What is a Product Owner, what tasks does he have and where is he situated in the organisation?
The professional contact for the development team
Scrum defines three roles: Scrum Master, Development Team and Product Owner. The Product Owner is responsible for increasing the value of the product in the development process. He is the person who represents the professional point of view and acts as the contact person for the development team. Among other things, he formulates requirements for the desired solution and assesses development progress on the basis of functionality, usability and quality.
The tasks of the Product Owner
The Product Owner has the following tasks:
- He represents the ideas of the stakeholders and communicates regularly with them.
- He creates the product backlog, prioritises items according to business value and takes care of the backlog refinement.
- He is responsible for releases, release plans and the roadmap of the product to be created.
- In sprint planning, he negotiates the sprint goal with the development team and clarifies the user stories to be implemented.
- He declares in the sprint review which Backlog Items have been completed and which are still open.
- He is the professional contact person for the Scrum Master and the development team and should be available regularly and at short notice to answer questions.
Time and again there are discussions about whether the Product Owner bears overall responsibility for the product and is responsible for the success of the product and, ultimately, for marketing, sales, development, operation and support. It is advisable to consider the specific context of an organisation and find a common understanding of the roles, tasks and areas of responsibility, especially since in many organisations it would already be a success if representatives of the above-mentioned areas participated in the Sprint Review.
What isn’t a Product Owner?
It is important to understand what a product owner is NOT:
- He is not the project manager – there is no such person in Scrum.
- He is not the superior of the development team – through the self-determined approach of the development team, which results from the principles of the Agile Manifesto, there is no such leadership task.
- He is not the moderator in various Scrum events such as the Daily Scrum.
He can be, but does not have to be, a manager in the line organisation; what is important is the ability to represent the client competently. Basically, the Scrum Master should intervene if necessary and ensure that the role defined in the Scrum Guide is adhered to. In order to avoid possible conflicts of interest, the Product Owner should not assume a double function as Scrum Master or Developer.
It is repeatedly claimed that the product owner is responsible for the formulation of user stories. This is not the case. Whoever writes these stories is secondary, it is important that users and developers understand each other. And this is the most important task of the product owner. How well he does this can be discussed in the course of retrospectives.
Does the product owner belong to the business department or IT?
Does the Product Owner come from the business department or IT? Many companies are considering where the product owner should be located. Most organisations prescribe the Product Owner – if he is not provided by the external client – in the business department. Depending on the context, however, the answer can vary: if, for example, the organisation is a corporate group or undergoing agile transformation, it is also possible that the product owner comes from the IT department to guarantee the ongoing operation and security of a solution. But even in such a situation, the business department must “set the direction” and the IT department must ensure that everything “necessary” is taken into account, because this is the only way to ensure that the “customer focus” has priority over the “system focus”. In the sense of continuous improvement, it can also make sense to repeatedly address such and similar issues in organisations and to continuously search for the best individual solution.
Product Owner Certification
There are two acknowledged Product Owner certificates:
- Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), offered by the Scrum Alliance
- Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO), offered by Scrum.org
Just like the distinction between the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and the Professional Scrum Master (PSM), the main difference between the CSPO and the PSPO is the type of certification. To obtain the CSPO certificate, a training course – conducted by a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) or a Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) with a subsequent test – is required. The PSPO certificate does not require any training, only the passing of a test.
After the CSPO or PSPO there are further levels for certified product owners:
- Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner (A-CSPO), offered by the Scrum Alliance
- Professional Scrum Product Owner II + III, offered by Scrum.org
Like all certificates of the Scrum Alliance, the CSPO must be recertified every two years. At Scrum.org there is no such requirement.