Product Owner: A Beginner’s Guide In 5 Easy Steps

Ajay Ohri


Some necessary background about product owner

What is the definition of a product in any industry ?

A product is an item either tangible like a car, or intangible like any service usually bound to a tangible item, like servicing of a car, the labor involved. In the tech world a product usually translates to software programs that are either bundled with hardware or they can be offered as a downloadable piece of code from the internet or any installation media like a compact disc. The product is usually offered for a price, to cover the cost of building the product also baking a certain percentage of margin for the seller. Simply put, a product then is an item that is sold for some kind of benefit usually revenue

The development of a product generally passes through several phases, resulting in the final product. Product Management is a science of taking product development through this process smoothly and ensuring the product stays afloat in the market long enough to be able to get good ROI. There are several people that fulfill roles in the Product Management cycle. One of the many frameworks that help with a product life-cycle is Scrum. This framework defines how a team should engage to build and deliver products of the highest value, ensuring productivity and creativity at every step. So where does the Product Owner fit in the scheme of things in Scrum?

  1. Who, what, why of Product Owner
  2. What are the product backlog, user stories, and sprint?
  3. Who owns the Product backlog
  4. Scope of Product Owner
  5. Product backlog prioritization techniques

1. Who, what, why of Product Owner

Product owner is a term that was introduced with the advent of Scrum around the early 2000’s. This role filled in the place of a customer in the development cycle ensuring the customer requirements are in focus. There are 3 well defined major responsibilities of a Product owner as per the Scrum framework which are enlisted below.

  • Create user stories-basically an informal specification of a certain feature in the product from a customer perspective, thereby defining product backlog for the development teams.
  • Backlog grooming and prioritizing the work in the backlog, helping in sprint planning.
  •  Review, approve and accept the completed user stories making sure work done fulfills the laid down criteria.

Product Owner in essence is really a role in the Scrum process or Scrum teams.

2. What is product backlog, user stories and sprint ?

Let’s delve deeper into some Scrum terms that are very pertinent to the Product Owner role. Starting with Product backlog.

A Product backlog is a prioritized list of work for the development team that is derived from the roadmap and its requirements.

Sprint is a time bound set of tasks or work that a scrum team works together to complete. This is part of Scrum methodology so teams are focused on delivering short pieces of work which when integrated achieve the bigger goal in the shortest possible time. Scrum requires the members to meet regularly to discuss outcomes of sprint runs and plan the next few sprints in advance.

User stories as mentioned earlier is usually a representation from the client end, advocated by the product owner, but can also be represented by a product manager who has had a good deal of understanding of the domain the product is being built for. The objective of the product owner is to ensure the feature set specified by the user is never short changed and the product does not underachieve on launch.

3. Who owns the Product backlog

A Product backlog is a dynamic document and needs an authority to make changes to, and track the changes. Now who should own a product backlog? According to Scrum Framework, the Product Owner should own the product backlog and make necessary changes as and when things evolve. But again it is not necessary that only the product owner should maintain the backlog. Product owner along with the development team can review the backlog tracker and after deliberations, approved changes can be made.

4. Scope of Product Owner

An important responsibility not mentioned above, is the part where the stakeholders need to be communicated about the product development. Product owners are responsible for communicating with stakeholders. The scope of a product owner role is never strictly limited to the above responsibilities alone. There will be times when the product owner will have to dig deep into his/her domain knowledge to strategize a vision for the product. Other times, the product owner might have to get into the nitty gritty of development to help the development team meet the sprint goals.

Let’s look at some details of the responsibilities this role has to fulfill.

How does a product owner create a product backlog. This task starts with defining the vision for development projects from a high level perspective. This vision is translated into goals, and goals into sprints. The product owner starts on this journey by creating a product roadmap. It is a high level visual representation of the vision and direction of the product over time.

This roadmap becomes the foundation of the product backlog, where development teams are assigned tasks. This list of tasks has to be prioritized as per the overall objective. All project dependencies have to be identified and communicated well so there are no dependency related delays. The product backlog is a live document, which evolves as the development progresses. The product owner must ensure the development team has clear visibility of the product backlog, the prioritized tasks and planned tasks in the near future.

The product owner might also have to oversee the development, an important activity that can be used to plan for the next sprint. He/she has to evaluate the progress at each sprint iteration. It is the product owner who takes the call on whether the sprint goals were met.

5. Product backlog prioritization techniques

Prioritization of the product backlog is a key activity that if not done the right way, might jeopardize the direction the development takes, thus impacting the final delivery. There are 4 known techniques that can be applied to product backlog prioritization.

  • Stack Ranking

Placing each backlog item in order or priority. This clearly avoids a situation where everything takes high priority. Dependencies take a higher priority in this ranking.

  • Kano Model

The Kano model of prioritization focuses on prioritizing a backlog based on needs and expectations of the customer. Typically customers label a feature as

  • Must-Be

An absolute must have feature, that the product cannot do without.

  • Attractive

These are features that bring delight to the customer, but might not be a really essential one. The product may do without this one.

  • One-Dimensional

These are features that make the customers happy when there and unhappy when they are not.

  • Indifferent

These features do not make an impact on the customer satisfaction levels, in other words there is no value that the customer sees from these features.

  • Reverse

Features that make the customers unhappy when they are found, and satisfied when not found.

  • MoSCoW Method

This method takes its name from the criteria that are listed below.

Must Have

Should Have

Could Have

Won’t Have

  • Cost of Delay

Here the priority is assigned based on the cost of delaying a feature down the priority list. The feature that shows up as the highest cost of delay will get prioritized ahead of the others.

So there you have it. A product owners life in Scrum, in a gist.


Interested to learn all about Product Management from the best minds in the industry? Check out our Product Management Course. This 6-month-long program takes place online through live instructor-led sessions. It is the only program in India that offers the ‘Bring Your Own Product (BYOP)’ feature so that learners can build their product idea into a full-blown product, and go through an entire Product Development lifecycle. Not only this, but this is the only program in India with a curriculum that conforms to the 5i Framework. Post completion, learners receive a joint certification from the Indian Institute of Management, Indore, and Jigsaw Academy. 

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