What are the responsibilities and the role of the Product Owner?

With job titles and the roles within the teams evolving at such a fast pace, it’s sometimes hard to keep yourself updated. Some of them cause particular confusion – that’s the case with the Product Owner, by many considered the most misunderstood role in Scrum. 

In fact, the name of this role is quite counterintuitive – because, how come owning something can actually be a job? Contrary to common conviction, Product Owner isn’t a synonym of the CEO or the other C-level positions. The PO has a significant role to play, and it’s definitely much more than just taking advantage of the team’s work. 

The issue is that even the Scrum guides are pretty vague in terms of defining the scope of the PO’s responsibilities. So, what is a product owner, really? Let’s start by taking a look at an official definition to move to the detailed description of this role.

What is a Product Owner?

According to the Scrum Guide 2020, the Product Owner’s fundamental role is to maximize the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. How is it done? That depends on the team’s and product’s specifics. It’s worth noting that the PO may delegate part of their responsibilities to the other team members, but in the end, they are accountable for the results.

The recent boom for Scrum methodology has made the Product Owners one of the most wanted non-developer specialists on the tech market. Scrum has been around for over three decades, but only in recent years, it has become insanely popular among the software houses and not only. 

In its case – as we’ll explain better below – the Product Management background is not enough. Carrying out projects in this methodology requires knowledge of particular Scrum tools that the POs have.

Product owner responsibilities – what does PO really do?

We’ve already mentioned that in Scrum, the Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the product value. But how? Generally speaking, they become the user’s proxy, communicating the customer’s voice to the team.

The fundamental aspect of the PO’s work is the Product Backlog – a list of required product improvements defined in every sprint. 

Product Owner creates the Product Backlog items at each stage of the project and communicates them to both sides, ensuring that they’re visible and transparent. Only the PO can change the Product Backlog and order its items, but the stakeholders can report their suggestions to change its shape. Product Owners are obliged to take these into consideration, but it’s them who always has the final word. 

Aside from prioritizing the backlog, they also create user stories that help the teams take on their perspective and maximize the value of the product as a result.

Product Goal is an integral element of the Product Backlog, defined at the very beginning of the product journey. Further actions are supposed to bring the team closer to its fulfillment. The Product Owner’s responsibility is to see the big picture and make it easier for both sides to see it, too. 

Product Owner vs. Product Manager – what’s the difference?

Reading our description of PO’s role, you may come to the conclusion that it doesn’t differ much from the Product Manager. However, there are slight differences between these two.

Both have to keep themselves updated with the evolving customer’s needs, and both continue their roles with the following product lifecycles. However, the PM’s responsibilities are usually externally oriented, while PO’s focus is internal. PM identifies market and customer needs, while the PO stays closer to the development team, optimizing their work’s value and acting as customer’s advocate. Also, the POs work on Product Backlogs while the PMs work on the roadmaps. These are complementary tools, but each has its own specifics. 

In the Scaled Agile framework, the PM may manage the work of the POs, delivering the insights gathered from external interactions, while in Scrum Agile framework, they’re rather on the same level.

If you want to read more about the role and responsibilities of the Product Owner – also from their own perspective – check this article. There, you’ll find many of the issues here expanded and explained to the smallest detail.

Anik is an IT professional and Data Science Enthusiast. He loves to spend a lot of time testing and reviewing the latest gadgets and software. He likes all things tech and his passion for smartphones is only matched by his passion for Sci-Fi TV Series.