Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Agile Manifesto

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II.


Product Owner Abstract

The Product Owner is the member of the team responsible for defining and prioritizing the Team Backlog so as to streamline the execution of program priorities, while maintaining conceptual and technical integrity of the features or components the team is responsible for. The product owner has a significant role in quality, and is the only team member empowered to “accept” new stories. For most enterprises converting to Agile, this is a new, and critical role, which typically translates into a full time job, requiring typically one PO to support each (sometimes two) Agile Teams.

The role has significant relationships and responsibilities outside the local team, including participation in Product Management and  ART release planning. In SAFe, some of the traditional team-level authorities of the Scrum Product Owner, such as authority for the full product definition and return on investment, are more typical the responsibility of Product Management.


Summary Role Description

The Product Owner is the member of the Agile Team who serves as the customer proxy, and is responsible for working with Product Management (or Chief Product Owner, Ref [3]) and other stakeholders—including other product owners and other teams—to define and prioritize the Team Backlog so that the solution effectively addresses program priorities while maintaining technical integrity. Ideally, the product owner is co-located with the development team, where they typically share management, incentives, and culture. But the product owner also attends most relevant product management meetings, planning, and backlog/vision refinement sessions. In SAFe, this extended PO/PM team of teams has the primary responsibility for what gets built.

Division of Labor

Since the product manager and product owners share the “content authority” for the solution, it is important to have a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities, as is illustrated in Table 1 below.

Product Manager

Product Owner

Market/customer facing Solution/technology/team facing
Collocated with, and reports into marketing/business Collocated with, and reports into development
Owns Vision, Roadmap, pricing, licensing, ROI, and Program Backlog Contributes to Vision and Program Backlog. Owns team backlog and implementation.
Drives Program Increment and Release content via prioritized Features Drives iteration content via prioritized Stories
Establishes feature acceptance criteria Establishes story acceptance criteria, accepts stories into the baseline

Table 1. Product Manager and Product Owner responsibilities

Fan-out (Cardinality) of Product Manager, Product Owner and Agile Teams

Successful development is, in part, a game of numbers in the enterprise. Without the right number of people in the right roles, bottlenecks will severely limit velocity. Therefore, the number of product managers, product owners and Agile teams must be roughly in balance, or the whole system will spend much of its time waiting for definition, clarification and acceptance. The Framework recommends a fan-out as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Fanout (cardinality) of Product Manager > Product Owner > Agile Team

Each product manager can usually support up to four product owners, each of whom can be responsible for the backlog for one or two Agile teams.

Product Owner Responsibilities

The SAFe product owner fulfills the primary responsibilities outlined below.

Preparation and Participation in Release Planning.

  • As a member of the extended Product Management team, the product owner is heavily involved in Program Backlog refinement, preparation for Release Planning and also has a significant role in the planning event itself. Prior to the event, the product owner updates the team backlogs and typically participates in reviewing and contributing to program Vision, Roadmap and content presentations.
  • During the event, the product owner is involved with Story definition, providing clarifications necessary to assist the team with their story estimates, sprint loading, story sequencing, and drafting the team’s specific objectives for the upcoming Program Increment.

Sprint Execution

  • Backlog Refinement. With input from the product manager and other stakeholders, the product owner has the primary responsibility to build, prune, and maintain the team backlog. The backlog consists mostly of user stories, but also includes defects, Refactors and infrastructure work. Backlog items are prioritized based on user value, and time and other team dependencies which are determined in Release Planning.
  • Iteration Planning. The product owner reviews and re-prioritizes the backlog as part of the preparatory work for Iteration Planning, including coordination of content dependencies with other product owners. During the iteration planning meeting, the product owner is the main source for user story detail and priorities, and has the responsibility to accept the final iteration plan
  • Just-in-time story elaboration. Most backlog items are elaborated into user stories for implementation. This may happen prior to the iteration, during iteration planning, or during the iteration itself. While any team member can write user stories and acceptance criteria, the product owner has the primary responsibility to keep the process flowing.
  • Supporting ATDD. POs participate in development of story acceptance criteria, draft them when feasible, and provide examples in support of ATDD Specification by Example. See Test-First.
  • Accepting stories into the baseline. The product owner is the only team member who can accept stories into the baseline. This includes validation that the story meets acceptance criteria and that each has the appropriate, persistent acceptance tests, and otherwise meets its definite of done. In so doing, the product owner also fulfills a quality assurance function, focusing primarily on fitness for use.
  • Participating in Team Demo and Retro. As an integral member of the team, and the one responsible for requirements, the product owner has an important role in the Team Demo, reviewing and accepting stories in the baseline, and in the Iteration Retrospective, where the teams gather to improve their processes.

Program Execution

  • Iterations and teams both serve a larger purpose – frequent, reliable, and continuous release of value-added, system-level software. During the course of each PI, the product owner coordinates content dependencies with other product owners. This is often accomplished in part by attendance at weekly product owner team meetings. The product owner also has an instrumental role in producing the System Demo for program stakeholders.

Inspect and Adapt

  • Teams address their larger impediments in the program Inspect and Adapt workshop. There, the product owner works across teams to define and implement improvement stories that will increase the velocity and quality of the program.


Learn More

[1] Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise.  Addison-Wesley, 2011. Chapter 11.

[2] Larman, Craig, Vodde, Bas. Practices for Scaling Lean & Agile Development: Large, Multisite and Offshore Product Development with Large-Scale Scrum. B  Addison-Wesley, 2010. Chapter 3.

[3] Pichler, Roman. Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love.  Addison-Wesley, 2010.

Last Modified 3 August, 2014

Leffingwell et al. © 2011-2014 Scaled Agile, Inc.

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