In the product management world, the Scrum team plays a major role in the success of a product. Out of all the team members, the product owner plays the most crucial part. Therefore, it’s imperative to hire the right person for the job. To do that, you should know some of the common product owner interview questions and their typical answers.
Product owners are usually the first product people to be hired. Their job starts before the product manager or development team’s job.
In this article, we’ll see what a product owner does for a company and what are the common product owner interview questions you can ask. If you’re an aspiring product owner, you can also benefit from this article, by using these common product owner interview questions to prepare for an upcoming interview.
Let's dive in.
20 Product Owner Interview Questions and Answers
You should approach a product owner interview from several perspectives. The acceptance criteria should be based on the candidate’s decision-making skills, prioritization abilities, technical experience, and more. The business value associated with a great product owner is massive as they are responsible for several deliverables that make successful products.
The value of the product depends on how well the product life cycle is planned and implemented. And that success depends on how well the product owner’s vision and roadmap are designed.
Therefore, it’s key to ask the right product owner interview questions. Conduct follow-up interviews if you’re not satisfied, but make sure you make the right decision.
Here are some of the common and most important questions you should ask prospective product owners. We will divide the questions into segments:
Segment 1: Product Owner Role
These questions are meant to get a grasp of the candidate's understanding of the job responsibilities.
1. What do you expect from this job as a product owner?
The question is supposed to be an opening question that lets the candidate provide an overview of their exposure. It would tell you how prepared the candidate is for the interview and how much of an expert they are in their field.
Each answer to this question will be different depending on the industry, company, and products. However, there are some commonalities you should look for. A few keywords you should be looking for include sprint planning, sprint retrospective, grooming, and sprint review. If the candidate mentions these activities, you know they have the relevant knowledge and experience.
2. Do you think it's a good idea to have one person performing both the Scrum Product Owner role and the Scrum Master role?
It’s essential to get an idea of how well the candidate understands the entire product development process. This question is the best way to figure out how well the candidate understands their role compared to other roles.
Unless the candidate has a really good explanation, the answer should be "no". Scrum masters and product owners have different responsibilities, and mixing them will always have a negative impact on the development process. The Scrum Master acts as a mediator between the product owner and the development team. Therefore, if the same person plays both roles, a conflict of interest would arise.
3. Do you have experience working with a Scrum framework?
Every product owner needs to have a basic understanding of the Scrum framework. The answer to this question will give you an idea of how well the candidate understands the framework. Their knowledge of the framework can be a baseline on what you can expect from the product owner.
Answering the question would be different for every product owner, but a few elements should remain the same. For example, Scrum is an incremental way of providing value to the end-user in a timely manner. The answer should revolve around this particular statement.
Furthermore, if the product owner describes the origin of the framework, that’s even better. The candidate should also mention the three fundamental roles that come along with it. To be more specific, they should understand the product owner, Scrum team, and the Scrum Master role.
4. What other product discovery frameworks have you worked with?
Scrum is the most widely used Agile software development framework, but that doesn't mean it is the best model for every situation.
If the potential product owner has experience with Kanban or Waterfall, for example, that's going to help them make a judgment of the best approach to take in each circumstance.
Segment 2: Engagement with External Stakeholders
The following questions help the hiring managers to understand the level of experience that candidates have on conducting interviews and getting feedback from users.
5. Who do you consider to be the most important product stakeholder?
One of the most important things to establish is whether the product owner understands whom they’re targeting. Their job requires them to understand the external stakeholders and develop the product accordingly.
The product development process has various key stakeholders, including customers, regulators, professionals, sponsors, and key decision-makers. The potential product owner must understand that each stakeholder plays a key role in the process and why each of those stakeholders is important to interact with. Furthermore, it’s a plus point if they can explain how each stakeholder contributes to the process.
6. How much time do you give to understanding customer needs and user research during product discovery?
A basic understanding of the product discovery phase is essential, however, it’s more important to find out the product owner’s process. Their way of doing things and their rationalization tells you how well they understand the entire process.
The answer to the question tends to be different depending on the company or product. Typically, if someone says they dedicate 50% of their time to user research, that’s a positive sign. However, if they say that they spend 20% or less time, they’re not doing enough. They might be ignoring customer feedback and market conditions.
Segment 3: Internal Stakeholders Leverage
Working with different internal stakeholders is also a big piece of the product owner role. These following questions give recruiters an idea of the level of familiarity that candidates have in this aspect.
7. How do you deal with uncooperative stakeholders?
Understanding the product owner’s process includes determining how they deal with issues and roadblocks. Many times, product owners have to face uncooperative stakeholders, and that puts a bump in the discovery phase. While each person has a different way of dealing with these bumps, product owners always have to be diplomatic in the end.
The answer should involve a diplomatic solution where the product owner would continually engage with the stakeholders to win their confidence. The product owner should demonstrate the value of agile product development and continue discussions. If all else fails, they should seek help from the sponsors.
8. Do you have experience working in a Scrum Team?
A product owner should be able to distinguish different roles and teams involved in product development. Most product owners have experience working in a Scrum product team, but not all of them.
Scrum teams are generally composed of the product owner, Scrum Master, and developers. They work together on sprint measures, product requirements, and user stories. The development team's work also includes coding, developing, and testing.
9. How do you explain your marketplace knowledge to the Scrum team?
While the product owner has the marketplace knowledge needed to develop a product vision, the rest of the team doesn’t. It’s the product owner’s job to communicate the appropriate marketplace knowledge to the Scrum team. The answer to this question determines the candidate’s ability to communicate that knowledge successfully.
Traditionally, marketplace knowledge is communicated through informal interactions. However, planning meetings and having formal discussions, such as standup, is also a great way of explaining current market trends to the Scrum team.
10. How do you go about updating the team on the product and market situation? Where do you source information?
One of the crucial parts of a product owner’s job is to make the team aware of any changing market demands and priorities. Since the product owner develops the vision, it’s their job to make sure everyone else understands it too. The question allows the candidate to not only explain the process but also what information is most important.
The answer should be more team-oriented and should exemplify the team’s importance. It should emphasize the importance of being on the same page so that the product is developed successfully. Furthermore, the answer should include what information you should relay to the teams. That can consist of changing market situations, backlog changes, changing priorities, and new product requirements.
Segment 4: Product Roadmap Planning
These questions will give candidates the opportunity to speak more in-depth about their skills in the field.
11. How would you redesign our product?
The first step in designing or redesigning a product is to build a strategic roadmap. Candidates should answer this question with a brief outline of the steps they would take.
This starts with understanding what exactly needs improvement on the product. That happens through internal and external communication -- with customers, engineers, customer support team, and other stakeholders.
After the entire team is on the same page, technical product owners would work with the engineering team to develop unique features that add value to users. That usually happens through processes guided by a product owner or project manager.
12. Tell me about the last time you developed a product roadmap?
The product roadmap is perhaps the most critical step when developing a product. The best way to gauge a product owner’s ability to do their job is to see how they handle product roadmap development.
The answer to the question will vary based on the candidate’s exposure and expertise. For example, in smaller organizations, the product owner is likely to be directly involved in the development of the product roadmap. In larger organizations, product owners would only provide their input. In any case, the product owner would take feedback with every release and cross-check it with the product backlog. They would analyze every feature and design to check whether the roadmap is developed correctly. If the candidate mentions how it’s essential to follow the Cone of Uncertainty, their answer is a success.
13. How do you use the product vision when building a product roadmap?
This question helps the recruiter to understand if the candidate has a thorough knowledge of the product development cycle -- from the product vision to product launch.
The product vision includes the purpose, image, and the values a product has. It explains why the product exists and what purpose it will serve for the customer. The product roadmap should be based on product vision. It is a blueprint of how the vision will be achieved. It includes growth tactics, stakeholder alignment tactics, budget development, a timeline, goals, milestones, and deliverables in development.
14. Tell me about the last time that a stakeholder's feedback affected your product roadmap?
Various stakeholders tend to suggest or desire some changes for the product. The product owner has to satisfy every product stakeholder to ensure product success. This question is a test to see how the candidate would handle stakeholder desires.
The right answer would be to coordinate and collaborate with the stakeholders while planning the product roadmap. The product owner would seek the stakeholders’ input and feedback while defining backlog items. Continuous discussions and constant collaboration is the key to ensure stakeholder wishes are taken care of.
Segment 5: User Stories and Product Backlog
User stories and product backlogs are both crucial parts of product and software development. These following questions are meant to give candidates the chance to demonstrate their experience with these aspects of product development.
15. What should a good user story look like?
This question is meant to check the candidate's knowledge of a user story's structure.
The product owner is the face of the customer. They are the ones who understand the customer or client best. They must know what a product needs to be successful. That gives them the power to control the release of user stories because they see the result of it.
16. How do you go about backlog prioritization?
Backlog prioritization is essential to make sure the right features make it into the final product, and of course, to avoid technical debt. This question will show whether the candidate is capable of effectively prioritizing changes to existing product features, to new features launch, and bug fixes.
The best outcome will be if the candidate mentions the MoSCow method. However, if someone mentions and explains Stack Ranking, that would be a good indicator of success too.
17. What would you do if you’re unable to control the product backlog?
A product owner should have absolute control over the product backlog items. It’s their job to make sure that the backlog is healthy and updated. Therefore, recruiters should expect a product owner to have confidence when it comes to the product backlog.
But this question will show how candidates would handle adversities in the job. It would also show how they would go about relying on their co-workers and managers.
Segment 6: Sprint Planning and Implementation
In an Agile team, a sprint is a set period of time during which specific work has to be completed and made ready for review. If candidates know how to effectively plan, organize, and implement a sprint, chances are that they will be successful in the job.
18. Sprint planning requires a lot of resources. Should you release all of them?
Asking this question would tell hiring managers whether the potential product owner understands the difference between sprint planning and release planning.
Prospect product owners should know that you don’t have to release every sprint. Product deployment is a planning activity and can be based on every sprint. Product release is purely business and strategic activity. Development teams will create the products, but any future decisions are business decisions. Those decisions are made along with the product manager.
19. How would you explain what is a sprint to someone who doesn't have experience in product development?
Explaining what a sprint is to someone who doesn't have familiarity with Agile development is not an easy task. Candidates' who don't have much experience leading sprints will likely use a few industry jargons while candidates with strong familiarity with product development will be able to explain a sprint using simple words.
Ideally, the answer would highlight the fact that sprints are short and protected from external changes. This interview question also allows recruiters to evaluate the candidate's ability to communicate with different audiences.
20. What do you think that justifies canceling a sprint?
It’s crucial to figure out how the candidate would treat sprints. This question will tell you how dedicated the product owner will be to each sprint.
The right answer would be that a cancellation only occurs when there’s a drastic change in priorities. For example, if some critical requirements with high priority are suddenly marked as a low priority, there would be no point in continuing further. Most importantly, the product owner can only make a call to cancel the sprint; they do not have absolute power to do so.
Acing Product Owner Interview Questions
A product owner’s job is complicated and requires a lot of knowledge and expertise. As a consequence, finding the right candidate to perform the job is not easy.
Hiring a great product owner is essential as they are masterminds of successful products. For product owners, it’s important to have the right expertise and knowledge when you’re applying for the job.
The product owner interview questions listed above are common questions asked by recruiters.
If you need to put together effective interview questions, feel free to use these questions as inspiration. If you’re on the other side of the table -- looking into landing a PO job -- make sure you are able to answer these questions with confidence.
If you are new to product management and are looking to break into your first product role, we recommend taking our One Week PM course, where you will learn the fundamentals of product management, launch your own product, and get on the fast track towards landing your first product job.