In Agile terms, the Product Owner is more akin to the traditional Project Manager. They are a client resource that has a clear understanding of what their business is trying to achieve and is able to clearly communicate that through the project.
In most cases, the Product Owner role is a full-time position. In smaller projects, this might not be the case but they will need to make themselves available to the team at short notice to help direct and answer questions. Not being available means that the team becomes rudderless, work can stop and, given the tight timescales that we work to, can affect the quantity of value delivered in each iteration.
The Product Owner role delivers real value to the project
Supported by the Scrum Masters, the role is responsible for directing the project towards the goals set out by the business. It’s the understanding of these goals that enables them to set the priorities for the project and it’s these priorities that focus the team. Setting clear objectives is how we measure success. If the objectives are unclear, success becomes subjective and is not properly celebrated.
The team’s expectations of the Product Owner is the direction. That is, clearly described user stories, acceptance criteria, visibility in all daily standups and sprint reviews, and availability for ad-hoc questions and queries.
The Product Owner is also the middle-man between the project and the business
They provide protection to the team, shielding them from questions and meddling from the business. This protection is required to allow the team to get on with the work set for the sprint without any outside influences. Queries, questions and requests from the business are filtered through the Product Owner who has the ultimate responsibility for what is and isn’t included in the project.
The Product Owner role is responsible for delivering value that meets current requirements. They need to be prepared to flex according to changes and according to user feedback. When the final iteration is delivered there are unlikely to be many surprises, user feedback will have been dealt with, changes in business direction will have been dealt with. End-users and stakeholders in the business will have been invited to participate through the project, to give their feedback and opinions on what has evolved during each iteration. It’s the ability of the Product Owner to take feedback, understand its value and apply that to the product being developed that will make the difference between an acceptable product and a great product.