Product Owners In Agile – The Really Hard Role! 

Product owners are a part of the leadership structure in Agile teams. Leadership in Agile teams include some combination of Scrum master, product owner, team leader, coach and/or team members. The product owner has a special level of power and leadership as the voice of business and often as the conduit to the sponsor’s wallet. The leader’s role in shaping the culture of the team (and by extension other teams) and communication falls heavily on the product owner’s shoulders. Innovation is a core team attribute affected by culture. Product owners, when the right person fills the role, are perfectly situated to shape a team’s culture. The execution of this role is severely hampered when the PO falls prey to any of the anti-patterns, such as proxy or disinterested product owners.

In Product Owners, The Really Hard Role, I will share lessons gathered through hundreds of interviews with practitioners, pundits, and consultants filtered through practical experience. The session will include a hands-on exercise to help attendees to internalize the nuances of the product owner role.


Outline/Structure of the Talk

  • Product Owners In Agile –
    The Really Hard Role!

Product Owner

A Scrum thought-leader writes about the product owner:

“The Product Owner is the one and only person responsible for managing the Product Backlog and ensuring the value of the work the team performs. This person maintains the Product Backlog and ensures that it is visible to everyone.”

~ Ken Schwaber, “Scrum Guide”

The Product Owner Role is Hard!

  • My Experience Might Not Be Typical So . . .

Why do you feel the product owner’s role is difficult?

What Products? We Do Projects

“Product Owner’s role is difficult because many times (in big enterprises especially) products are not clearly defined.

The responsibility for the associate product, or group of products, may not have clear accountability and may lack one central decision owner. Many ‘initiatives’ are highly complex and extend across multiple business organizations, ARTs, scrum teams, etc.

There is no clear owner or decision maker. This makes product development prioritization and stakeholder management very difficult.”

~Senior Manager – Strategic Planning
Name and Organization Withheld

  • Define Products and Take a #NoProjects Focus
  • Software isn’t temporary
    - Projects are temporary

Product Owner Characteristics

  • Visionary and Doer
  • Leader and Team Player
  • Communicator and Negotiator
  • Empowered and Committed
  • Available and Qualified

Product Owner Responsibilities

  • Ensures backlog is visible to everyone;
  • makes decisions;
  • defines the product vision and the features of the product;
  • prioritize user stories according to market value;
  • grooms the product backlog every iteration;
  • accepts or rejects work results;
  • calls for and plans the releases;
  • involving customers, users, and other stakeholders;
  • prepares for the product launch;
  • attends the Scrum meetings, and
  • collaborates with the team.

Many Product Owners are Grasping for Straws

The Role is Poorly Defined and Overly Broad

“It's an overloaded role that seldom sees success. The role is asked to be responsible for visioning, identification, sequencing (prioritizing), communication, and qualification of work among other things. In aberrant practices of the role, it is also made responsible for selection and scheduling etc. Sure, super humans can perform the role not the rest of us.

~ Ajay Reddy Author, Founder, Enterprise Coach

Get The Role Right:
Product Owners Are Part of the Team

  • Embed the product owner with the team.

- Removes the product owner from their normal job which often requires a replacement cost, opportunity costs and a return path to the business.

- Yields reduced cost of development, faster time-to-market and improved quality and customer satisfaction.

Get The Role Right:
Product Owners Come From the Business

“(Product owners need) to balance the needs of several and wildly different sets of stakeholders, prioritize and convert them into good Stories and Epics that are well understood, not only in a technical level but also from a business value perspective, so that the team understands not only the how but also the why.”

Get The Role Right:
Proxy Product Owners Cause Problems

  • Not adequately integrating business representatives into the team.

–Reduces business knowledge in decision making when it
actually needed.

  • Reinforcing the perceived divide between IT and the business.

–Requires blind trust or more oversight and vetting.

  • Substituting proxies for business involvement.

–Slows decision making and increases cost.

Get The Role Right:
Product Owner is Not a Part Time Role

The PO is likely not dedicated to just being a PO. That means they have a day job or other tasks they focus on. This could mean a PO isn't as engaged as they should be, likely leading to project teams not getting feedback “as quickly as they need.”
~ Chris Vedete

Product Owner, The Carlyle Group

Get The Role Right:
Product Owners are Leaders

Get The Role Right:
Product Owners Shape Team Culture

  • Organizational culture is a reflection of the beliefs, ideologies, policies, and practices of an organization.
  • Team culture, in Agile, in addition to being influenced by the organization’s culture is heavily influenced by the product owner’s interpretation of the organization’s culture.
  • Get The Role Right:
    Product Owner Is Not A Sponsor

Get The Role Right:
Teach Product Owners To Prioritize

Most of the Agile frameworks just assume that product owners know how to make prioritization decisions, describe the purpose of the effort, and keep the team aligned. The creators of these efforts view product ownership as a black box. Unfortunately, many Product Owners aren’t terribly versed in focusing on outcome over output, building a shared understanding, and making decisions.”
~ Kent McDonald
Product Manager and Writer, Knowledge Bridge Partners

Get The Role Right:
Networker Rather Than Information Conduit

  • Conduit

–Guides and shapes the information flow to the team.

–Gathers, parses and filters information for the team.

–Single point of control (think bottleneck).

Get The Role Right:
Nuances At Scale

  • Nuances in Application

–Outsources Development: Product owner must be from the organization that outsources the work. Must be a negotiated role to avoid transparency and legal issues.

–External Product Development: Product owner must balance the needs of vastly larger pool of stakeholders (full supply chain)

– Internal Product Development: Product owner must be adept internal politics in order to connect the team(s) with internal stakeholders that can and often do have different tactical goals.

Get The Role Right:
Nuances at Scale

  • Nuances in Role

–Backlog Prioritization: Need to balance the needs and wants of a wider range of stakeholders and potentially other product owners.

–Facilitation of Communication: The product owner will generally need to have (or have access to) more political power to ensure the effort has access to the resources and SMEs they need.

–Clarification of Needs and Requirements: Needs to actively
create collaboration situations with the team, other
business stakeholders and potentially other product owners.

–Connections Between Team(s) and SMEs: Needs to be a networker not a conduit.

Get The Role Right:
Other Common Product Owner Mistakes

  • Underpowered Product Owner


  • Overworked Product Owner

–Not enough time

–Not enough support from team

  • Reluctant Product Owner

–May be difficult to engage

  • Distant Product Owner

–Communication problems

  • Product Owner Committee


–One person needs to be in charge

The Product Owner Role is Hard!

But should not require an ejection seat!

Learning Outcome


That an agile team's product owner has a special level of power and leadership.

How to identify common product owner problems.

How to correct common product owner problems.

Why the whole team is responsible for making a product owner successful and delivering value.

Target Audience

Product Owners and the teams that rely on them

Prerequisites for Attendees

Participants should have participated in delivering agile value in a team setting and wish to improve their product owner "game".



schedule Submitted 3 years ago