Scrum Product Owner

A scrum product owner talking to a scrum team member by a window

What is a Scrum Product Owner? 

In the Scrum methodology, the Scrum Product Owner is usually a project’s key stakeholder—typically someone from marketing or product management, or the lead user of a system. They have a deep understanding of users, the marketplace, competitors, and trends. 

The Scrum Guide states that “the Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from work of the development team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum teams, and individuals.” One of their key responsibilities is managing the product backlog—the prioritized features list for the product.

The Scrum Product Owner prioritizes work during the sprint planning meeting and motivates the team with clear goals, answering any questions. The development team decides how much work they can do, taking the items from the top of the product backlog list.

Key responsibilities. 

The Scrum Product Owner takes the lead in many aspects of a product’s development. They may have to climb into the trenches to help the team during a sprint. Or they may have to wear a strategist’s hat to present the product vision to stakeholders, backed by their sound market knowledge.

Other key responsibilities and roles of a certified Scrum Product Owner include:

  • Defining the vision: They have a pivotal position on the product development team, communicating the goals and vision to customers, business managers, and the development team. They may also provide a product road map to the team—a high-level, strategic visual summary of the vision and goals.

  • Prioritizing the product backlog: After creating a product backlog list, a Scrum Product Owner prioritizes items according to business objectives and overall strategy. They also take into account the project dependencies that will affect the sequence of development. The product backlog is a dynamic document that evolves as the project does.

  • Taking an overview of development stages: After the Scrum Product Owner sets the vision, strategy, and product priorities, they oversee the development of the product through all its stages, including the planning, refinement, review, and sprint for each event. During the project planning phase, they work with stakeholders to set the steps required for the next iteration. They also meet with the team to refine the process, answer questions, and define areas for improvement.

  • Handling communications: Scrum Product Owners must be the primary communicators between stakeholders and development teams. This ensures there is buy-in from the former group on all major decisions, giving clear instructions and priorities to the developers.

  • Knowing what the client needs: By thoroughly understanding client requirements and anticipating what they want, a certified Scrum Product Owner can better manage the development process, anticipate problems, and find good solutions.  

  • Evaluating progress: Since the Scrum Product Owner is accountable for the final product and each stage of its development, they must take a leading role in evaluating the product progress through each iteration. They must make the hard call on whether the team can move to the next step in the development process or return to the drawing board.

It’s beneficial for the Scrum Product Owner to attend the daily Scrum. While daily attendance isn’t mandatory, attending helps the Scrum Product Owner evaluate progress, answer questions, and troubleshoot when necessary. The Scrum Product Owner can provide valuable business context for an issue, making the development team’s work easier.

What makes a good Scrum Product Owner?

Since the Scrum Product Owner must make the final decision on a product’s features, they must be a good business analyst, with a strong understanding of strategy, to keep alignment with the company vision statement. They need to be effective communicators, keeping touch with the development team and internal and external stakeholders.

They also need to have:

  • Great teamwork skills

  • Past success in releasing products and meeting business objectives

  • Subject expertise in a particular product or market

  • A proven record of influencing cross-functional teams

Scrum Product Owner certification.

If you are interested in getting a Scrum Product Owner certification, Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org offer courses and assessments. While you don’t have to be certified to work in this capacity, it’s recommended if you don’t have a lot of experience, want to upgrade your qualifications, or want a competitive edge when applying for work.

Through the Scrum Alliance, you can become a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), taking online or in-person classes taught by Certified Scrum Trainers. You can also receive private coaching from a Certified Agile Coach (CAC). As a CSPO, you learn to create the product vision, order the product backlog, and “make sure the best possible job is done to delight the customer.”

You can receive an assessment to certify as a Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO) from Scrum.org, demonstrating you can apply professional knowledge to real-work situations. It provides a way “to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the role of Product Owner in detail.”

Scrum.org also offers training courses to prepare for the certification assessments, with the cost of the assessment attempt included. There are three options for Professional Scrum Product Owner assessment: PSPO I, PSPO II, and PSPO III.

Differences between the Scrum Master and Scrum Product Owner.

While each performs an essential task in the development process, a Scrum Master is not the same as a Scrum Product Owner. The two work together closely. A Scrum Master heads the Agile team and gives support to the Scrum Product Owner by passing updates to relevant employees. The Scrum Product Owner manages the product backlog and ensures the company realizes maximum value from a product.

According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master serves the Scrum Product Owner by:

  • Ensuring that everyone on the Scrum team understands goals, project scope, and product domain 

  • Finding techniques for effective product backlog management

  • Helping the Scrum team see the necessity for clear and concise product backlog items

  • Understanding product planning in an empirical environment

  • Ensuring the Scrum Product Owner knows how to organize the product backlog to maximize value

  • Understanding and practicing agility

  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed

Scrum Masters must implement the Scrum approach with development and engineering teams.

Scrum Product Owners plan and prioritize work for Scrum teams by working behind the scenes with internal and external stakeholders to create a well-thought-out product road map. Their job involves interviewing customers, reviewing product feedback, analyzing market trends, and getting a product vision approved by senior management.

Scrum Product Owners can help achieve success.

While the Scrum Product Owner wears a lot of hats, bears a lot of responsibility for how a project runs, and must keep track of a lot of moving parts, their feelings of achievement are correspondingly large when a Scrum project achieves its goals.

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