Who is the Product Owner?

Who is the Product Owner?

Product Owner Role & Responsibilities

It is useful for a Product Owner to have relevant business and domain experience as they will be the visionary, representing the voice of the customer. They should have great empathy and listening skills and be able to communicate those requirements clearly to the Development team. Product Owners are the decision-makers and are accountable for maximising the value of the product. A Product Owner should have experience with leadership, coaching, strategy, UI design, user experience (UX), business analysis, marketing, research, communication, statistics and data tools such as SQL. The role involves a lot of hard-work, every day, it’s rarely a 9 to 5 job and you’ll need a thick skin and a strong belief in yourself to succeed. It is though, in my opinion, the best job in the world.

I would say though that if you have Product Owner experience, knowledge and skills, learning a new business domain and bringing a fresh perspective can make your transition into a new role much easier. If you want to move sideways into a new industry, such as FinTech as an example then don’t discount taking a more junior role in order to learn that new domain.

Essential Scrum includes a detailed chapter on the Product Owner’s role and responsibilities and it is certainly worth buying and keeping close to hand.

Curly, Moe and Larry

Product Owner, Product Manager, and the Project Manager what is the difference? Well, there are huge differences and I’ll explain them briefly.

(Coming Soon)

An outline of the Product Owner role

The Product Owner (cite: as defined in The Scrum Guide)

The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Development Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals. 

The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog. Product Backlog management includes: 

  • Clearly expressing Product Backlog items; 
  • Ordering the items in the Product Backlog to best achieve goals and missions; 
  • Optimizing the value of the work the Development Team performs; 
  • Ensuring that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all, and shows what the Scrum Team will work on next; and, 
  • Ensuring the Development Team understands items in the Product Backlog to the level needed. 

The Product Owner will source ideas from customers, customer support, business owners, business analysts, usage data, research and the development team. These Epic features will be recorded within the Product Backlog and Epics will be evaluated using empirical methods to test assumptions and hypotheses. If a customer or business value is identified it should be calculated and added to the Epic or Sprint ticket to aid prioritisation. Within JIRA I have to add this field to my issue layouts as it is is not provided by default, but is a vital factor in aiding backlog grooming and prioritisation.

Determine Business Value

Robbin Schuurman’s article 10 tips for product owners on determining business value can provide some useful insights but as he says “Value comes in many different forms, value is context-dependent and the definition of value in a certain context may change over time!” So, you need to determine the right value metrics for your company in order to prioritise your sprint efforts. If one feature has a value of 200 and another 100 you can clearly see which should be considered for your next sprint.

Epics, User Stories & Acceptance Criteria

Epic features are subsequently broken down into user stories and acceptance criteria. Cole Mercer succinctly describes what he includes within his Epic’s (Introduction, Product Requirements, Design Requirements, Engineering Requirements) in his LinkedIn Learning course on Product Management. He also shows how he would title a User Story in JIRA and include the user story and acceptance criteria/ assumptions within the description field.

To help you write the User Stories and Acceptance Criteria consider reading a test process book, such as Cucumber to learn about behaviour-driven development practices.

The Product Owner has ultimate responsibility for the Product Backlog but can delegate this work to the Development Team. (Note: not the Scrum Master).

Back to The Scrum Guide (cite: as defined in The Scrum Guide)

The Product Owner may do the above work, or have the Development Team do it. However, the Product Owner remains accountable. 

The Product Owner is one person, not a committee. The Product Owner may represent the desires of a committee in the Product Backlog, but those wanting to change a Product Backlog item’s priority must address the Product Owner. 

Changing Priorities

So within the Product Backlog, the priority of a ticket may be changed either by the Product Owner or if agreed with the Product Owner. This is not the case with the Sprint Backlog which is owned by the Development Team.

A Product Owner may ask for a ticket to be added to a Sprint if the Development Team is willing to accept it’s inclusion mid-sprint. However, if it affects cadence it may mean another ticket is lost. Only the Development Team can accept these amendments to the Sprint.

Canceling a Sprint

Also, note that a Product Owner can cancel a sprint if business or market conditions change and if continuing to do the work within the sprint would not be in the company’s or team’s best interests. However, by keeping sprints to 2-weeks it’s normally the case it would take that amount of time for such decisions to be agreed with senior stakeholders.

How to Succeed as a Product Owner

For the Product Owner to succeed, the entire organization must respect his or her decisions. The Product Owner’s decisions are visible in the content and ordering of the Product Backlog. No one can force the Development Team to work from a different set of requirements. 

It is the start of the last paragraph which for me is crucial. Too many product owners are hampered in their role by Senior Product Owners, Division Directors, and Product Sponsors who do not give the product owner the autonomy to make the decisions on a product’s success. Most Product Owners are seen more as a project manager because Agile is not properly understood within the organisation or the senior heads are worried about losing control of their “empires”. When companies transition to Agile and continue to see product failures they need to understand this may have more to do with an unwillingness to change existing business culture and process value chains. Start-ups begin with the culture and have a greater chance of success because of this fact. Most start-ups fail because they run out of cash or don’t have the management acumen to run their operations efficiently. There is a real need for a new business model which combines the best of both worlds. I’m working on it…

Product Owner Training

A great Udemy course to support Scrum.org exam preparation: https://www.udemy.com/course/scrum-product-owner-certification-prep-mock-exam-questions/

LinkedIn Learning: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/becoming-a-product-manager/

Product Owner Certification

You can obtain your certification by passing the Scrum.org exam. The price of the exam varies but is around $220 https://www.scrum.org/professional-scrum-product-owner-certifications

Note that if you do a 2-day course this might set you back £1000 or more, and you do the same Scrum.org exam. I’ve generally looked at completing the £11.99 Udemy course (price is when it’s on offer) on certification preparation. Be aware though the course simply outlines the Scrum Guide. I prefer the video support so I can visualise the process better and it’s just my preference.

Product Owner Jobs

(Coming Soon)

Product Owner Interview Questions

There are many resources online that can provide you with interview question examples.

I would recommend you research the Top 10 Interview Questions from the “Big Interview”, which since finding this several years ago and successfully getting a job using its techniques on my first attempt I have used for other contract interviews.

Finally, I’d recommend a read of Victor Cheng’s Case Interviews book or William Poundstone’s books including Are you Smart Enough to Work at Google on how to approach problem-solving questions within Product Owner interviews; questions such as: How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?

Product Owner Salary

Glassdoor in the UK says the average salary for a Product Owner is approximately £50,512 pa (this is fractionally lower than I noted in my Scrum Master review, which seems to undervalue the PO role significantly). At the lower entry-level this figure drops to £34,104 and can rise to £80,467. These rates may be because many people transition or are promoted into the role due to their business domain knowledge.

Compare the UK figure with the US where the average is $94,422 with a range from $71,951 at the entry point rising to a potential $121,391 pa.