- What is a Product Owner?
- The Product Owner’s Duties and Responsibilities
- The Product Owner’s Skills and Qualifications
- Team Collaboration and Stakeholders: Who the Product Owner works with
- Challenges of the Product Owner position
- Measuring Performance: Product Owner OKRs
- Product Owner Salary Range and Daily Rates
The Product Owner role is relatively recent, originated as part of the Scrum agile framework in software development. Today, this role is in high demand in multiple industries because the Product Owner can positively influence the business.
America’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 10% growth for computer and information systems Product Owners over the next ten years.
LinkedIn has identified the Product Owner position as emerging in 2020, with a 24% annual growth in the US.
What is a Product Owner?
Building a new product or feature isn’t easy. But with the help of a Product Owner (PO), a key member in the product management team who is involved in the entire development cycle, organizations manage to successfully launch products and services that customers love.
The Product Owner Role in Software Development
The Product Owner is the person responsible for setting the vision and direction for the product and guiding the team to make it a reality. A Product Owner’s goal is to deliver a successful product to users in a way that aligns with the company vision.
To do so, a PO interacts directly with the business to obtain information and they prioritize the features that need to be implemented.
The PO also analyzes the market, identifying areas of improvement, and supports the product design sprint.
The Product Owner Role in an Agile Team
In the Scrum Guide, the Product Owner description reads as follows:
“The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the development team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum teams, and individuals.”
The role of the PO in an Agile environment is clearly defined and today we just can’t imagine building products without the guidance of this person.
Before getting into a comprehensive Product Owner job description, here are some highlights of a PO’s role in an Agile team:
- For things to stay on track, the Product Owner first creates the product roadmap – a plan of actions that aligns the team around specific product goals.
- Then, with the information gathered from the stakeholders, the PO guides the team in the development process to deliver the right features by prioritizing work.
- Agile teams work in sprints, usually a two-week period to finish the items from the prioritized features list, also known as the product backlog – which is also managed by the Product Owner.
- With the help of the Agile ceremonies – Backlog Refinement, Sprint Planning Meetings, Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives – the PO makes sure that the development team understands what they must build and answers any questions developers may have.
- The PO doesn’t assign tickets; the development team decides how much work they can do, taking the items from the top of the product backlog list. Then, the PO accepts or rejects the work according to the acceptance criteria and definition of done.
- At the end of the sprint, the PO ensures visibility for the stakeholders over the items that have been developed, gathering feedback and suggesting ways to improve the performance metrics.
- In case any changes are required, the PO is the only one who can reprioritize the backlog and decide whether a specific ticket will be dealt with in the current or future sprint or if it will be dealt with at all. The PO can say “no” but has to offer arguments and must think about serving the users.
The Product Owner’s Duties and Responsibilities
The Product Owner has some essential responsibilities that may differ depending on the company’s industry and size:
- Defining the vision
- Creating and maintaining the product backlog
- Ensuring that the product backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all
- Prioritizing the team backlog
- Clarifying product goals and roadmaps
- Writing user stories
- Creating criteria for stories submitted by the development team
- Evaluating product progress at each iteration
- Communicating the status of the product externally to other stakeholders
- Ensuring the team meets the deadlines and the goals
- Assessing the time invested, scope, and quality of the product
The Product Owner’s Skills and Qualifications
In terms of academic qualification, Product Owners should have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as business administration and/or management. A master’s degree is more than welcomed, especially if that diploma comes with a set of business or/and marketing skills.
Certifications are also important and they are most commonly asked for in the Product Owner job descriptions, especially when changing jobs or when transitioning from another domain. Therefore, getting certified by the Scrum Alliance can help demonstrate a PO knowledge and commitment to the role.
Scrum.org 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.
Skills & Know-How
The role of a Product Owner requires a special blend of soft and hard skills. Technical skills, although important, are not mandatory. However, in some cases when organizations are more focused on technical products, the Product Owner job description explicitly asks for a strong technical background.
As a PO, having some hard skills can help the individual to communicate and collaborate with the developers and architects without needing a “translator”:
- Software Development (programming languages, architecture, SDLC, etc.)
- User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) Design
- Scrum and Agile development methodologies
- User stories (creation and management)
- Coding and Web Designing
- Product Development
- Proficiency with using applications and tools
Soft skills are also very important because the PO role means juggling with different stakeholders and situations, sometimes conflicts and negotiations:
- Communication skills – A PO must be able to effectively deliver the messages across different channels to various stakeholders, present ideas, offer feedback, and clear all kinds of situations.
- Analytical skills – A PO should be able to gather and analyze data, then solve complex problems. Here, we include data analysis, research, logical reasoning, critical thinking, and creativity.
- Decision making – Being responsible and accountable for the product, the PO must make decisions daily ranging from what items to include in the product backlog, how to prioritize them, and how to best communicate to the scrum team.
- Project management – The PO should have knowledge, skills, techniques, and tools to achieve the project goals.
- Great teamwork skills – A PO should be excellent at collaborating with team members and offering feedback.
Team Collaboration and Stakeholders: Who the Product Owner works with
The Product Owner job description highlights the importance of a good collaboration between the Product Owner and various stakeholders: customers, business managers, end-users, and the development team.
For a project to be successful – meaning the goals are clear and the vision is aligned with the business objectives, the PO must keep everybody on the same page, and he/she has to make sure there is an appropriate buy-in from customers along with management and development teams.
As the primary point of contact, product execution and delivery rely on the PO’s skills to efficiently communicate with all the parties involved, from inside or outside the company.
The differences between the Product Owner, the Product Manager, and the Scrum Master
Many people confuse the Product Owner with the Product Manager, although the responsibilities are different.
A Product Manager is a business function with an external focus, while the Product Owner makes sure that everything goes as expected inside the team.
The PM responsibilities are:
- Communicating the strategic vision to the PO
- Identifying the customers’ needs and trends in the market
- Marketing the product and works to boost sales
- Creating the budget
- Making plans for the product to succeed on the market
In some smaller organizations, the Product Owner can also be the Product Manager.
In some cases, people confuse the Product Owner with the Scrum Master. Usually, in scrum teams, these two roles work together: the Scrum Master gives support to the Product Owner and is responsible for:
- Facilitating scrum events
- Motivating employees to deliver the best results
- Removing impediments
- Ensuring that all messages are communicated in the right manner and the development methodologies adhere to Agile best practices
Challenges of the Product Owner position
As a PO, there are many challenges to tackle:
- Changing priority while sprint is in progress – Depending on the situation, the PO can add/erase requirements only after he/she discussed with the stakeholder and decided it is worth the change. The development team must then be informed.
- Spending too much time dealing with product support instead of grooming the backlog – POs need to keep a balance between the time spent in keeping the vision intact and managing the backlog.
- Having little technical knowledge – In some cases, the PO can tap another resource (i.e., Technical Product Owners, Project Managers) to explain the technical dependencies on specific areas.
- Anticipating problems or needs from stakeholders or end-users.
- Not having a product roadmap.
Measuring Performance: Product Owner OKRs
“The evidence-based management” defines several metrics:
- Time to market
This metric indicates the time spent from the moment a new requirement is initially formulated until the client receives the solution. Sample metrics include: release frequency, integration frequency, processing times for backlog entries, and lead time.
- Product adoption
This metric indicates how well the product is accepted and used by the market. Sample metrics include: satisfaction surveys, Net Promoter Score (NPS)
- Ability to Innovate
This metric indicates how innovative the process for finding a solution is and how innovative the product and its functionality are. Sample metrics include: benefits of the individual functions in comparison to others, effort or expense of new developments (as a percentage) relative to activities such as maintenance, and amount of time the team is actually spending on the product (as compared to other tasks).
- Unrealized Value
This metric considers the (yet) unrealized potential. Sample metrics include: market share, user expectations vs. what users have received
Product Owner Salary Range and Daily Rates
The market for Product Owners is quite competitive in terms of salary because the demand is higher than the availability of qualified people to fill these positions.
Therefore, companies fight for great professionals, and they offer salaries that can vary depending on location, skill, experience, certifications, or the company size.
The Average Product Owner Salary
According to Glassdoor, the average Product Owner salary in the United States is $107,755 annually. The salary range for Product Owners typically falls between $81,000 and $151,000 per year.
In terms of experience, an entry level PO position receives between $67,985 and $77,656 on average, while an experienced PO could earn between $105, 021 and $109,765 on average.
Average salary for Product Owners by country, according to PayScale:
- Austria: €59,600
- France: €45,166
- Germany: €61,198
- Italy: €36,536
- Portugal: €31,410
- Switzerland: 112,100 CHF
- Spain: €40,916
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