How To Be a Product Owner

In this next post in my series on using Scrum, I’ll discuss some of the do’s and don’ts of being a Product Owner (in the Scrum meaning of the words). Often the role of the Product Owner is new to the person who is taking it on. It does take some time and practice to get into the groove and to get used to the demands of being in this role, but ultimately it is a role that is both necessary and important to the success of a project. 

The Product Owner role during the sprint cycle

Before a sprint starts, the Product Owner is busy gathering requirements and grooming the Product Backlog.  The Product Backlog should contain all of the user stories and the high level descriptions of functionality – it’s the wish list from the stakeholders regarding this project. Although anyone can contribute to the Product Backlog, the Product Owner owns putting priorities on these items in terms of their value to the organization. These values can change, as things change within the organization, but they must be there in order to indicate which items need to be pulled into the next sprint.

The Product Owner comes to the Sprint Planning Meeting fully prepared with a Sprint Backlog — a list of items that have been prioritized and is ready to relay the vision of the sprint to the Scrum Team. After this meeting, she must be available to answering questions from the team as the requirements are broken into tasks.

During the sprint, the Product Owner is available to the team as questions arise. As work is completed, she can be a part of testing and approving the tickets. She is communicating progress to stakeholders if need be. During this time she is also grooming the backlog and starting to think about what to put in the next sprint.

At the end of each sprint, the Product Owner, along with any other necessary stakeholders, attends the Sprint Review Meeting and approves the work that the team completed.

Key Requirements of the Product Owner

  • Is a subject matter expert and understands what the stakeholders want
  • Has autonomy to make decisions
  • Owns and creates the requirements (and does not need to be technical, just relay the requirements as user stories – as an x user, I want to do y, so that z.)
  • Communicates the vision to the team
  • Is present and available to the team
  • Manages conflict (this could be with Management or the Scrum Team)
  • Is always thinking about the next sprint and filling in details
  • Considers Release Planning in regards to stakeholder needs and product readiness

What does the Product Owner NOT do?

  • Usually does not attend the Daily Scrum Meetings (or if she does, is only there to hear an update)
  • Usually does not attend the Retrospective meeting (although she can give feedback and may also receive feedback)
  • Does not choose how much work will be accomplished in the sprint – the team will do this, based on the priorities she has set and what they feel they can accomplish. She is welcomed to give opinions and to move things in and out during the Sprint Planning Meeting
  • Does not change anything within the sprint once it has started and she cannot add items to the sprint

The role of the Product Owner can include other things as well, and can be specific to the project needs. What is important to keep in mind here is that the role has very specific responsibilities and there is a nice balance between this role and the ScrumMaster and the rest of the Scrum Team. The Product Owner determines the vision and the priorities, and while she may receive and incorporate feedback from the team, the Product Owner has the final say.


2017-03-31T06:20:03+00:00 Categories: Agile, Project Management|

About the Author:

Elizabeth joined CivicActions in 2010 as an Agile Project Manager, leading teams of developers and designers through successful digital projects for nonproft and government clients. Her impeccable attention to quality and enthusiasm for human connection propelled her to become Director of Professional Services in 2014. In this role, she oversees hiring, business development, team leadership, client relationships, and thousands of small details per day — all while helping team members remain present and productive.

Elizabeth excels at facilitating change, encouraging growth, and empowering people. She brings an aura of confidence and balance to even the most complicated projects, inspiring her teams to problem-solve and collaborate until victory is achieved. She has served on a myriad of projects for CivicActions clients such as the Department of Defense, the City of Los Angeles, C2ES, Denver Public Library, EatFresh (San Francisco Human Services Agency), FosterClub, GlobalMDP Program (Columbia University), Netpop, and SACNAS.

As a certified ScrumMaster, Elizabeth is passionate about spreading the positive impact of agile project management in public sector organizations. She helped establish and expand Agile Government Leadership (AGL), a community powered network of agile professionals working to increase user-centered, iterative processes in government. She collaborates with the AGL working group to provide resources, arrange partnerships, host events, and facilitate conversation so agencies can be empowered to start using agile methods. Elizabeth has also moderated and spoken at a number of events across the country on the topic of agile government.

Before joining CivicActions, Elizabeth served as Director of Project Management for the software company Casting Networks, where she helped form the PM and QA groups, along with introducing and implementing agile methodologies.

Elizabeth holds a BFA from Wayne State University and lives in the Bay Area with her husband and young daughter. She appreciates the flexibility of working full time from home, hanging out with her kiddo during lunch breaks, and practicing yoga for mental balance and physical health. Elizabeth also enjoys reading the funnier side of the internet or getting outside with her family — being in California, this means the beach and the mountains.