It’s probably worth starting by defining what I believe to be the import ‘things’ that a good Product Owner does. For me these are :

  1. Ownership of the overall vision and goals of the Product under development.
  2. Owns the role of prioritizing the lists of requirements (the Product Backlog) with a single minded view to achieve maximum value and ROI.
  3. Decides when the Product has acheived MVO – ie is ready to ship the first version.
  4. Agrees that increments are ready for deployment into Production.

This is an extremely critical role and integral to the success of agile in any organization. Lack representative of customer or users of the product will stretch out decision making and result in lost time through false-start and picking the wrong rabbit holes. According to Mike Cohn on Attributes of a Good Product Owner he talks about the A-to-E of a good PO :

A- Available, This is key to the scrum teams in Agile for the Product Owner to be available during the Sprint Planning meetings, during Production inside Sprint and during Sprint review or Product demos when team needs to show the work done during the sprint.

B- Business-savvy. Key for Product Owner to understand business. Deep understanding of business is required including market conditions, customers and users.

C- Communicative- Information on product is required by different stakeholders, so the skill to deliver information to match the audience is very critical for product owner.

D- Decisive. Product owner should be able to take decisions for the team during or outside of sprints. This is key since the teams are solely dependent on the product owner or provide the guidance.

E- Empowered. Product owner should be empowered with authority to take critical decisions for the product and the team.

All of these qualities manifest themselves in the curating, by the Product Owner, of a clear and well groomed Product Backlog. This key artefact – when constructed properly drives a number of important aspects of an effective agile team :

  • Forward Planning – although the delivery team are working off a list of well groomed and prioritized user stories the PO ans SM (Scrum Master) will often need to be thinking ahead – so having at least some idea of priority and size beyond the next sprint is essential
  • Well informed Developers and Testers – A well groomed story is still only a placeholder for a conversation between key team members when it comes to build – but the more detail they have the more they can add their own critical thinking to the process of bringing the requirement to life.
  • A clear understanding between the business Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who are demanding features (usually at in abstract description) and the actual feature or function that the engineering/delivery team intend to build. The key to any good agile project is the management of scope (our only lever) and the setting of realistic expectations with those SMEs.

Connectivity between to overall goals (or goals) of a project and the individual features that occupy the day-to-day activities of the delivery team is also an incredibly important responsibility of the Product Owner. The details of the business case that _may_ have been shared with the wider team at the start of the project can be quickly forgotten – so the PO must distill these goals into vision statements that are made visible and form part of regular conversation during the various Agile ceremonies (Sprint Planning, Retros, Story Kick-offs, Shoulder-Check etc).

This connectivity ensures the common understanding of the ‘Why’.