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The Role of a Product Owner on Agile Projects
NK Shrivastava and Phillip George
RefineM Project Management Consulting
Agile methodology has many well-defined roles, ceremonies and procedures that nevertheless
are carried out in different ways in different organizations. Many times, the people playing these roles
may not fully know what they are expected to do. As a result, they may skip key parts of their role that
make Agile work. This is especially true with the product owner. Product owners are very important to
the success of an Agile project; Mike Cohn goes farther to argue that, the Scrum product owner is
typically a projects key stakeholder.
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Because the product owner is so important, those who act as one
need to fully understand the roles and responsibilities of one.
In this article, we will discuss the roles and responsibilities of product owners on Agile projects,
including what value they add to the project, where they participate, and how they interact with other
participants and ceremonies. We will see that product owners play a heavy and critical role on an Agile
project and are a key part of both developing the products vision and making that vision a reality.
Who is the product owner?
Essentially, the product owner is the person who owns the product on behalf of the company.
In this role, the product owner serves as the voice of the customer. He or she is responsible for
ensuring that the product team delivers value to the business and is often a key point of interaction with
stakeholders, collecting and prioritizing their interests from the early point of the project and making
sure they have regular opportunities to contribute.

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Cohn, Mike (2014). "Scrum Product Owner: The Agile Product Owner's Role." Mountain Goat Software. Web.
http://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/agile/scrum/product-owner/

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Two key responsibilities of the product owner, according to Mike Cohn, are to have a vision of
what he or she wishes to build and convey that vision to the Scrum team.
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Product owners do this
primarily through their interactions with the product roadmap and the product backlog. The product
roadmap is a high-level plan that describes how the product should grow, and the product owner will
use it to express where he or she wants to take the product. The product backlog is where the products
requirements are stored, typically in the form of user stories. The product owner is involved in
prioritizing these, either directly or through participating in estimating exercises like planning poker.

Figure 1.1. Sample product roadmap.
Product owners can come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but the best product owners are
likely to be people who understand the marketplace, trends, and above all, users. Good candidates
include product managers, lead users, and marketing specialists. Some other key traits of the product
owner include solid communication skills and regular availability. Solid communication skills are
required because product owners do a lot of communicating with the company, the team, and
stakeholders. Regular availability is critical because of how often ceremonies and exercises need the
product owner present. Three keys to an effective product owner are, according to Roman Pichler
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:
thoroughly understanding customer needs,
actively managing stakeholders, and
having basic knowledge of how software is developed and deployed.
Where Is the Product Owner Involved?
The product owner is involved heavily throughout the Agile project and participates in many of
the Scrum ceremonies. To start, the product owner participates in at least the first half of the Sprint
Planning meeting to address what the team is being asked to build. The product owner may also attend
the second half, to address how the team achieves the desired functionality, but is not required to.

2
Cohn, Mike (2014). "Scrum Product Owner: The Agile Product Owner's Role." Mountain Goat Software. Web.
http://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/agile/scrum/product-owner/
3
Pichler, Roman (2007, 23 April). Being an effective product owner. Scrum Alliance. Web.
http://www.scrumalliance.org/community/articles/2007/april/being-an-effective-product-owner

www.refineM.com contact@refineM.com 405 N. Jefferson Ave, Springfield, MO 65806 417.414.9886
Daily standups are another place where the product owner can be involved; he or she should try
to attend regularly or send a representative. Product owners, like other team members, need to be able
to answer the three key questions of the daily standup:
1. What did I do last meeting?
2. What do I plan to do today?
3. What obstacles am I encountering?
Participating and answering the first two questions helps product owners establish credibility with the
team through greater accountability. However, the third question is critical for a product owner because
he or she may be able to clear obstacles for other team members. Even if not, the product owner needs
to know what the obstacles are.
Estimation exercises and planning games are also likely to involve the product owner. Planning poker
typically is led by the product owner, who will describe the requirement and facilitate the estimations.
Affinity estimating has the product owner challenge step, where the product owner discusses the sizes
with the team. If the team does decide to change the size of a story, they first remove it from the wall
and then place it according to the revised size that they arrive at, based on discussions with the product
owner. Finally, the product owner also participates in the buy a feature game, helping the team
develop what is selected by stakeholders using their available cash.
During sprints, the product owner helps to prioritize items in the product backlog. This prioritization
helps the team when they go to construct the sprint from the backlog. During this process, the product
owner can also help the team by defining and describing the high-level goal of each sprint. In the sprint
processes, these two areas are where the product owner can and should help most.
In contrast, the product owner should not be involved with the following:
1. Selecting specific user stories to be included in a sprint. This needs to be the teams
responsibility as a self-motivating Agile team. Selecting the stories for the team lessens their
ownership and therefore their motivation.

2. Adding new requirements during a sprint. The best time for new requirements is
between sprints, and the team and stakeholders should expect there to be some changes
here. Adding them during the sprint, however, makes the sprint less effective because the
team has to change focus.


www.refineM.com contact@refineM.com 405 N. Jefferson Ave, Springfield, MO 65806 417.414.9886
Summary
Product owners are essential to the success of Agile projects. They play many key roles
in acting as a bridge between the company, the customer, and the team. It is not required that
they be technical experts, but it helps if they understand the project, the organization, and the
basics of software development to make informed decisions. Most of all, product owners need
the time and energy to devote full attention to the project, taking a regular involvement in order
to remove obstacles and expedite solutions. Doing these things will help product owners
develop and increase the chances of success on Agile projects.