What Does a Product Owner Do? Roles and Responsibilities

What Does a Product Owner Do? Roles and Responsibilities

All the members of an agile product development team have multiple responsibilities. Out of everyone in such a team, the product owner job description is probably the most diverse and important.

A product development team in 2020 is radically different from one that operated even just five years ago. New technology and business methodologies have caused a dramatic shift in how product teams operate, while also making individual product team positions highly sought after in the job sphere.

The product owner is one of the more valuable positions in such a team. It’s also a very rewarding position to work in—in terms of professional experience and salary.

In case you’re looking to build a career as a product owner, it’s important to know the in’s and out’s of the position. To help you learn more about what a product owner does, in this article, we'll provide a detailed explanation of the product owner job description, as well as their roles and responsibilities

Let’s jump right in.

What Does a Product Owner Do? 

A product owner is a product development team member who ensures that each product delivers the maximum value to the user.

They usually hold the central position in each product development cycle. Additionally, they have the ability to operate in various roles within a cross-functional team.

An agile product owner can take on several roles in a scrum development capacity.

Some of these roles are:

  • Business strategist
  • User-centric product designer
  • Customer analyst
  • Market research manager
  • Project manager
  • Development team lead

Additionally, a product owner may also be required to ensure task management best practices in order to maintain agile methodology during development.

Product Owner Job Description: 4 Primary Product Owner Responsibilities

As mentioned, a product manager can sometimes be required to fill several roles, especially if the product calls for hands-on input from a singular expert.

However, the 2020 product owner job description has 4 key responsibilities that anybody in this position has to fulfill.

Let’s take a look at these primary product owner responsibilities

1. Defining Project Vision

An agile product owner has to run point on the product development team from a strategic perspective.

A qualified product manager has high-level knowledge of product development goals and it is their responsibility to communicate those goals to the rest of the team.

Since they are the point person on the product team, they need to communicate with all the stakeholders, including the customers, development team, and business managers.

This is to make sure that everyone involved in the product concept and lifecycle is up to speed on the product goals, and that those goals are in line with the business objectives.

In order to define the product vision, a product owner has to:

  • Maintain a cohesive and singular vision regarding the product
  • Adapt to the fast-paced and flexible nature of agile product development
  • Keep the stakeholders on the same page
  • Create an actionable product roadmap
  • Ensure the feasibility of the product with respect to business objectives

Overall, a product owner serves as a communication hub and a strategic guide for everyone involved with the product.

2. Product Backlog Management

The product backlog is a product team’s virtual to-do list for each individual product run.

A product owner is responsible for creating and maintaining the product backlog. They also need to ensure that the backlog stays up-to-date based on the evolving needs of the project and doesn’t become static.

Furthermore, a product owner has to make the backlog accessible to all parties involved with the product throughout development.

In order to create an effective product backlog, they have to:

  • Come up with backlog items that align with larger business objectives
  • Prioritize these items based on the product strategy
  • Map out realistic project dependencies
  • Implement the most efficient sequence of development

Overall, a product owner needs to continuously work on ways to optimize the backlog for the best possible product performance and business value.

3. Prioritizing Product Needs

Agile product development calls for teams to single out the project needs and lay them out in terms of priority.

A product owner is responsible for coordinating with the rest of the scrum team and prioritizing needs according to the scope, time, and budget triangle.

They do this by weighing each priority against the objectives and needs of stakeholders.

While prioritizing needs, a product owner:

  • Clearly defines any and all project constraints.
  • Gauges which development areas have fewer constraints.
  • Determines which deliverable will be put into development at which time.
  • Repeats the prioritization process for each iteration of the product.

Overall, a product owner has to ensure that the development timeline is realistic. Once a timeline is developed, they have to enable the development team to stick to the timeline.

4. Development Stage Oversight

Once the strategy, vision, and priorities have been set, a product owner needs to oversee the actual product throughout the development cycle.

This is an ongoing process that needs a significant amount of input from the project manager.

A product owner is a key player through each of the development events, including planning, process refinement, product review, and final sprint.

In order to oversee development, the product owner:

  • Works with the development team to identify, define, and organize the steps required for the next iterations.
  • Meets with teams to refine the development process.
  • Identifies any areas with the potential for improvements.
  • Supports the product design sprint.

Overall, the product owner has to keep an eye on development while continuously looking for ways to make processes more efficient.

Individual Requirements in a Product Owner Job Description

Here are some of the capabilities needed to fulfill the role of a product owner:

  • High-level knowledge of agile software development
  • Experience in project management
  • ​Ability to define any and all user stories
  • Excellent communication skills, especially with customers and company leadership
  • An understanding of computer science principals (for software products)
  • Continuous problem-solving ability
  • Some experience with functioning within agile teams

Furthermore, a product owner should know about the ever-changing nature of the software market. Rapidly evolving technology brings with it a unique set of challenges for development teams.

That, plus changing customer needs are often the reason for a product failing to carve out a presence in the market. While the agile methodology manages a lot of the challenges, the end-product needs an expert overseeing its development.

This is where the capabilities of a product owner come in.

What To Look For in the Ideal Product Owner Role in 2020

A product owner is a high-value position due to the required skill diversity.

In many ways, the responsibilities of a scrum product owner are similar to what you would find in a scrum master or product manager resume.

The only difference between the two is that product management is just one of the many roles a product owner has to fulfill. 

Because of this, sometimes, job ads for product owners can be confusing—especially if you aren’t fully aware of what the position demands.

If you’re considering a career in product ownership, make sure you know the job description that comes with it.

Do your homework on the requirements and acceptance criteria of a product owner role and know for sure if you qualify before applying.

 


 

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.