The most effective Product Owner I have ever worked with did not have that title. I mention this at the outset of the post merely to say that titles don't really matter that much. What matters is the role itself and organizational empowerment to do the job right.
You have a Product Owner because you want to go fast and develop great software. If you don't have one you are making the choice to go slow, which is always a bad idea. You may develop great software anyway, but it will take longer than it needs to.
The product owner is a critical role in modern software development. The Product Owner’s role is to supply the following to the development team:
- Product Vision
- Release Vision
- Feature Backlog
- Decision Making
Effective Product Owners work with stakeholders (usually customers, executives, business decision makers, and visionaries) to supply an effective workstream for their projects. Very often good Product Owners are neither the visionary nor an executive, but are someone with the ability to manage those people and the guts to make decisions about the product.
Ineffective product owners are too busy doing other things to be bothered with the day-to-day decision making of the team and leave questions unanswered for long periods of time, delaying the work.
Effective product owners manage and participate effectively in two work cycles:
- The Development Sprint Cycle (usually 2–3 weeks) A good Product Owner makes time to attend important meetings and answer questions for the team doing the work.
- The Product Development Backlog Cycle – A good product owner is constantly working with business stakeholders and customers (end-user customers) to understand what is working and what isn’t.
Ineffective Product Owners don’t spend the time necessary to get their product backlog prepared. This leaves their teams unable to plan or estimate work – delaying progress, de-motivating their teams, and creating blind spots in cost and timeline for their projects.
Effective product owners work hard to understand their competitors and customers, they know their place in the industry and where they are trying to go. Being an effective Product Owner is typically a full-time position, I seldom sees a product owner that can handle owning more than 1 product, and I have never seen one able to effectively handle more than 3.