Product Owner Responsibilities: The Career Path from Junior to Expert

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8 min
Product Owner Responsibilities: The Career Path from Junior to Expert
Table of Contents
  • The role of the Product Owner
  • The Product Owner career development path
    • 1. Junior Product Owner
    • 2. Regular Product Owner
    • 3. Senior Product Owner
    • 4. Expert Product Owner
  • Product Ownership is just one piece of a much larger puzzle

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; you 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 PO performs at each seniority level.

You can start by closing your eyes. Well, don’t actually close them, but rather imagine something for us.

The role of the Product Owner

Imagine a piece of software—a web app, ecommerce shop, Big Data system, social media service, or anything else worth developing—that’s being built by a development team as a Product.

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

There’s 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.)

The Product Owner career development 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
a) 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.

b) 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 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
a) 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.

b) 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
a) 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.

b) 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
a) 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.

b) 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.

Product Ownership is just one piece of a much larger puzzle

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.

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. If maximizing product value sounds like a challenge worthy of your skills, don’t hesitate to apply.

Thanks for reading and good luck on your way to finding (or becoming) the best Product Owner possible!

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