Product Owner: Discovering the Role of the PO

When we are looking at the market, it’s in the role of a Product Owner that it is by far the hardest to come across robust, qualified professionals. When I took the Scrum Product Owner course at Knowledge21 in 2014, Marcos Garrido, one of the founders, said something I’ve never forgotten: “if you find a good PO, hire him and don’t let him go, even if you haven’t got a product to give him right now.”

When we deal with the four domains of agility, we always reinforce that agile is like a four-legged animal: if one paw is injured, it’ll fall over! So all domains are equally important, but in talking about this topic, we always start with the Business domain. It comes first because it carries the purpose of the company and the product. It determines what will be a success for the initiative, and its objective is to guide us regarding efficiency.

With great power comes great responsibilities

This is why an unprepared PO can be so harmful. We can have the best team in the world, with a great environment; fluid processes supporting and aiding the creation of a product and the work of the organization; state-of-the-art technical practices using the best tools… And we’ll still be creating something no one wants, or which doesn’t even make sense.

But where do POs come from? How to know whether you’ve got the profile or interest in being a PO? To help with such doubts, let’s use the technique created by Rafael Sabbagh called Is/Isn’t/Does/Doesn’t do:


A PO Is:

  • Questioning
  • Curious
  • Empathetic
  • Communicative
  • Passionate
  • A good negotiator
  • A scientist
  • Loves metrics
  • Transparent and honest


A Product Owner Isn’t:

  • A boss
  • A project manager
  • A proxy
  • Irresponsible with the investment in a product
  • Another role (manager, area analyst etc.)
  • Master magician (vanishes after Planning and reappears at Review)
  • Omissive
  • Certifier
  • Approver of delivery


What a PO Does:

  • Seeks to discover which problem we’re trying to resolve
  • Raises hypotheses for solutions to the problem, together with the team (thanks, Auri!)
  • Slices backlog items like a sushi man
  • Discards backlog items which no longer make sense for the product’s current reality
  • Prioritizes backlog items so as to maximize the product value
  • Research with clients/users
  • Experiments
  • Turns results into metrics
  • Studies the market
  • Defines the product strategy
  • Controls the investment/budget
  • Manages the relationship with stakeholders
  • Consensus and prioritization exercises with stakeholders
  • Aligns stakeholders regarding return on investment
  • Refinements with stakeholders
  • Refinements with the team
  • Support during the team’s technical refinements
  • Clarifies to the team the value aggregated by each item in the backlog
  • Enriches the backlog items using techniques such as user stories, 3Cs, INVEST and job stories
  • Maps and understands the client’s experience
  • Continuous discovery
  • Motivates the team with a fantastic proposal
  • Remains available to the team during the sprint
  • Helps the team define an objective for the sprint
  • Cancels the sprint when the objective no longer makes sense
  • Gives the team feedback
  • Continuous improvement



A Product Owner Doesn’t:

  • Do Status reports
  • Occupation control
  • Micromanage
  • Prioritize without metrics
  • Pressure the team
  • Pass on the necessities and demands of stakeholders
  • Prioritize activities which have nothing to do with the product
  • Encourage the team to be a task team
  • Skip team events (planning, review, retro)
  • Produce extensive documentation
  • Assign blame
  • Hire or fire team members
  • Manage the team
  • Find out what’s been delivered during the Review
  • Omit problems

I’m a (…) and a PO in my spare time

I often say that if the PO is doing a good job, he’ll have no spare time. In some companies we see the attitude that the PO just “writes the backlog stories”, which creates an impression that the PO has time to take on other activities. This isn’t realistic. If the PO has time to take on other activities, it’s because there’s some activity relating to the product which is being left behind.

Also, the PO should be studying the whole time, both to bring new product techniques, generating continuous improvement in his work, and to study the market, consumers and the problems which need to be solved, generating continuous improvement to the product.

If you’re starting on the journey and want more material to read, it’s worth checking out the article.

More content about the Product Owner:

Product Owner: 9 Must-Read Books for your development

Controversy: The Best Product Owner Is Not the Client

Product Backlog, Continuous Planning and the Horizon Analogy

Well? Do you identify with the role of Product Owner? Come and do the CSPO training and learn about the PO’s main tools in a practical course.

Notice anything missing from the Is/Isn’t/Does/Doesn’t? Add it to the comments below!


Foto de Andressa Chiara
Andressa Chiara

Agile Expert at Knowledge21, has been working with digital products for 10 years, leading IT products for web and mobile. She is the author of the book series The Product Agile, and of OKR and Business Strategy for Transformation. Certified as CSP, PMP, CSM, PSMI, CSPO, Lean-Kanban, she co...


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