What’s a Product Owner to Do?

When I coach companies on Lean and Agile methodologies, I strive to have dedicated, co-located Product Owners (POs), Scrum Masters, and teams. In the 21st century and given our current context, many companies involved in a SAFe® transformation have POs and Scrum Masters who are leading multiple remote teams. 

It can be challenging to coach Agile teams remotely and consistently on the Agile Manifesto and SAFe principles and values, such as Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project or Program Execution. Often during these transitions, some companies expect an employee to be a part-time PO in addition to his/her day job.

Many times I have had POs ask me to help supervisors understand the time commitment involved with the role. One way is to describe what a typical PO does each day. In this post, I’ve created a list of what a PO does on a daily basis. This list is not exhaustive, nor is it in any specific order:

  • Attends the team’s daily stand-up meeting to understand the team’s progress and impediments toward the Iteration goals.
  • Capture customer requirements and ideas by writing (or helping others write) stories and Enablers.
  • Continuously accepts or rejects completed stories and Enablers. 
  • Is available to the team each day to answer questions and clarify stories.
  • Works with the System Architect to ensure Enablers are properly prioritized so as not to mortgage the future of the architecture.
  • Verifies that stories are in the proper format, contain valid confirmation (aka acceptance criteria), and are in line with the Program vision and scope. This includes any necessary design details, business rules, NFRs, etc.
  • Ensures that the team is aligned to the PI Objectives, and Iteration goals are clearly defined and communicated.
  • Helps remove or escalate obstacles to Product Management.
  • Makes sure that the Agile team has a direct connection with the business through story development and the Iteration review.
  • Meets regularly with Product Management (e.g. PO Sync) to keep stakeholders informed on how much incremental value has been generated.

In addition to that, on a cadence, POs:

  • Participate in the Iteration retrospective event.
  • Present the stories and Enablers during Iteration Planning.
  • Meet with the team each week to refine the Team Backlog.
  • Work with the team to decompose stories and Enablers into small increments. Ideally something that can be completed every two to three days.
  • Prioritize and update the Team Backlog.
  • Work with the team to create and commit to Iteration goals.
  • Collaborate with team members to form PI Objectives.
  • Help identify dependencies with other teams during PI Planning.
  • Meet with Product Management and stakeholders regularly to field questions and inform them of any updates or changes to scope.
  • Conduct the Iteration review with the team and participate in the System Demo to demonstrate the incremental functionality to the Agile Release Train and stakeholders.

In your context, look at all the activities that your POs are engaged in and consider whether it’s realistic for a part-time PO to do them all. If it’s not, speak to your part-time POs and have them present this data to their managers or as an issue during your Inspect & Adapt workshop.

To learn more on the PO role within SAFe, read this article.

About Joe Vallone

Joe Vallone

Joe Vallone, SPCT, SAFe Fellow, is an experienced Agile trainer who has helped coach several large-scale Agile transitions at Zynga, Apple, Microsoft, VCE, Nokia, AT&T, and American Airlines. He’s also an effective leader and speaker with more than 20 years of software development and management experience. As a change agent, Joe is passionate about teaching and coaching organizations to reach their full potential by embracing Agile values and Lean thinking.