Product owners are at the center of every development cycle. But what do they actually do?
Though a product owner’s role can vary depending on the environment, they typically have several key roles and responsibilities covering everything from business strategy to product design.
What is an agile product owner?
At the most basic level, an agile product owner, or scrum product owner, is the leader responsible for maximizing the value of the products created by a scrum development team.
But to do this, an agile product owner takes on several roles, including business strategist, product designer, market analyst, customer liaison, and project manager. In short, agile product owners are an integral part of any scrum team.
Product owner job description: 7 key roles and responsibilities
The scrum product owner takes the lead in many areas of product development. One day they will need to access their deep well of market knowledge to strategize and present their vision to stakeholders. Another day they will need to roll up their developer sleeves to help the team meet their goals during a sprint.
Here are just a few of a product owner’s responsibilities.
1. Defining the vision
The agile product owner is the point person on the product development team, using their high-level perspective to define goals and create a vision for development projects.
Product owners are responsible for communicating with stakeholders across the board, including customers, business managers, and the development team to make sure the goals are clear and the vision is aligned with business objectives.
Having a product owner with a higher perspective ensures that the team maintains a cohesive vision despite the flexible and often fast-paced nature of agile product development. Everyone needs to be on the same page in order for a project to work effectively.
A product owner can help the team maintain that vision is by creating a product roadmap. The product roadmap is a high-level, strategic visual summary that outlines the vision and direction for the product offering over time. It is both a strategic guide for stakeholders to reference as well as a plan for execution.
2. Managing the product backlog
One of the most important responsibilities for a scrum product owner is managing the product backlog. This is the development team’s project to-do list.
The product owner’s responsibility is to create the list of backlog items and prioritize them based on the overall strategy and business objectives. Additionally, the product owner will need to map out project dependencies to inform the necessary sequence of development.
The product backlog isn’t a static to-do list though. It is a live document that should be continually updated based on evolving project needs throughout development.
Because the product backlog will change frequently, the product owner must make the list accessible and available to all stakeholders (particularly developers) to ensure optimized performance and project outcomes.
Learn more about managing your product backlog.
3. Prioritizing needs
Another key role of the product owner is to prioritize needs. In other words, they must juggle the triangle of scope, budget, and time, weighing priorities according to the needs and objectives of stakeholders.
For example, if the product under development needs to launch within six months, that constrains the scope of the project. As the project evolves, the product owner will have to gauge which areas have flexibility and which don’t to determine how and when each iteration and product element will be developed.
4. Overseeing development stages
With the vision, strategy, and product priorities set, the product owner should spend a significant amount of time overseeing the actual development of the product. They are a key player throughout each event, including planning, refinement, review, and sprint.
During the planning stages, the agile product owner works with stakeholders to identify and organize the steps required for the next iteration. They will then meet with their team to refine the process, identify areas for improvement, and support the sprint.
5. Anticipating client needs
The successful scrum product owner will be an expert at understanding and anticipating the client’s needs to more effectively manage the development process.
Their deep market knowledge and communication skills allow them to anticipate problems or needs and address them.
Stay one step ahead of your clients with customer journey mapping. These visuals create a shared vision for the customer experience. You'll save time and effort so you can put all your energy into reading your customers’ minds and wowing your clients.
6. Acting as primary liaison
The product owner is also the primary communicator and link between stakeholders and teams. As such, they have to be expert communicators, making sure there’s buy-in from stakeholders on all major decisions and strategy and clear instructions and deliverables for the developers.
7. Evaluating product progress at each iteration
The product owner is accountable for each stage of the development process and the final product. They take a primary role in inspecting and evaluating product progress through each iteration. The product owner makes the judgment call on the performance, deciding if the team needs to go back to the drawing board or if they can move on to the next steps.
Agile product owners wear many hats. So they need tools and solutions that can adapt to their changing roles as quickly as they do.
Visuals can assist your scrum team through every step of the development process, making it easy to transition from outlining the customer journey and mocking up product designs to mapping product dependencies and sharing your work with stakeholders.
Take the next step and build your scrum team with these key roles.