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's or the development team’s job.
In this article, we’ll discuss what a product owner does for a company and the most common product owner interview questions that you can ask as a recruiter. Alternatively, if you’re an aspiring product owner, you can learn how to answer these common product owner interview questions.
Let's dive right in.
What Exactly Does a Product Owner Do?
Many people tend to confuse the roles of a product owner with the role of a product manager. The truth is that the work of the product owner allows the product manager to do their job. For this reason, the product owner comes first.
The roles and responsibilities of a product owner are relatively linear and similar in most cases. However, it can still be hard to understand what a product owner does.
The product owner role is based on the Scrum framework. It’s the least distinct role, but also one of the most important ones.
The product owner is responsible for the development of the product vision. The product vision then helps develop the product roadmap that’s handled by the product team. While product development requires teamwork (an agile team at that), product initiation is up to the product owner.
Other than that, product owners need to understand the concept of product discovery. They deal with external and internal stakeholders to develop the right product plan. Eventually, they assist product managers, project managers, and the Scrum master in product roadmap planning.
Throughout that process, they also maintain a product backlog. Product backlog items include everything from new features of a product to older features. Product owners are also responsible for product backlog refinement and prioritizing specific product features as a result.
The entire product development process usually requires specific skills and expertise. Therefore, product owners are typically familiar with things such as the Waterfall Model, Kanban, technical debt, agile development (agile software development), daily standups, sprint reviews, and more.
18 Product Owner Interview Questions and Answers
You should approach a product owner interview from several perspectives. The acceptance criteria should be based on things like the candidate’s decision-making and prioritization abilities. The business value of the right product owner is massive and they’re responsible for several deliverables for successful products.
The value of the product depends on how well the product lifecycle is planned and going. And that success depends on how well the product owner’s vision and roadmap are designed.
Therefore, it’s imperative to ask the right 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 product owner interview questions you should ask prospective product owners. Each question is followed by the right way to answer them, as well.
Understanding the Role of a Scrum Product Owner (And How It’s Different from a Scrum Master)
1. What are the typical activities of a Product Owner?
This question is supposed to be an opening question that lets the candidate provide an overview of their exposure. It will tell you how prepared the candidate is for the interview and how much of an expert they are in the field.
Each answer to this question will be different depending on the industry, company, and products. However, there are some common themes you should look for. For example, a few keywords you should hope to hear are sprint planning, sprint retrospective, grooming, and sprint review. If the candidate mentions these activities, you know they have the relevant knowledge and experience.
2. Can a Product Owner and Scrum Master be the same person?
This is essential to get an idea of how well the candidate understands the entire product process. Such a question is the best way to figure out how well the candidate understands their role compared to other roles.
In any case, the answer should always 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, it could lead to a conflict of interest if the same person plays both roles.
3. What exactly is 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 will 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. It’s best to also talk about the values of Scrum, which nclude Courage, Commitment, Focus, Respect, and Openness. The candidate should also mention the three fundamental roles that come along with it: the product owner, Scrum team, and the Scrum Master role.
Product Discovery Using External Stakeholders
4. Who are your main (external) product stakeholders?
One of the most important things to establish is whether the product owner understands who they’re targeting. Their job requires them to understand external stakeholders and develop the product accordingly.
For any product, the external product stakeholders product owners interact with are customers, regulators, professionals, sponsors, and key decision-makers. It might be a good idea to ask the product owner 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.
5. 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.
6. What’s the best way to 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 continuing discussions. If all else fails, they should seek help from the sponsors.
Collaboration with Product Managers and Technical Product Owners
7. What is the difference between the development team and the Scrum team?
A product owner should be able to distinguish different roles and teams involved in product development. While most product owners understand the difference between a Scrum team and a development team, not everyone can list down the differences. A correct answer to this question can be an indicator of how well the candidate understands the roles of their teams.
The main difference between the teams is that the Scrum team consists of the product owner, Scrum Master, and the team. They work on sprint measures, product requirements, and user stories. Alternatively, the development team does the actual work when it comes to coding, developing, and testing.
8. 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. This question here 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 is also a great way of explaining current market trends to the Scrum team.
9. How would you update the team on the product and market situation? What kind of information would you need?
One of the crucial parts of a product owner’s job is to keep the team up-to-date on any changing market demands and priorities. Since the product owner develops the vision, it’s their job to make sure everyone else also understands it. This 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 info can consist of changing market situations, backlog changes, changing priorities, and new product requirements.
Questions on Product Roadmap Planning
10. How would you develop or help develop 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.
11. How are the product vision and roadmap connected?
This question is there to see how well the product owner understands their duties.
The right answer would be that 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. On the other hand, the product roadmap 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.
12. How would you include suggestions from stakeholders in the 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. The following 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 are the keys to ensure stakeholder wishes are taken care of.
Questions on User Stories and Product Backlog
13. Does a product owner control the release of user stories?
The following question is just there to check if the candidate understands their position. It would tell you how much responsibility the product owner expects.
The right answer would be that the product owner is the face of the customer. They understand the customer or client best. Therefore, they 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.
14. What’s the best way to go about backlog prioritization?
Backlog prioritization is essential to making sure the right features make it into the final product. Therefore, this question will help you understand how the candidate would assist in making sure that happens appropriately.
The best outcome will be if the candidate mentions the MoSCow method. However, if someone mentions and explains Stack Ranking, that would also be acceptable.
15. If you’re unable to control the product backlog, would you still be a product owner?
Such product owner interview questions act as tests to see how well the product owner understands their role.
The truth is that the product owner should have absolute control over the product backlog. It’s their job to make sure that the backlog is healthy and updated. Therefore, you cannot be a credible product owner if you’re not in control of the product backlog.
Questions on Sprint Planning
16. Sprint planning requires a lot of resources, should you release all of them?
Asking the following question would tell you whether the product owner understands the difference between sprint planning and release planning.
The right answer would be 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 a 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.
17. What are some of the properties of a sprint?
This question is there to check the product owner’s understanding of sprints.
The right answer would include the following four properties:
- Everything in a sprint is time-boxed.
- The sprint has protection from any changes.
- Time-boxed development lets you gather metrics on intervals.
- A sprint should not exceed one calendar month.
The product owner should mention at least three of the properties listed above.
18. What justifies canceling a sprint?
It’s crucial to figure out how the candidate would treat sprints. For that reason, this question will tell you how dedicated the product owner will be to each sprint.
The right answer would be that a cancelation 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. It’s enough to justify the average product owner salary.
For recruiters, hiring the right 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. While the product owner role may vary based on the organization and industry, you should have a basic understanding of it.
The product owner interview questions listed above are common questions asked by recruiters. If you’re able to answer them successfully, you should be able to understand how the product owner role will work in any company.
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 fundamentals of product management, launch your own product, and get on the fast track towards landing your first product job.
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