Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
— Agile Manifesto
Product OwnerThe Product Owner (PO) is a member of the Agile Team who is responsible for maximizing the value delivered by the team and ensuring that the Team Backlog is aligned with customer and stakeholder needs.
As a member of the extended Product Management function, the PO is the team’s primary customer advocate and primary link to business and technology strategy. This enables the team to balance the needs of multiple stakeholders while continuously evolving the Solution.
For most enterprises moving to Agile, the Product Owner role is a new—and typically full-time—role for each Agile Team. Each PO represents the needs of customers and the business within a particular Solution domain, which is typically co-represented by a Product Manager. Together, they ensure that product strategy and implementation remain connected throughout the value stream.
Serving as the ‘voice of the customer’ for the team entails a broad range of responsibilities. The PO must build and manage key relationships, synthesize information from multiple sources, maintain business alignment in the Team Backlog, and communicate effectively with a variety of audiences—all with a bias toward delivering, and learning, quickly.
The PO’s responsibilities can generally be categorized into five primary areas, as shown in Figure 1.
Each of these areas of responsibility is described in the sections below.
Connecting with the Customer
Ensuring that ARTs are continually building the right things and building them right is a never-ending process. Product strategy, design, and implementation must evolve with ever-changing customer desires and business needs. The PO, in close partnership with Product Management, applies a customer-centric mindset along with design thinking tools to guide the ART toward delivering solutions that are desirable, viable, feasible, and sustainable. The PO applies Customer Centricity and Design Thinking in the following ways:
- Know the customer – Value is determined by the customer; therefore, the PO is keenly aware of the needs of the people to whom their products are delivered. Customers may be internal or external to the enterprise and may have direct or indirect relationships with the PO. Whether they consume products, services, systems, APIs, platforms, or other solutions, customers’ wants, needs, and preferences are continually explored by the PO.
- Know the stakeholders – Product design and implementation must also reflect the needs of non-customer stakeholders. Business Owners, Lean Portfolio Management, Product Management, System Architects, and fellow POs, for example, rely on the cadence and quality of the team’s output. The PO identifies key stakeholders and balances their needs with those of the customer.
- Identify the problem to be solved – Good products solve specific problems. What’s more, they solve specific problems that are worth solving. Identifying problems that customers want to be solved is the first element of design thinking. In this context, the PO discovers a range of customer needs through divergent thinking tools, then identifies the ‘jobs to be done’ that are most worth pursuing.
- Develop whole-product solutions – Solutions that address a range of customer needs are more valuable than those that target a single need. POs aim to deliver whole-product solutions by understanding the desired customer experience, guiding the development of candidate designs through the Lean UX process, and delivering tested concepts that maximize customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Contributing to the Vision and Roadmap
While product managers contemplate the solutions and experiences an ART should deliver, POs also understand what solutions and experiences the teams can deliver. This practical insight is a valuable contribution to the vision and roadmaps that guide solution implementation. The PO applies this pragmatic insight in the following ways:
- Understand market forces – Market rhythms, market events, sudden opportunities, competitive threats, and changing regulations significantly influence product strategy. POs regularly engage with Product Management to analyze market research and understand the business drivers that trigger Feature requests.
- Represent the end user – Through frequent interviews, gemba, and reporting, POs are strongly connected to the needs and experiences of their products’ end users. Objective insights about how end-users interact with solutions and the features they desire most ensure that the vision and roadmap contain real value.
- Assist with Product Backlog prioritization – In collaboration with Product Management, System Architects, Release Train Engineers (RTEs), and other stakeholders, POs help guide the sequencing of features over time toward the best economic outcomes. Through their understanding of which problems need to be solved, which solutions would best solve them, and the feasibility of delivering those solutions, POs help ensure that the vision and roadmap are reflected in the Program Backlog.
- Educate the ART during PI Planning – The Vision and Roadmap are living artifacts created and adjusted in alignment with business and technical strategy, but a portion of them is always in scope for near-term implementation. The PO assists with communicating the vision and roadmap during PI Planning to ensure teams are aligned and ready to execute against them.
Managing and Prioritizing the Team Backlog
With input from Product Management, System Architecture, and other stakeholders, the PO has the primary responsibility for maintaining the content and the conceptual and technical integrity of the Team Backlog. Consisting of user stories, enablers, and defects, the backlog must always contain work that is ready to be pulled for implementation by the team and be aligned with the most current needs of customers and stakeholders. The PO manages the ongoing integrity of the team backlog through the following activities:
- Guide Story creation – While any team member can write stories at any time, it is the PO’s responsibility to ensure that they are well-formed and aligned with product strategy. The PO clarifies story details, applies user-story voice, ensures ‘INVEST’ characteristics are present, assists with story splitting, defines enablers, and incorporates behavior-driven design (BDD) to ensure stories support continuous value flow. The PO also allows space for ‘local’ stories and spikes that advance product design but are not derived explicitly from ART-level features.
- Prioritize backlog items – Achieving continuous value flow requires that the highest-value backlog items are delivered in the shortest sustainable lead time and in the right sequence. The PO enables this by regularly ordering backlog items according to their cost of delay and communicating that sequence to the team during backlog refinement and Iteration Planning.
- Accept Stories – The PO works with the team to agree on accepted story completion. This includes validating that the story meets acceptance criteria, that it has the appropriate, persistent acceptance tests, and that it otherwise complies with its Definition of Done (DoD). In so doing, the PO assures that quality is built in.
- Support Architectural Runway – POs do not typically drive technological decisions, but they make space in the backlog to support the implementation of Architectural Runway. They collaborate with System Architects to craft enablers and work with stakeholders to establish appropriate capacity allocations.
Supporting the Team in Delivering Value
Value is created when Agile teams pull from the backlog, implement stories, integrate and test changes, and deliver a solution increment. These value-creation activities occur primarily during iteration execution. As an integral member of the team and their primary customer proxy, the PO provides daily insights that guide development toward the highest-value outputs and the team toward meeting iteration goals. This enables the team and, in turn, the ART, to deliver continuous value.
- Balance stakeholder perspectives – POs constantly receive input, feedback, and insights from customers, stakeholders, teams, and tools that can impact solution development. This information can validate, invalidate, or challenge implementation decisions unexpectedly. Moreover, these sources often conflict with one another. POs balance these perspectives by understanding the needs that drive them, remaining customer-centric, respecting capacity allocations, evaluating the cost of delay, and collaborating with stakeholders and teams to make implementation decisions that produce the most favorable outcomes.
- Elaborate Stories – Stories are typically created before iteration execution but require ongoing elaboration. POs facilitate frequent conversations with their teams to resolve questions, manage dependencies, and communicate priorities that emerge as stories are implemented. This information also helps the team slice stories effectively to achieve increased velocity and shortened learning cycles.
- Foster Built-In Quality – As the primary proxy for customers and stakeholders on the team, the PO plays a pivotal role in evaluating the value delivered from the backlog. The PO regularly evaluates progress toward story acceptance criteria, including compliance with Built-In-Quality criteria, such as the scalable definition of done, and non-functional requirements (NFRs). The PO works closely with the team to detect quality issues as they are introduced and correct them in or near real time.
- Participate in team and ART events – As a member of the Agile team, the PO attends and actively participates in team events during PI execution. During iteration planning, backlog refinement, iteration reviews, team retrospectives, and team syncs, the PO provides crucial feedback on the team’s work from an outside-in, customer-centric point of view. By participating in PO Sync and System Demos, the PO helps the team satisfy dependencies, demonstrate incremental value, and maintain cadence with the ART.
Getting and Applying Feedback
The PO has a primary responsibility for maximizing the value delivered by an Agile team. This, of course, implies that value is known. That knowledge comes from frequent feedback from customers and stakeholders—not just upon delivery but throughout the entire delivery life cycle. The PO is critical in enabling the continuous feedback loops that fuel the value stream. The PO seeks quantitative and qualitative feedback to develop a comprehensive understanding of where solutions are and are not providing real value. The following activities enable the PO to gather and apply feedback from several key sources:
- Test benefit hypotheses – Value can only be realized when a working solution is in the hands of the customer. Even then, it is not guaranteed. During development, therefore, value can only be speculated. To mitigate the risk of delivering solutions with little value, the PO collaborates with Product Management to define benefit hypotheses based on extensive customer and market knowledge. These hypotheses drive implementation and are validated (or invalidated) by feedback the PO gathers from customers and stakeholders throughout the product life cycle.
- Obtain feedback from customers and stakeholders – Customers derive value from their use of delivered solutions. Their feedback indicates how well solutions meet their needs, which drives solution adoption and loyalty. Stakeholders derive value in the form of revenue, cost savings, or decreased risk stemming from customers’ use of delivered solutions. The PO gathers this feedback directly via empathy interviews, gemba walks, iteration reviews, and system demos, and indirectly via application telemetry, usage analytics, financial reporting, and secondary market data.
- Share feedback with the ART – Because solution delivery requires coordination and synchronization across the value stream, the feedback collected by the PO is valuable to the whole ART. The PO shares this information with Product Management and System Architects as part of Continuous Exploration, with other POs during PO Sync, with their teams during backlog refinement, iteration planning, and iteration reviews, and with the ART during PI planning, system demos, and, if applicable, Inspect and Adapt events.
- Evolve solution design – Frequent, customer-centric feedback cycles fuel the Plan-do-Check-Adjust cycle that enables continuous value delivery and the ongoing, relentless improvement of the value stream itself. By gathering and sharing these critical insights, the PO enables the continuous refinement of the product vision, roadmap, strategy, and design toward optimum business value.
The PO is ultimately responsible for maximizing the value delivered by the Agile team, which requires the PO to ensure that the right solutions are built and that they are built the right way. However, the PO cannot accomplish this alone.
Building the right solutions requires deep knowledge of business strategy, customer segments, market dynamics, and value stream economics. The PO establishes a close relationship with Product Management to derive these macro-level insights and apply them to specific product domains. Building solutions the right way requires Team and Technical Agility, DevOps practices, and a Continuous Delivery Pipeline. These technical capabilities determine the speed and quality with which value can be delivered, and the PO relies on the Agile team to provide them.
The PO provides a crucial link in the bi-directional information flow between Product Management and the Agile team. As shown in Figure 2, the PO keeps the Agile team informed of the strategy that drives product design and keeps Product Management informed of the innovations that influence the evolution of product strategy. Customer feedback aligns thinking from strategy through execution and is accessible to all roles.
Last update: 11 October 2022