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February 22, 2022

Product Owner: What Is It and What Are Its Functions in Scrum?

Without a Product Owner, it is not possible to understand the work under the agile Scrum methodology. This key figure leads a team in charge of obtaining the best final result of a project. But he is not an unquestionable leader, who should not be challenged: he has to be a person willing to listen to his colleagues and stakeholders to keep improving the final deliverable.

As Scrum is the methodology we use the most at Plain Concepts, we know well the importance of this figure to develop our services and solutions. Therefore, in this article, we explain what you need to know about the Product Owner, his functions, and skills. This way, you will be more successful if you implement Scrum in your company.

What is a Product Owner?

In Scrum, the Product Owner is in charge of ensuring that the final deliverable (developed by the entire team) has the highest possible value for the customer and the market. It is a fundamental role since it is the person who must transmit in a common language to the business and technical team what is needed and what has to be done.

The final deliverable, according to the 2020 Scrum Guide, is “a vehicle for delivering value. It has a clear boundary, known stakeholders, and well-defined users or customers. A deliverable can be a service, a physical product, or something more abstract.”

The functions of the Product Owner

The Scrum Product Owner has the following main activities or characteristics:

Leading the development of the product or service

At the front of the project, they are responsible for the budget and the delivery of the final product. And, although they lead it, they rely on the help of the other team members or stakeholders to design the structure of the final result; we will talk about this again later because one of his skills must be to delegate tasks.

Responsible for the Product Backlog

In Scrum, the Product Backlog that the Product Owner is in charge of is a list of what is essential for the final service or product to work. This list is never fixed, but is updated as new features that should be fulfilled are discovered.

The Product Owner monitors the content and prioritizes the features to be implemented: the Product Backlog Items or PBIs, the units of work to be developed by the technical team. They create, communicate, and prioritize these PBIs in sufficient detail so that the teams know what they have to do.

According to the Scrum 2020 Guide, the Product Backlog should be:

  • Transparent
  • Visible
  • Understandable

The Product Backlog is focused on the Product Goal. It is the point to which the team’s efforts are directed through each sprint.

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Relationship with stakeholders and customers

As in other agile methodologies, communication is essential to obtain feedback or know the concerns of those who will use the product or service. External stakeholders and also other internal teams of the company provide essential information about the functions or features they expect from the product to be developed.

Likewise, as in other methodologies, continuous communication with customers serves to improve the product after each sprint and before reaching the final deliverable.

picture about functions of the product ownerWhat skills should a Product Owner have?

In order to successfully realize the products or services developed by the Scrum team, these are some of the characteristics of the Product Owner:

Communication and inspiration

The person responsible for the development of a product must not only know how to communicate with customers and stakeholders but must also know how to communicate to the team the most important features of the Product Backlog and how they serve to reach the Product Goal. At the same time, he or she must communicate quickly about any changes that arise.

In its origin as a software development methodology, the Product Owner helps developers to understand the purpose of the project and to choose solutions. When taken to other industries, the Product Owner could also advise team members in decision making.

From the communication with the team come modifications or new goals for the next sprint, as well as other modifications that might be in the Product Backlog.

Delegation

The Product Owner could entrust some of his tasks to other people. However, as the Scrum 2020 Guide reminds us, he/she is still “responsible” for the project. Delegating means sharing management or giving more prominence to other people.

Attention

You have to pay attention to the detail of what the client wants and take care that the budget or deadlines do not shoot up. Attention also means listening to the team if they have ideas that could improve the project or warn of delays and problems, and again to the client to ask questions or detect opportunities for their needs.

picture about product owner skillsDifferences between a Product Owner and a Product Manager

The roles of Product Owner and Product Manager may appear to be the same, but their functions must be differentiated.

The Product Manager is responsible for the vision of the final product or service and the final launch. For example, he is responsible for the marketing campaign and, once the product or service is on the market, for recording the results; he collects and analyzes KPIs and uses them to prepare reports for stakeholders.

As he is aware of the external market, he can also identify needs that he can pass on to the Scrum team to improve the idea under development or future projects.

Therefore, in the Product Owner vs. Product Manager difference, the former is more in charge of the practical part of the development and that sprints are being executed, as well as talking to internal and external stakeholders.

The role of the Product Owner oriented to the creation of digital products

The process of creating a digital product differs greatly when it comes to tangible or physical products. Due to the nature of the latter, in the case of digital products we work with ideas and code (therefore, we work with software). This type of development generates a lot of ambiguity, uncertainty, changes, and, therefore, greater complexity.  

We face challenges that we had not faced before (such as the creation of industrial products), since software development has not been established for so many years. And it is necessary to develop another type of strategy to carry out the process.

In the early days of software development, the model used was based on the Waterfall methodology. Until all the cycles of the model were finished, the product was not delivered; therefore, it was not known until the end of the process if what was built covered the initial needs of the client.

With the Agile methodology, this is solved since it is based on making continuous deliveries to the customer on which it is iterated. It is assumed that work is done in a changing environment in which modifications can be requested. And it is in this work model where the role of the Product Owner appears.

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