What It Takes to Be a Product Owner

So you want to be a product owner? These are the four core responsibilities of the role, as well as a few frequently asked questions of product ownership.

Updated September 3, 2020

While in some cases it’s best to leave people to their own devices to do their work, direction and leadership are a necessary part of working toward common goals.

Self-organization goes only so far in groups, and when you’re dealing with the development of a product or service, it’s crucial that you protect your vision of the end result with someone whose job it is to adhere to that vision.

That’s exactly why your next product in development needs a product owner.


Overview: What is a product owner?

The product owner is the ambassador between the client/stakeholder and the product development team. They oversee the product backlog, help shape the vision of the product, and provide answers to the client about the progress of the product development.

This is a concept commonly used in agile project management, which is why this role is sometimes referred to as a scrum product owner (scrum being a major concept under the agile umbrella).

This role is different from that of a product manager, whose job it is to work closely with the development team to ensure the team is clear on their responsibilities, prioritize work as it is executed, and provide real-time feedback on the progress of development to the product owner.

If you want to learn more about product management, make sure you read our Small Business Guide to Product Management.


The 4 major responsibilities of a product owner

Now that you have a general idea of what a product owner is, here is a rundown of their four core responsibilities.

1. Managing the development backlog

Managing the development backlog is one of the most important responsibilities of a product owner. For those of you who don’t know, the product owner backlog is the list of tasks to be completed by the development team.

The product owner creates backlog items, oversees their completion, and adjusts the scope of the backlog as needed.

This means that the product owner must maintain solid communication with their team in order to anticipate the needs of the team, including additional time to complete backlog items, shifting the order of these tasks, and assigning different teammates to those tasks.

Once the tasks are completed, the product owner will review the quality of the submitted work and check them off as complete.

Here are some of my favorite project management software options for managing a product owner backlog:

2. Evaluating product development progress

While the product manager is more likely to get down in the weeds and help move the product life cycle along, the product owner remains a more high-level evaluator.

Their job is to inspect the development reporting as well as gather feedback from the team and manager in order to provide insight about the product’s direction.

If the product owner feels as though the development process is veering off course, then the product manager should step in to find out what is causing the issue and get the team back on track.

This also means that the product owner is responsible for reporting back to the stakeholders with updates on development progress. They can gather feedback from the stakeholders about any issues that are impeding the process, while managing expectations about the timeline and final product.

If you’re looking for the best project management tools for tracking and reporting project data, here are some of my favorite recommendations:

3. Shaping the product vision

As stated in the overview, the product owner is the go-between for the client and product development team. In this aspect of the role, the product owner is responsible for shaping and communicating the product vision to the development team.

They will help mold that vision to the needs of the client and help keep the development team on track so that the final product matches those needs.

The product owner also manages the expectations of the client by communicating the progress of development, alerting the client of any roadblocks that come along, and informing them of any interesting product developments that may alter the product launch.

However, in order to ensure that the project does not stray away from the established vision, the product owner is also responsible for developing and managing the product road map.

4. Working with product manager on the product road map

Developing the product road map is a shared responsibility between the product owner and the product manager. The product road map is an overview of the upcoming product development process. A comprehensive road map includes everything you’ll need to know about the product development process, such as:

  • Development timelines
  • Goals
  • Product features
  • Resource lists
  • Strategy
  • Risks
  • Status markers
  • Key metrics

Your product road map must be clear and simple to understand, since you or the product manager will use it to align your capabilities with the needs of the stakeholder. Just like your backlog, the road map is not a static document and is designed to change with the needs of your clients, team, and product.


Product owner frequently asked questions

Can someone double up as the product owner and product manager?

Can you climb Mount Everest? Technically, yes, but it’s incredibly difficult to do. It is possible to work as both the product owner and product manager, but the level of work, planning, and oversight that each position demands is often far too much for one individual to handle.

Personally, I would recommend separating these two roles for two people to manage. The last thing you want to do is sink your product development due to an overworked manager/owner.

After all, the whole idea behind an agile product owner is the ability to move along and direct the product development in a quick and “agile” fashion. This is hard to accomplish when your product owner is overworked.

Should the product owner get involved in the development process?

Yes and no. While the product owner should familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of the product development process, their role is still a more abstract and high-level form of oversight.

The product manager is more responsible for taking action with the smaller details and operations, while the product owner will deal with directional issues.

What is a key attribute of an effective product owner?

Product expertise, hands down. Since the product owner is the liaison between the development team and the stakeholders, it is critical that they understand the product to its core.

They are meant to be the evangelist that understands the vision of the product in order to sell it back to the stakeholders once it is complete.


What if product ownership isn’t for you?

If you’ve decided that product ownership isn’t the right role for you, not to worry. We at The Blueprint have you covered on every aspect of project management from start to finish.

We have plenty of how-to pieces and beginner’s guides that’ll not only help you understand the industry of project management, but also help you find your place.

If you’re a newly made product manager, we also have plenty of useful resources to offer you, from software reviews to new project management concept articles.

We have everything you need to crush your next project or product development and all you have to do to stay up-to-date is sign up for our newsletter below. You’ll never miss another update or review.

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