According to Agile framework, the Product Owner role can be taken up by anyone who:

  1. Represents the voice of the customers and the stakeholders, and is accountable for ensuring that the team delivers value to business
  2. Gives overall product direction, creates user stories, set priority and tracks epic/feature and Manages the backlog
  3. Collaborates with business/ team/ scrum master to gather requirements and effectively implement the same

Looking at the above definition, one would feel that any manager/lead could take up the additional responsibility of acting as a PO. What organizations fail to understand is that, in order to satisfy the above responsibilities, the PO needs to be someone who is able to:

  1. Spend time with the team
    This does not mean just dropping in for planning sessions and dictating the work that needs to be done. This means being actively engaged with the team to come up with stories that meet the “INVEST” criteria and also help the team deliver business value. When managers, who are already burdened with multiple meetings and administrative work, are asked to additionally take on the role of a PO, they are not able to spend enough with the team.(I was part of a project where for the primary complaint during sprint retrospectives was the unavailability of the PO for clarifying queries. This went on till the team failed to deliver their first milestone even after including 3 additional sprints to reach the milestone)
  2. Take decisions as an individual
    PO’s need to have the freedom to maintain their backlog and take decisions when issues crop up. However, some organizations employ someone called the “Proxy/Pseudo PO”. The proxy PO is a liaison between the PO and the team when the PO is not co-located with the team. What organizations fail to understand is that the PO has to be an individual who has the freedom to take quick decisions (mindful of the end goal and the requirement). Proxy PO’s do not have this freedom and have to for the PO’s decision and pass it on to the team.
  3. Understands the different roles in Agile
    PO’s are the main stakeholder of a product who dictate WHAT the team needs to build and WHEN it needs to be built, in order to deliver business value. The HOW is decided by the team and the scrum master GUIDES the team and the PO to establish the agile way of working. A lot of times this is a thin line which many PO’s step over, leading to confusion and discomfort within the team. PO’s need to understand that even the team and the scrum master are stakeholders in the product and are working towards the product success.

Organizations need to be mindful of who takes on the role of a PO. A great PO will lead to an engaged and thankful team that can deliver value to the stakeholders with ease.