Skip to content

Top 10 Activities of the Product Owner

February 20, 2009 by Jack Milunsky

Over the course of the past 5 years, I have often been asked about the role the Product Owner plays in an Agile company. More recently in a rather controversial blog post by Adam Bullied he raised the question – Is there such a thing as an Agile Product Manager?

From my experience, there is. And this role in Scrum is defined as the Product Owner. The Product Owner from my experience differs from that of the traditional Product Manager role in many ways. Additionally, the role the Agile PM plays may vary depending on the environment and situation at hand, but for certain there are key activities the Agile PM must perform.

The Product owner (or Agile PM) shoulders all the responsibility for Project success and is ultimately responsible to the Team, stakeholders and to the company. With so much at stake it's easy to get bogged down or revert back to old ways and the whole team suffers as a result. In order for Scrum to work the Product owner has to focus his time on activities that matter. (read more...)

Here are the top ten activities I have experienced a Product Owner must perform well in order to keep scrum teams effective:

1. Creates and MAINTAINS the Product Backlog. I emphasize MAINTAINS as this is an on-going job and more than likely a full-time activity. Nothing is constant in the world of software and it’s important that the Product Owner keeps his/her eye on the ball. Note: the Product Backlog must be groomed prior to the Sprint Planning Meeting in order for the team to remain productive.

2. Prioritizes and sequences the Backlog according to business value or ROI (there are lots of tools to help Product Owners do this and lots of books on the subject) The Product Owner is required to have the Backlog sequenced prior to the Sprint Planning Meeting. This means that each user story must be ordered by relative importance. It’s no good to have 5 high priority or 5 medium priorities. It’s important to know which User story is #1, which is #2 etc.

3. Assists with the elaboration of Epics, Themes and Features into user stories that are granular enough to be achieved in a single sprint. User Stories are elaborated at the last responsible moment and it is the Product Owners responsibility to be there during the Sprint Planning meeting to help the teams to understand exactly what is required.

4. Conveys the Vision and Goals at the beginning of every Release and Sprint. The Product Owner must continuously remind the Team of the Sprint and Release goals. This helps to keep the team on track and serves as an over-arching yardstick for the team to measure their activity and progress against.

5. Represents the customer, interfaces and engages the customer. The Product Owner must continuously engage the customer and stakeholders to ensure the Team is building the right product and therefore delivering the ROI expected of it. The Product Owner has the opportunity to steer the team in a different direction at the end of every Sprint, so he/she must be ready to do just that if necessary.

6. Participates in the daily Scrums, Sprint Planning Meetings and Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives. There’s always a lot going on and always an excuse to miss the meetings. But each of these Scrum ceremonies is another chance for the Product Owner to inspect and adapt. And as a result being present at these ceremonies is tantamount to success.

7. Inspects the product progress at the end of every Sprint and has complete authority to accept or reject work done. Work that is either not complete or un-done needs to be re-prioritized or sequenced. An Agile PM is one who is quick to recognize and understand change and to ensure the Product Team adapts to the change in landscape, be it competition, target market or other.

8. Can change the course of the project at the end of every Sprint (30 days if you’re following traditional Scrum methodology by the book). The Product Owner is in complete control and can steer the team in a completely different direction at Sprint boundaries. And good Agile teams will welcome this change as long as the Product Owner is confident and knowledgeable.

9. Communicates status externally. The product owner is the voice of the Team to the outside world and should ensure that all channels of communications are open and that projects have the right amount of support required to succeed.

10. Terminates a Sprint if it is determined that a drastic change in direction is required e.g. a competitor releases a new version which demands a counter response. This is a pretty serious event for Scrum teams. And what this means “technically” is that all work done up until that point is lost. I have not seen this done to many times in my career especially since, there’s really not that much time between Sprints in any event.

The responsibilities of the Product Owner are onerous and there is no one else on the team to cover for him/her or pick up the slack. So if you’re choosing a Product Owner, choose wisely, the difference can be success or failure for the entire project or, in the worst of circumstances, the success or failure of the company.

About the Author: As COO and Scrum Master, Jack Milunsky heads software development at Brightspark. Jack is an early adopter of Scrum and has a great passion for early stage startups. Jack is co-creator of Agilebuddy, a next generation Scrum Application SaaS. Jack combines over 18 years of experience managing software development teams both large and small. You can follow Jack for great tips on Agile at http://twitter.com/agilebuddy

Comments

I disagree that the PO needs

February 20, 2009 by Dominik Jungowski (not verified), 5 years 36 weeks ago
Comment id: 2259

I disagree that the PO needs to attend the Retrospective. The Retrospective is for the team and if the team wants to invite the PO it can do so. But he should only be optional

Daily Meetings?

February 20, 2009 by Michael Dubakov (not verified), 5 years 36 weeks ago
Comment id: 2260

I disagree that PO needs visit Daily Meetings. It is optional.

I think the point 6 is about

February 20, 2009 by Anonymous (not verified), 5 years 36 weeks ago
Comment id: 2262

I think the point 6 is about being a chicken for these meetings (attend the meeting, but don't speak). For the retrospective meeting, subject addressed should be logged in a document (meeting minutes) and viewed afterward by the product owner.
This is a way to get a feedback on the team without interfering it.

Nice article

February 22, 2009 by anna Forss (not verified), 5 years 36 weeks ago
Comment id: 2264

Which catches the role of the product owner. Yes, some of the items can be discussed. For example the product owner on the retrospective. If the team has some issues with the product owner and does not feel comfortable discussing them with the product owner, this might be a reason for him not participating until this has been fixed. But how many issues does not revolve around a faulting product owner? And how are those issues going to be resolved if the product owner does not participate in the most important meeting for improvement?

When it comes to participating in daily meetings, I think the product owner should make this a priority since this is an excellent moment to see if the team is on track and being there to answer questions. If you don't believe the PO has time to attend then, what are the possibility that there is time to be available during the actual work? And if the PO is not available, then a proxy makes the decisions or the individual developers. And that is not what scrum is about. A product owner who does not take the time participating during daily scrum is a sign of a vacant product owner.

I like that you say represents the customer. XP and other methodologies states that you need an on site customer and we all know that this is not always possible. But making it the product owner's responsibility to represent the customer, makes it clear that he need to be able to fill that need.

Excellent overview - the only

February 23, 2009 by Paul Hopkins (not verified), 5 years 35 weeks ago
Comment id: 2279

Excellent overview - the only thing (that I think is) missing is the need to be available for clarification during the sprint, in keeping with the principle that "business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project". It may be worth stating this explicitly. I also agree with the comments re: PO participation on retrospectives and daily scrums: the PO is part of the team, having him/her not at these meetings compounds the "us and them" thinking that has gotten so many products into the (sad, sorry) shape they are in today...

PO needs to be part of the Retrospective

February 23, 2009 by jackMilunsky, 5 years 35 weeks ago
Comment id: 2280

Hi Dominik,

Thanks for your comment. I respect your opinion but I am sorry, I have to disagree. The Product Owner (Manager) is very much a part of the team. Scrum defines only 3 roles and the Product Owner is defined specifically. Many times, the problems in the process chain have to do with requirements definition. When it comes to process one has to consider the whole, that's where Lean thinking comes in. In order to improve you must consider all aspects of the process, not just development.

Best regards
Jack

Participating in daily meetings

February 23, 2009 by jackMilunsky, 5 years 35 weeks ago
Comment id: 2281

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your comment. I understand that it is difficult for the Product Owner to attend all daily scrums. But I can tell you from experience that the more face-time the PO has with the team the better the outcome. Frankly their is no greater risk than getting the product right. In my book it is essential for PO participation in all meetings.

Regards,
Jack

PO's available for clarification

February 23, 2009 by jackMilunsky, 5 years 35 weeks ago
Comment id: 2282

Thanks for your response Paul. I completely agree with your statement that PO's should be available for clarification. I really did mean that but it's worth spelling it out for sure!

Regards,
Jack

Problems with a Product Owner

February 23, 2009 by jackMilunsky, 5 years 35 weeks ago
Comment id: 2283

The over-arching theme behind Scrum is trust and transparency. If you don't have either of those, you have zero chance of being successful. So if there are issues with the activities of the Product Owner, these must be surfaced. This can be done in a constructive manner by trying to avoid attacking the PO directly. If the problems are that bad, then that in my opinion is a blocker which must be dealt with at a higher level. So the Scrum Master will need to bring that up with the VP level management.

Hope this helps.
Regards,
Jack

I play PO role myself and

February 24, 2009 by Michael Dubakov (not verified), 5 years 35 weeks ago
Comment id: 2286

I play PO role myself and should say that there is a chance to mix with Scrum Master role. If PO has bright charisma, there is a chance that he will lead the team instead of Scrum Master, thus put development team into conflicting state. There should be clear separation of responsibilities. PO should NOT affect development process (i mean practices, etc), PO should not assign anything to team members and suppress Scrum Master. If it happens, one cure is to limit PO-team contacts (for some time).

Product Owner and Scrum Master roled

February 24, 2009 by jackMilunsky, 5 years 35 weeks ago
Comment id: 2287

Hi Michael,

I agree. Strong Product Owners can try to take too much control. But I don't think trying to limit face time with the team is a good answer. Rather try to deal with the problem first hand.

Jack

Definitely. But limiting

February 24, 2009 by Michael Dubakov (not verified), 5 years 35 weeks ago
Comment id: 2288

Definitely. But limiting contacts (initially) helps as well. I went this road and it helped indeed.

Really?

February 28, 2009 by Adam Bullied (not verified), 5 years 35 weeks ago
Comment id: 2308

I don't profess to know everything there is to know about scrum or product owners.

But aren't they supposed to be completely tactical? Of course, they need insight in to the business, and they need to put themselves in the customers shoes. But are they doing customer visits, gathering market research, constructing segmentation strategies, pricing models, responsible for P&Ls, positioning the product, writing requirements, etc...?

If not, the role should not be confused with a product manager.

My understanding, admittedly limited and not as extensive as Jack's, is that a PO represents the product manager and their priorities in an agile scenario - but they do not replace the PM.

But I could be wrong...and if the PO is in fact doing all of those strategic things, then why are they not just called a product manager? Everyone in this space knows the last thing we need is more titles :)

Really?

August 20, 2009 by Anonymous (not verified), 5 years 10 weeks ago
Comment id: 2990

I don't profess to know everything there is to know about scrum or product owners.

But aren't they supposed to be completely tactical? Of course, they need insight in to the business, and they need to put themselves in the customers shoes. But are they doing customer visits, gathering market research, constructing segmentation strategies, pricing models, responsible for P&Ls, positioning the product, writing requirements, etc...?

If not, the role should not be confused with a product manager.

My understanding, admittedly limited and not as extensive as Jack's, is that a PO represents the product manager and their priorities in an agile scenario - but they do not replace the PM.

Decoration blog

Product Owner vs Product Marketing

September 4, 2009 by Scott (not verified), 5 years 8 weeks ago
Comment id: 3324

Adam,
In our organization, we consider the items you mention "... customer visits, gathering market research, constructing segmentation strategies, pricing models, responsible for P&Ls, positioning the product, writing requirements, etc...?" ... as the role of Product Marketing (other than "writing requirements", which is in the form of user stories, by the product owner).

Scott

I want to add that product

March 17, 2010 by music search (not verified), 4 years 32 weeks ago
Comment id: 5819

I want to add that product owners looking to learn the core practices and techniques to success with Scrum . Business analysts and user experience professionals wanting to contribute in a key role on the product ownership team. The best products come from collaborative teams aligned around a common purpose.

I want to add that product

May 29, 2010 by Aşık Etme Büyüsü (not verified), 4 years 22 weeks ago
Comment id: 6850

I want to add that product owners looking to learn the core practices and techniques to success with Scrum . Business analysts and user experience professionals wanting to contribute in a key role on the product ownership team. The best products come from collaborative teams aligned around a common purpose.

Agile

October 23, 2011 by William fumey (not verified), 3 years 1 week ago
Comment id: 20417

Great post. Not the only reason
Agile may fail, I think, but certainly one of the key challenges for the
Agile community to fess up to and face up to.

I wrote about some other challenges in my recent "State of Agile" post here http://www.agileexams.com/

Another question that I have

March 2, 2012 by NOnn (not verified), 2 years 34 weeks ago
Comment id: 21117

Another question that I have (again with a team that's pretty new to Scrum)....when in a sprint does the team get a look at the stories for that sprint? On day 1 during planning? or even earlier (grooming)? If it's on day1. then how do we expect the team to come up with tasks and estimates right away? Wouldn't people want to understand the story in detail to give accurate estimates? Maybe the question then really is. what's the percentage of accuracy we should expect in task estimates and does Scrum advice we buffer it a bit? forfait mobile sans engagement forfait illimite forfait sms illimite forfait mobile internet comparateur forfait bloque numero rio code rio orange numero rio sfr code rio bouygues rio virgin calcul imc portabilite du numero

This is just the information

March 21, 2012 by Anonymous456 (not verified), 2 years 32 weeks ago
Comment id: 21440

This is just the information I am finding everywhere.Me and my friend were arguing about an issue similar to this! Now I know that I was right.Thanks for the information you post. I just subscribe your blog. This is a nice blog.

Roll Forming Machinery

Scrum Ceremonies

April 13, 2012 by Casey S (not verified), 2 years 28 weeks ago
Comment id: 21752

All scrum ceremonies should be attended by the pigs, including the retrospectives.

I think Agile methodology is

May 22, 2012 by JennyH81 (not verified), 2 years 23 weeks ago
Comment id: 22294

I think Agile methodology is fine when experienced PMs use it as a tool for organizing work. The times I've seen Agile fail have been when people with zero project management experience are made PMs because they have Agile certification. which some companies equate with PM training. In inexperienced hands Agile lends itself to treating a project like a collection of little fragments that can be designed and written in isolation. as if clicking the pieces together will somehow create the underlying structure that makes the difference between a solid application and a mess. rio orange

I admit, I have not been on

May 26, 2012 by Anonymous (not verified), 2 years 22 weeks ago
Comment id: 22548

I admit, I have not been on this web page in a long time... however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues.
convert protected wma to mp3

Excellent article. Very

May 28, 2012 by Anonymous (not verified), 2 years 22 weeks ago
Comment id: 22596

Excellent article. Very interesting to read. I really love to read such a nice article. Thanks! keep rocking.
Convert PDF to Kindle

great

June 1, 2012 by IostirpAnonymous (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment id: 22696

I think Agile methodology is fine when experienced PMs use it as a tool for organizing work. The times I've seen Agile fail have been when people with zero project management experience are made PMs because they have Agile certification. which some companies equate with PM training. In inexperienced hands Agile lends itself to treating a project like a collection of little fragments that can be designed and written in isolation. as if clicking the pieces together will somehow create the underlying structure that makes the difference between a solid application and a mess The Florida Rider Training Program

This is a great post. I like

June 3, 2012 by dasdsd (not verified), 2 years 21 weeks ago
Comment id: 22715

This is a great post. I like this topic.This site has lots of advantage.I found many interesting things from this site. It helps me in many ways.Thanks for posting this again. email hosting

I really appreciate the kind

June 9, 2012 by Anonymous (not verified), 2 years 20 weeks ago
Comment id: 22848

I really appreciate the kind of topics you post here. Thanks for sharing us a great information that is actually helpful. Good day! mp4 to avi converter mac

Your article has piqued a lot

June 10, 2012 by Anonymous (not verified), 2 years 20 weeks ago
Comment id: 22855

Your article has piqued a lot of positive interest. I can see why since you have done such a good job of making it interesting.
african mango scam

Thanks for every other

June 10, 2012 by Anonymous (not verified), 2 years 20 weeks ago
Comment id: 22856

Thanks for every other informative site. The place else may just I get that kind of information written in such an ideal means? I have a venture that I’m just now operating on, and I have been on the look out for such information. how much should i weigh

What a fantabulous post this

June 10, 2012 by jinkaz (not verified), 2 years 20 weeks ago
Comment id: 22862

What a fantabulous post this has been. Never seen this kind of useful post. I am grateful to you and expect more number of posts like these. Thank you very much. document translation services

Friends across 50 different

June 13, 2012 by fleemingj (not verified), 2 years 20 weeks ago
Comment id: 22894

Friends across 50 different databases to identify where your child has online accounts, identify who your child is friends with, mcitp // 70-620 mcsa // 70-640 mcts // 70-647

screen for posts with at-risk

June 13, 2012 by fleemingj (not verified), 2 years 20 weeks ago
Comment id: 22895

screen for posts with at-risk content, and view photos your child has posted or others have posted that include your child. mcpd // 70-646 mcse // snoring // Anti snoring devices

Great

June 18, 2012 by Anonymous3k (not verified), 2 years 19 weeks ago
Comment id: 22954

This is my first time i visit here. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work .
Realtree and Mossy Oak Bed Sets

sure

June 18, 2012 by Anonymous3k3 (not verified), 2 years 19 weeks ago
Comment id: 22956

The point is not that there is moral equivalence between the two governments. Thankfully, today’s China is far improved over Mao’s China. But Beijing still falls far short when it comes to protecting individual liberty and respecting human dignity. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that everything the PRC does is illegitimate, let alone warrants a potential American military response.

Anthony Blinken, Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, called Xi Jinping’s visit “an investment in the future of the U.S.-China relationship.” Serious investment is called for, since it probably is the most important relationship in the world and for this century. How the current superpower and likely next superpower get along will determine whether the years ahead are ones of peace or war.
freddyshome.blog.fc2.com

great

June 18, 2012 by Anonymous3k333 (not verified), 2 years 19 weeks ago
Comment id: 22957

The point is not that there is moral equivalence between the two governments. Thankfully, today’s China is far improved over Mao’s China. But Beijing still falls far short when it comes to protecting individual liberty and respecting human dignity. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that everything the PRC does is illegitimate, let alone warrants a potential American military response.
anushka shetty

I found so many interesting

June 27, 2012 by Agnes (not verified), 2 years 18 weeks ago
Comment id: 23063

I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. buy d3 gold

Thankfully,

June 27, 2012 by Rachael111 (not verified), 2 years 18 weeks ago
Comment id: 23064

I have read your article, it

June 27, 2012 by Anonymous (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23079

I have read your article, it is very informative and helpful for me.I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles. Thanks for posting it..
Best Wishes Capcredit.com

I have read your article, it

June 28, 2012 by Anonymous2k (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23096

I have read your article, it is very informative and helpful for me.I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles. Thanks for posting it.. industrial ro

Thankfully idler wheels

June 28, 2012 by Anonymous2k (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23097

Thankfully idler wheels

I have read your article, it

June 28, 2012 by Anonymous2kkk (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23098

I have read your article, it is very informative and helpful for me.I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles. Thanks for posting it.. this is the company

Thanks for posting itBuy

June 29, 2012 by Rachael111 (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23099

Thanks for posting itBuy Diablo III Gold

I have read your article, it

June 29, 2012 by Anonymous23 (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23103

I have read your article, it is very informative and helpful for me.I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles. Thanks for posting it . industrial ro

Great

June 29, 2012 by Anonymous23 (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23104

I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion . bodybuilding supplement reviews

Great

June 29, 2012 by Anonymous233 (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23105

The point is not that there is moral equivalence between the two governments. Thankfully, today’s China is far improved over Mao’s China. But Beijing still falls far short when it comes to protecting individual liberty and respecting human dignity. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that everything the PRC does is illegitimate, let alone warrants a potential American military response. hotel lexington va

Good job

June 29, 2012 by Anonymous233 (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23106

Thanks for posting i
found what you needed

great

June 29, 2012 by Anonymous2332 (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23107

Transmission Rebuild Charlotte NC Thanks for posting it .

Great

June 29, 2012 by Anonymous2332 (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23108

I really appreciate the kind of topics you post here. Thanks for sharing us a great information that is actually helpful. Good day!
korean Accessories

Great

June 29, 2012 by Anonymous2332 (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23109

The point is not that there is moral equivalence between the two governments. Thankfully, today’s China is far improved over Mao’s China. rooftop equipment supports

Great

June 29, 2012 by Anonymous2332 (not verified), 2 years 17 weeks ago
Comment id: 23110

An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but
generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers tasting room Houston | Venice Macbook repair

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <b> <i> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <img> <br> <blockquote>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • You can enable syntax highlighting of source code with the following tags: <code>, <blockcode>. Beside the tag style "<foo>" it is also possible to use "[foo]".

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Best of AgileSoftwareDevelopment.com