Product Owner Responsibilities: The Career Path from Junior to Expert

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Product Owner Responsibilities: The Career Path from Junior to Expert
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Table of Contents
  • Who is a Product Owner?
  • What is the role of the Product Owner?
  • What does a Product Owner do?
  • Scrum Master vs. Product Owner
  • Product Owner vs. Project Manager
  • The Product Owner career path
  • 1. Junior Product Owner
    • Junior Product Owner responsibilities
    • Junior Product Owner tasks
  • 2. Regular Product Owner
    • Regular Product Owner responsibilities
    • Regular Product Owner tasks
  • 3. Senior Product Owner
    • Senior Product Owner responsibilities
    • Senior Product Owner tasks
  • 4. Expert Product Owner
    • Expert Product Owner responsibilities
    • Expert Product Owner tasks
  • Key skills and competencies required in the Product Owner role
    • 1. Business acumen
    • 2. Facilitation/Leadership
    • 3. Project management
    • 4. Technical skills
    • 5. Analytical skills
    • 6. Teamwork skills
    • 7. Communication skills
  • Final thoughts on the responsibilities and career path of a Product Owner

Transitioning to Agile software development brings with it a set of new roles and concepts that can seem a bit murky at first. One of those roles is the Product Owner.

If you’re looking to hire a software development company, they’ll recommend adding a Product Owner to your team, and for good reason. If you feel like you can do without one, read on!

This article might change your mind once you discover the many responsibilities that the PO can take over to facilitate development and improve your product. You will also learn the tasks the Product Owner performs at each seniority level. Finally, we’ll provide you with a list of key skills and competencies you should look for when choosing your new PO.

Who is a Product Owner?

A Product Owner is a role on the Scrum team that handles the project’s outcome, and its main responsibility is the development and implementation of the product.

Such a person takes care of each aspect of the project, including all its features and requirements, so that everything aligns with the product’s initial vision and goal. To make that happen, the PO ensures the entire development process is transparent and clear to all the stakeholders.

The Product Owner also determines what will be delivered to users and can suggest changing the product if, for example, they realize it’s not up to the company’s standards.

What is the role of the Product Owner?

In software development, the product can be any piece of software—a web app, ecommerce shop, Big Data system, social media service, or anything else worth developing.

From a business perspective, what do you need to consider for your product?

There are business goals, a specific group of target customers/users, a set of features, competition on the market, different user cases, scalability, UX and UI, KPIs, and a myriad of others.

In the simplest terms, the Product Owner should be the one to consider such characteristics and act as a “value maximizer,” meaning that their main task is to maximize the value provided by your product. The Product Owner’s responsibility is to be aware of the business goals the product needs to achieve and help adapt the Development Team’s work according to those goals.

Or, if you’re looking for a short definition, you can turn to our article by Jakub and Dominika presenting the basics of the Scrum framework:

The Product Owner (PO) is responsible for the product, or the
“what.” They make sure that the features of the upcoming product
are clearly defined for the developers and valuable for the client.

(Make sure to read the full article if you want an overview of Scrum as a whole.)

What does a Product Owner do?

The Product Owner’s main responsibility is the success of the product. So, they will focus on setting the goals for the team, assigning tasks to the individual team members, and creating budgets based on expected sales volume and costs associated with developing each product or feature.

The PO will foster relationships both inside and outside the team, working with product management, customers, and business owners, among others.

The Product Owner is the first and most important point of contact on the side of the client. They will manage the timelines with contractors when needed (if you’re outsourcing work) and schedule regular meetings with the stakeholders, including feedback sessions with your users.

The PO will take the lead in numerous areas of product development; however, their role will vary depending on the work environment and your individual needs.

Scrum Master vs. Product Owner

Having read about Agile software development, you might think that the Scrum Master’s and Product Owner’s roles are similar, but they’re actually noteach will serve a different purpose and bring different benefits to your team.

In general, the Product Owner is responsible for the product vision, while the Scrum Master for the team and process. What does that mean in practice?

The PO keeps track of where the team members are in their backlog, what they’re working on next, and how much time it’s going to take them to complete that task.

The SM monitors this process by ensuring that everyone follows Scrum rules (like having a sprint backlog) and making sure teams keep moving forward at a steady pace.

Product Owner vs. Project Manager

You are probably also wondering what the difference is between a Product Owner and a Product Manager. And yes, they’re very similar and overlap quite considerably, but the first one is mainly in charge of the product backlog and vision, while the second of the project plan.

The PO will focus on prioritizing features and adding value to your business. The PM, on the other hand, will concentrate on getting it done in an efficient manner, often by managing other resources like developers or designers to complete their tasks on time.

What’s most important, though, is that the Product Owner owns the budget and decides on the time, so they have much more control over the project than Project Managers.

Having said that, the PO is also the one held accountable for the success or failure of the product. So they will sometimes have to decide to even stop the development process altogether if in their opinion that would make most sense for the business.

The Product Owner career path

As with any other profession, the Product Owner’s responsibilities change, along with their tasks, and their skills develop as they gain experience. At STX Next, we have defined a career development path for our POs using four seniority levels: Junior, Regular, Senior, and Expert.

Each of the four levels has a strict set of criteria in a number of areas that the Product Owner must meet. With additional skills and more years of experience under their belt, the PO can advance through the ranks. With each rank, their value for your product increases.

1. Junior Product Owner

Junior Product Owner responsibilities

A Junior Product Owner knows and follows the principles of Agile development.

They gather product requirements from you, the client, and assure that the team is doing “the right thing” at all times (as opposed to “doing the thing right,” which is the development team’s work).

A Junior understands the product vision but still needs to learn how to support the client in adapting it. At this level, they don’t yet have to follow good UX practices while filling out the product roadmap.

However, a Junior PO is under the mentorship of a more experienced professional who supports them in building the product and making sure the client’s needs are met.

Junior Product Owner tasks

A Junior Product Owner identifies the client’s needs and passes them on to the Team in a clear and comprehensive manner.

Junior POs discuss the goals and vision of the product with the client, actively gaining knowledge on the matter. They point to the goals met by the product based on the product description.

A Junior works with the team to understand product requirements, answering questions to the best of their ability. They actively take part in planning, refinements, reviews, etc.

2. Regular Product Owner

Regular Product Owner responsibilities

A Regular Product Owner is fully independent.

They don’t need any assistance in carrying out tasks from start to finish. They know how to act in different situations while cooperating with various types of clients.

They provide support to the client and can offer advice regarding the product requirements. They involve the stakeholders and/or end users in the process, inviting them to actively take part in the development of the product. They also give constant feedback and bring new ideas on product features.

Most of the Regular POs are certified by reputable Scrum training organizations.

Regular Product Owner tasks

A Regular Product Owner prioritizes the Product Backlog based on business value.

They translate the general product vision into specific product features and implement long-term planning through regular roadmapping. They prepare and lead refinements and plannings within the team.

A Regular PO keeps the end user needs in mind and makes sure the product meets them. They discuss and define non-functional requirements with the client.

Regular POs work with the UX designers to deliver user-friendly product solutions. They help the team understand UX requirements.

3. Senior Product Owner

Senior Product Owner responsibilities

A Senior Product Owner is an above-average, experienced professional, who not only brings top-quality expertise to manage project requirements but also introduces new and useful tools and practices.

A Senior actively supports the client from the business point of view and provides guidance in assessing product opportunities and risks. They take advantage of the product KPIs (and other business metrics) to optimize the product.

Furthermore, a Senior stays up to date with popular trends in software product development and knows how to provide even more value to the client based on this knowledge.

Senior Product Owner tasks

A Senior Product Owner keeps a close eye on the metrics and suggests new solutions to increase the product’s business value. They verify the business value delivered by the product and how it aligns with the client’s strategy.

Working closely with the client, Senior POs define the next iterations of the product and plan their releases. They present the team’s perspective and point of view to the client and build trust between the two sides.

A Senior uses dedicated techniques for roadmapping (e.g. MOSCOW, Kano, or Pareto) and selected tools to describe the product vision (e.g. business model canvas, lean canvas, or vision box).

They organize workshops with the product’s users (based on the discover/define approach) to discover and validate hypotheses, as well as work out the best solutions for the product.

4. Expert Product Owner

Expert Product Owner responsibilities

An Expert Product Owner is a mentor in their field of work.

They are renowned for their skill and knowledge, not only within their team, but also among clients and in the Agile community as a whole. They can effectively create a product, taking it from the discovery phase to releasing it to the users, optimizing it every step of the way.

They know all the ins and outs of the client’s business and act as a true partner to help them grow.

Expert Product Owner tasks

An Expert Product Owner works closely with the client to optimize and redefine the vision and business goals of the product, based on hard data.

Using their knowledge of the market, competition, and current trends, they define innovative functional solutions to boost product value. They suggest their own methods in organizing workshops with the stakeholders, adapting to specific clients and their business needs.

Expert POs jointly create and form current Agile trends (e.g. #noestimates or #noprojects). Due to their active contribution, they can discuss the trends with the client and justify the benefits of implementing particular techniques into the work, based on the client’s business needs.

An Expert PO has a say in deciding whether to continue or change the existing product development path, in the case of an unfavorable verification of meeting business goals.

Key skills and competencies required in the Product Owner role

For your convenience, we’ve gathered in one place all the essential skills and competencies a good Product Owner should possess to be a valuable addition to your team. Here’s what helps them maximize your product value and be most effective:

1. Business acumen

A good Product Owner should understand your business strategy and goals. They should act upon the values and principles that guide your organization and know what’s most important to implement your vision.

The PO should also get the industry, market, and customers. They must be able to recognize the way they fit into their segment of the market and know how to achieve success in that particular area.

What’s more, such a person needs to have an understanding of technology and tech trends, so they can predict future demand for their product or services.

2. Facilitation/Leadership

The Product Owner’s role is to facilitate and lead the team toward success. They’re responsible for ensuring that everybody’s on track with their projects and delivering valuable features.

The PO should present good leadership skills, as they’re responsible for keeping everyone informed on what’s going on in their area, making sure all team members know what’s expected of them, as well as providing guidance.

3. Project management

Since a PO has to manage and lead the entire Agile development team, having project management skills is essential.

A Product Owner should know how to apply their knowledge, skills, techniques, and tools to the product development process to achieve project goals and meet the requirements effectively.

4. Technical skills

The Product Owner is a technical role, there is no doubt about that. That’s why a good PO should know the ins and outs of the Scrum approach, Agile framework, software development, design, and IT infrastructure, among others.

5. Analytical skills

Another essential skill that every Product Owner should present is analytical thinking. They should feel comfortable gathering data, critically analyzing problems, and identifying possible solutions quickly.

For example, backlog management—so determining which items to prioritize based on their relevance, importance, and connection with other items—couldn’t be done without analytical skills.

6. Teamwork skills

The Product Owner doesn’t work alone; they are an integral part of the software development team. So they need to show great emotional intelligence—understand the team members with their strengths and weaknesses, as well as ensure the emotional connection.

The collaboration isn’t just limited to the development team. The PO needs to actively work with all the stakeholders, both internal and external.

Having the ability to collaborate, knowing how to foster teamwork, and displaying emotional intelligence are essential for the success of the product and its value optimization.

7. Communication skills

The role also requires excellent communication skills—the Product Owner will coordinate meetings with other people within your company as well as external partners who are involved in building new products or improving existing ones.

A good Product Owner will be able to communicate clearly with developers and stakeholders throughout development, ensuring that everyone has a shared understanding of what’s expected from them during each phase of development (from requirement gathering through testing).

They should also be in touch with other departments within the organization, such as Sales or Marketing, so that everyone knows what is happening. That way, everybody will be able to help move forward toward success.

Final thoughts on the responsibilities and career path of a Product Owner

Having a competent Product Owner as a single point of contact between you and your outsourcing partner is a great start, but it’s far from the end. We know the prospect of hiring external development teams can be daunting, which is why we’ve created a free guide to take you step-by-step through the process.

It’s called the C-Level Guide to Software Development Nearshoring. Download it for free and learn everything you need to make the right nearshoring decisions.

And if you’re looking for other useful materials on how to manage your team better and improve your productivity, look no further:

Alternatively, if you’re looking to join STX Next’s team of distinguished Product Owners, you’ll find our current job postings on our Careers page. We’ll be happy to support you along your Product Owner development path and help you learn the PO responsibilities in practice.

Thanks for reading and good luck on your way to finding (or becoming) the best Product Owner possible. Should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us—we’d be happy to help!

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