain fraction of time (time boxed) “protected” by the Scrum Master, the Product Owner often needs to deal with marketing, management or the customers in order to be able to present the software requirements (User Stories) quite precisely to the team (see the box “criteria for User Stories).
Furthermore the Product Owner is responsible for the return on investment (ROI). He validates the solutions and verifies whether the quality is acceptable or not from the end-users’ point of view. He also has to decide over the importance of single features in order to prioritize these in their treatment and he has to tell the team what the product should look like in the end (product vision). Since one of the teams’ tasks is to work effectively, the Product Owner must react fast on call-backs. Hence he fulfils the role of a communicator, as he must be in contact with all stakeholders, sponsors and last but not least the team throughout a project. After all it is his task to coordinate the financial side of the product development, which is successful through his continuous work and prioritizing the advancing tasks (Product Backlog). All these diverse requests demonstrate how important the selection of the “right” person for the role of the PO is for the success of a project.
Figure 1: A Backlog on a whiteboard.