Responsibilities of the Agile Product Owner in the Enterprise

[article]
The Product Owner in the Agile Enterprise: Part II
Summary:
In part two of this three-part article, Dean Leffingwell describes the responsibilities of the enterprise product owner and discusses the attributes of a good product owner.

Note: This is a part two of a three-part series on the critical Product Owner's role within the agile software enterprise. In Part I,  Agile Product Owners: A Scalable, Nuanced Approach  , I described why enterprises need to adopt a dual approach to this role; one which empowers both agile Product Managers AND agile Product Owners to drive the enterprise to its objectives. In this part I'll provide some specific guidance for the responsibilities and activities of the Product Owner in this larger and much more challenging, enterprise context. In an upcoming Part III, Seeding the Product Owner Role in the Agile Enterprise , I'll provide some case study "vignettes", which illustrate how some real, agile enterprises found the people necessary to fill this role, along with some of the unique challenges they faced and the solutions they applied.

Summary of Part I - On Agile Product Managers and Product Owners: A Scalable, Nuanced Approach In Part I, I described why, in the enterprise, the responsibilities of the agile Product Owner, (as primarily defined by Scrum), is really a set of responsibilities that are shared between a significant number of agile Product Owners and a smaller number of agile Product Managers.

Agile Product Manager Product/technology facing
Market/customer facing Product/technology facing
Collocated amp; reports into marketing/business Collocated amp; reports into development/technology
Focuses on market segments, portfolio, ROI Focuses on product and implementation technology
Owns the Vision Owns the Implementation
Drives the Release Drives the Iteration

Table 1 - Responsibilities of the Agile Product Manager and Agile Product Owner in the Enterprise

This conclusion isn't particularly startling when you look at some basic enterprise facts:

1) It can take a substantial number of agile teams (5-10 or more) to deliver significant end user value, for even a single new feature in a large application.

2) It can take an even larger number of teams (20-100 or more) to deliver a release to the market.

So with respect to Owning the Vision (Feature Backlog) , you obviously can't have 5-10 Product Owners each trying to deliver their individual view of the vision of the feature to the market. Therefore the overall vision for the feature must rest in the hands of someone who has the skills, knowledge and capacity to work with customers to define and validate the feature vision. In most software vendors, this typically rests in the hands of the Product Manager. (In the IT shop, this role is often fulfilled by a Business Owner or project manager).

With respect to Owning the Release , the problem is compounded because it takes the collaborative efforts of 20-100 agile project teams to deliver a release. Each Product Owner contributes their feature; sub-feature or component, but the release itself must be under the vision and governance of a larger authority, i.e. the Product Managers/Business owners working, in turn, with those who have responsibility for the portfolio.

Skills and Attributes of the Enterprise Product Owner
However, none of this aggregated and beneficial user value can be delivered without the day to day cooperation of dozens of agile Product Owners, so the transitioning enterprise will need to find people to fill this role. In so doing, the enterprise should look for people with the following skills and attributes:

Ability to communicate - the Product Owner is the "glue chip "that binds the Product Management function to the development team. Doing so requires good communication skills as the Product Owner translates user and business objectives into the level of detail suitable for implementation. Moreover, the Product Owner will almost certainly be involved in customer demos, sales

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