Who can become a Product Owner?

Who is qualified to become a Scrum Master or Who can play the role of Scrum Master, is one of the most frequently asked questions in the Agile community. I believe the more important question and often the one that does not get asked is, Who can become a Product Owner? Why is this question more important? It is because, what you are building (and why you are building this) is often more important that when are you building and how are you building it. The last two questions are important but only after the first two. The first two questions also help frame the vision for the product as well as:

1. Chronologically, Product Owner role starts before any other role in an Agile or Scrum team.

2. Depending on what is your vision for the product, you could outsource a part of whole of it right at start or at a later date.

3. You build the product to achieve a particular purpose. The person responsible for the same is the Product Owner.

If this is such an important question [and correspondingly role], then what are the qualifications one should look for when selecting a Product Owner? I have been a Business Analyst and Product Manager. I have interacted with many Product Owners too. There has been an interesting discussion on who can be a product owner on the Scrum Development Yahoo Group recently too. Based on the feedback collected from all these sources, I have compiled a list of who would make an ideal Product Owner:

1. Product Owner is a part of the team and should hence be available as much as possible to the team [close to 100%]. Hence, PO can only be someone who is available to the team 100% of the time.

2. Product Owner needs to understand the big picture – the philosophical as well as practical aspects of what is being built. This would often require excellent domain knowledge.

3. Product Owner should know what will work – hence, exposure to marketing and sales is important. This is also often called Voice of the Customer. Basically, Product Owner should deeply empathize with customers – their needs, their frustrations and their wishes.

4. Finally, any exposure to technology – programming, UI, QA is an additional bonus [in most cases a required bonus].

The next question is which of these is the most important requirements? I think all 04 and in given order of priority.

One additional requirement, which I believe all people should possess and so should Product Owners and Managers : People Management and Interaction.

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11 Responses to “Who can become a Product Owner?”

  1. What a timely post! I just spent two weeks interviewing potential candidates for a Product Owner role on a new project. I saw a number of very capable people with a diverse background in product management, project management and business analysis.

    Going into the interviews, I knew that I was looking for a balance of the above qualities. But since each candidate is unique, what is the correct balance/ratio of these qualities? That’s a question that kept me busy most nights through the interview process.

    Through my interaction with all these candidates, I have now came to a very similar conclusion about the order as you have. I do think you need to add one more, though, namely the ability to deliver project successfully. It’s great if you have someone with the 4 qualities above, but if they are not good at keeping teams focussed and on track to deliver real value within an acceptable timeframe to business, the project may still fail.

    • Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment on this post. I think you make an excellent point. I think “Communication and Passion” are important aspects of all Agile roles – particularly the PO and SM roles. If the PO is passionate [and right] about what they are building, it will have a positive effect on the team. Delivering projects successfully usually would come from combination of all 04 points above.

  2. To which I add:

    5. The Product Owner is the only person who can mark a user story as Done. Therefore PO must be decisive. This means that PO must be able to own, make and defend their decisions.
    You might not be the devs’ best friend when you tell them that a story isn’t done because the UI is sucky. It’s still the right decision. Get over it.

    BTW what is the URL to the Y! group you mentioned please?

  3. […] Agile Diary, Agile Introduction, Agile Implementation Experiences in transition to Agile Project Management « Who can become a Product Owner? […]

  4. Hi Vikram, I’m the uber product owner for a three teams of developers and very much agree with your list. I would probably put both Passion and Communication skills at the very top of my list.

  5. Vikram,
    Your post evoked my curiosity, since I have been researching on this topic since long.
    Unfortunately, I differ from your view that “PO can only be someone who is available to the team 100% of the time”.
    Product owner is a business person, not an implementer.
    I tried to pen down some of my thoughts at
    http://www.divakar.in/software-the-art/scrum-product-owner-faq

    But they are quite different from what you think 🙂

  6. Divakar, you bring out some important points. However, IMO, PO is as responsible for getting to done as the team. He/ she should be available to the team as soon as they need him/ her for clarifications, feedback or just clarifying the business goal. Product Owner is a very inward focused role and not something like a Product Marketing Manager for instance. I believe that is what classic Scrum textbooks also advocate. The person can however, be sourced from marketing department.

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