6 Key Roles of the Scrum Product OwnerMainImage-2.jpgIn Agile development, everyone is responsible for project success but none more than the Scrum Product Owner. The Product Owner leads the development effort by conveying his or her vision to the team, outlining work in the backlog, and prioritizing it based on business value.

The Product Owner straddles a fine line between the stakeholders and the delivery team. Of course, he or she must consider the stakeholders (to make sure their interests are included in the release) and the team (to make sure the release is developed within budget and quality parameters). As such, the Product Owner must be available to the team to answer questions and deliver direction. The Product Owner is the one person who must face the music if the project crashes and burns. Therefore, he or she must aggressively determine which features of a product are most important, when they are developed, etc. Just as the delivery team must produce the negotiated work for the Product Owner, the Product Owner must deliver the product to the customer.

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The role of Product Owner is so varied that I often think of them as wearing six hats, usually all at the same time:

  • Visualist
  • Communicator
  • Investment Manager
  • Editor
  • Negotiator
  • Representative
Visualist

As a visualist, the Product Owner must have a vision of the product being delivered. I prefer visualist to the term often used, visionary, since a visualist is a proactive role. They draw conclusions from the facts and they act on them. A visualist takes difficult concepts and reduces them to simpler terms so that a complicated idea or emotion can be more easily understood.

Communicator

Communication is a main function of the Product Owner. The ability to convey priorities and empathize with team members and stakeholders is vital to steer the project in the right direction. Product Owners bridge the communication gap between the team and their stakeholders. The Product Owner role requires working closely with key stakeholders throughout the organization and beyond, so he or she must be able to communicate different messages to different people about the project at any given time.

Investment Manager

Running a development team costs real people real money, and plenty of it. The people who fund the team's efforts view the money they are putting in as an investment. The Product Owner's job is to maximize the return that the company gets on its investment in the team; the ROI. The Product Owner validates the solutions and verifies whether the quality is acceptable or not from the end-users’ point of view. He or she also has to determine the importance of single features in order to prioritize them and their treatment.

Editor

Like a newspaper editor, the Product Owner must plan a slate of stories for every cycle. The Product Owner works with the team to clarify the value and intent of each user story, and accepts or rejects stories when your team thinks they are done. Just as no news story makes it into the paper until the editor says it's ready, no user story makes it into the product until the Product Owner says it's ready.

Negotiator

A Product Owner’s ability to communicate effectively is also enhanced by being skilled in techniques that identify stakeholder needs, negotiate priorities between stakeholder interests, and collaborate with developers to ensure effective implementation of requirements.

Representative

The Product Owner serves as a proxy stakeholder to the delivery team and as a project team representative to the overall stakeholder community. Like a congressperson, the Product Owner must deliver value to those he or she represents and must properly set expectations when it becomes clear that the stakeholders may not get everything they want in the timeframe they want it. Successful Product Owners need to listen to everybody's point of view, lobby behind the scenes, and practice diplomacy. They also act as a buffer between the stakeholders and the scrum team, eliminating the noise so the team can concentrate on delivering.

We hear a lot about the Scrum Master role and its importance to the team. Every team member is important to the team. But the Product Owner role is so varied and touches so many other team members, that it makes the role truly unique in Agile.