What/Who is a Product Owner?

Happy Product Owner Wednesday! Thank you for the outpouring of support since we have launched this series. The questions and ideas you have been sending to us are amazing. Please keep them coming to info@auldllc.com.


We plan to work those into our future articles...starting today!


The most asked question we have received so far is:

"What/Who is a Product Owner?"


A Product Owner (PO) is a role in the most utilized agile philosophy; scrum. But, organizations using any framework can get value from the PO role.


The PO is accountable for the success of a product. They are the focal point for all decisions relating the product. It can be a digital, physical, or service based product. In my experience, I have not seen a limit to what a product can be. (My family used scrum for my oldest daughter's college application process).


James Dyson and his top two products

Think of a Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Cheryl Sandberg, and James Dyson.


There is a problem or opportunity. There is value in solving that problem or capturing that opportunity. And we want to invest money in order to see if we can come up with a solution that provides value to the customer.


In a for-profit setting the customer value translates into revenue. In a non-profit setting value translates into something like number of lunches served for children in a school system.


The PO has:

  • Deep product knowledge

  • Final say on what work gets done

  • Control of the product budget

  • Organizational authority

  • Leadership support

  • Access to customers

  • Ability to manage stakeholders

  • Ability to communicate with Development Team

  • Autonomy

(Scrum Guide's full definition of Product Owner)

Top Product Owners in our time

This is the person that the organization has chosen to give an amazing opportunity; To "own" a product.


Ownership is the word purposely chosen by the founders of Scrum (Jeff Sutherland & Ken Schwaber). Owners have different motivations than employees. A product owner is solely focused on maximizing the value of the product. Ownership implies direct connection with the outcome of the product.


So "who" is the product owner? An email stated "We don't have Product Owner in our HR titles".


Product owner is a role, not a title. Any HR title can fill this role.


Typically to have the traits discussed above, they will be at a Sr. Manager, Director, or VP level. In smaller organizations, the CEO could be the product owner.


When you think of a product owner, ask your organization, "Who is the person that would give this product the best chance to succeed?" Most times, it is pretty obvious who that person should be. They are the person we go to with all the questions we have about this product today.


The PO needs to have enough authority that their opinions are respected and their decisions are not over-turned. As soon as a decision is over-turned by "leadership", the PO will lose credibility. It will dramatically impact their ability to lead.


How does the PO spend their day? Start with two most important questions to ask on a daily basis. After those two questions are answered, the rest of their time is divided between:

  • being available to answer questions and do work necessary for the current sprint goal (reminder - Sprint Goal is an objective that will be met within the Sprint)

  • managing stakeholders in 2 ways. 1) to make sure they are informed of status and 2) they have an an opportunity to influence future product development

  • market research to understand product trends and competition

  • customer research to understand what they want and what they will pay for

Agile vs. Waterfall

This is a huge job. Pressure is coming from every direction. You are being asked to make decisions on a daily basis. Decisions that could succeed or fail (gulp).


But that is why is is an exciting role. And usually a springboard into other leadership positions within the organization.


Have a valuable week!


Product Owner Wednesday (POW):

In this series we aim to share quick, yet meaningful nuggets focused on the Product Owner in an organization practicing agile.  In addition to providing ideas to the Product Owner, we encourage Leaders responsible for organizational transformation and Scrum Master to read this too in order to support their Product Owners.


Thomas (Tom) Auld is the Founder and Product Owner of Auld Consulting LLC and Auld Real Estate. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn or email him at TCAuld@AuldLLC.com. You can find previous articles here and subscribe for future updates here.

Frozen? Need a nudge? We can help.



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