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Who Is Your Product Owner?

Is it single wringable neck?

9 July 2014

Saravana Bharathi
Capital One

There have been a lot of mixed views about the PO role from those who have been through a bad Agile implementation or haven't gone through formal Agile/Scrum training.

For me, the ideal product owner is Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos -- someone who has the fire in their belly to bring the product to life, someone who has the vision and conviction to shape their ideas. They do everything they can to cross the final line.

Many a time I've said it in a light way: a "single wringable neck." This doesn't mean go and choke your PO's throat. In an Agile project, the product owner is the single person responsible for the success of the project. Briefly, let's look at a PO's role and expectations.

The product owner role

He or she is the key stakeholder and is responsible for the success of the project. He holds your checkbook and, that being said, he decides what to build and what to leave behind. The primary role of the product owner is to act as the voice of the customer's needs, desires, and wishes. He deciphers a lot of verbal and nonverbal interactions with the customer to decide what is valuable and then prioritizes accordingly. This might consume most of his time.

He should be business savvy, because he will be making decisions on behalf of his customers. The product owner is not a rebranded project manager. The product owner's responsibility is to convey what needs to be built and clarify questions, not direct the team on how to build.

Communication, communication, communication. A lot of information flows through him; he is the bridge between the team and the outside world. So he should be good at communicating the message.

Expectations, some tips, and tricks

  • Manage one product at a time.
  • Be transparent to your team.
  • Be available in stand-ups, be available for your team.
  • Try not to direct the team on how to do their job.
  • Clearly articulate your thoughts and the customer's needs.
  • Manage the backlog well (housekeeping).
  • Prioritize the backlog -- high risk, high value first.
  • Plan your releases with the team.
  • Make sound decisions by understanding market conditions.
  • Educate your stakeholders.
  • Not least, be a child at heart.
I strongly recommend Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love, by Roman Pichler. I consider this the bible for every single product owner. Here is the link to the book on Amazon:

Follow me on Twitter @AgileKarma to engage in more conversation. I appreciate your honest feedback.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 3.5 (4 ratings)


Koen van der Pasch, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 7/11/2014 5:43:57 AM
I agree that the Product Owner is not a rebranded Project Manager. The way of working, the approach to the responsibilities is a lot different. But.....

There are a lot of similarities between the role of Product Owner and the role of Project Manager. Like the Project Manager of old, the Product Owner has to:
- Prioritise work
- Plan ahead
- Manage stakeholders

When your organisation transitions to Scrum and everyone's looking at who should fall into what role, you should always look at Project Managers for possible Product Owners. The "old ways" Project Managers may be too directive to fit but the ones that already used to have a coaching approach will fall easily into this role.

I have seen too many organisations try to push Product Managers or Business Consultants into the PO role just to find that they simply lack the necessary skills nor are interested in learning them.

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