The Essential Product Owner Career Guide

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Swetha Amaresan
Swetha Amaresan


If your organization is creating and selling a new product, you likely have a product development team. This team is especially important as your product grows in complexity — i.e. as you start developing new versions of the same product or multiple types of products. A product development team can manage the technicalities of these products, come up with new and innovative ideas, and make these concepts come to life.

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There are several roles that make up a solid product development team. One of these is the product owner.

What Is a Product Owner?

A product owner is a member of the product development team whose role is to manage the product backlog. The product backlog is a list of items, ordered by importance, that the development team needs to work on for the product. The product owner ensures that the team is aware of all deliverables — both external and internal — that they need to prioritize.

Since organizing tasks by priority can be difficult, product owners typically work to transform it into an agile framework.

What Is Agile?

Agile is the set of ideas that serve as the main goal for a product. This is a great way for product development teams to structure their daily responsibilities based on a common end result. Using agile principles, teams can select the best agile framework to meet their needs for collaboration, task management, research, and more.

There are many agile frameworks, but product owners are involved with the Scrum framework. This is effective for teams who have to regularly provide value to customers. Teams have consistent, fixed work intervals — referred to as “sprints.” Products are delivered at the end of each sprint, after being approved by the product owner. Sprints keep teams focused on when they need to deliver an item, so teams with Scrum frameworks are against changing deadlines or tasks during a sprint.

Based on the Scrum framework, product owners have many responsibilities in their day-to-day lives.

What Does a Product Owner Do?

Here are a few tasks that product owners must perform when developing a new product. 

1. Develop the product vision. 

The product owner's most important responsibility is to create the product vision. The product vision is a blueprint that outlines the product's concept and features. The development team then uses this resource as a guide when building the product. It shows them how the product should look, what it should do, and what problems it will resolve for the customer. 

Creating a product vision requires input from multiple sources. If product owners want to build a successful product, they need to survey internal and external stakeholders across the organization. That way, they'll have a product vision that captures both customer needs and the company's objectives. 

2. Create the product backlog.

The product backlog is another document that guides your design and engineering teams. This is a list of tasks that needs to be completed during the sprint.

The product owner is responsible for creating this list and prioritizing each task for the development team. They need to foresee which tasks will take more time than others, and which ones are dependent on each other. That way, one engineering team won't stall out waiting for another team to finish their duties.

3. Analyze industry trends and customer needs. 

At the end of the day, your products are for your customers. So, your product owner should be closely connected with your customer base if you want to create effective products. He or she should routinely interview customers and analyze their feedback for trends and insights. 

One way that product owners collect feedback is through surveys. They'll ask loyal customers about the company's existing products, then encourage them to provide honest feedback about how they can improve their experience. They'll look for similarities or patterns in the data and record common pain-points that customers are experiencing. That way, they can relay this information back to their development teams and justify their product vision.

4. Collaborate with key stakeholders. 

Product owners don't just interact with customers, they also engage with key stakeholders across the business. For example, they'll work closely with the product manager to set deadlines and create a perfect product roadmap. They'll also hold meetings with executives and upper management to get approval on adding new features to the product vision. They can even work with marketing, sales, and customer service teams to help them prepare for the product launch. 

As the master of the product's vision, product owners need to make sure everyone at their company understands the product and how it will benefit their customers. 

5. Ensure product quality. 

Once the product vision and backlog are complete, the product owner needs to take a small step back and let the scrum master and product manager execute the product roadmap. However, that doesn't mean the product owner is off the hook. 

Once the product is complete, product owners act as quality assurance. They review the final product and look for flaws that don't align with their original vision. If there are discrepancies, product owners will communicate with the product manager to see why a change was made. There may be something that the product manager observed during development that the product owner was not initially aware of.

For most product owner roles, these responsibilities are typically listed within their job description. 

In order to execute these tasks, product owners must possess a variety of skills. Let's review a few of them in the section below. 

Product Owner Skills

Here are some common skills that most product owners will have. 

1. Industry Knowledge

To create a successful product, a product owner needs to know their industry inside and out. They have to be up to date on the latest trends and constantly have a beat on the evolving needs of their marketplace. This requires them to do both qualitative and quantitative research when analyzing customer data.  

2. Customer Service

Since product owners spend time working with customers, they'll need to possess customer service skills. These are soft skills that focus on building relationships with people. This includes empathy, active listening, flexibility, etc. 

All of these skills are important to have whenever you're communicating with customers. After all, the last thing you want is your product owner scaring off leads before they even show them the new product. 

3. Leadership

Since they'll be managing multiple teams at once, product owners need to be proficient leaders. They need to be comfortable with directing people and giving feedback when it's necessary. If the product isn't coming together as expected, it's up to the product owner to provide that information in a way that's constructive and maintains the team's motivation towards the company's goals. 

4. Communication

As we learned from their job description, product owners work with different stakeholders throughout the company. Some they'll meet face-to-face, others will strictly be through emails and phone calls. This makes it imperative that the product owner is an excellent communicator across a variety of mediums. They need to able to effectively dictate their point regardless if it's on a call, in text, or in person. 

5. Problem-Solving

It's the job of the product manager to alert the product owner when there's a problem with the product vision or roadmap. When this happens -- and it's bound to -- the product owner must act quickly as a problem-solver. They need to come up with creative solutions that not only bypass roadblocks, but do so while still meeting the original deadline. Having this skill helps product owners meet the expectations that they set out for the key stakeholders at the beginning of the sprint. 

6. Conflict Resolution

Sometimes, stakeholders won't agree with the product vision. They'll think a feature could be removed or that the product won't solve a particular customer issue. In some cases, these stakeholders are right and the product owner should adjust their vision accordingly. 

Other times, the product owner must quell disputes and justify their original design. This takes a degree of skill as product owners need to communicate these points in a way that won't offend the stakeholder. After all, they may have to tell an executive that a potential feature doesn't make sense for the product. If they don't know how to position their argument, the company will end up with a poor product and the product owner will still take all the blame for it.

If you're looking for a candidate who will possess these skills, below are a few character traits you should seek when hiring.

Product Owner Traits

Product owners need to be both a stakeholder and a product manager. In order to do so, they should be:

  • Superb leaders who can bring a vision to the product development team and guide their deliverables
  • Able to let go of control and allow the product development team to take the reigns on backlog items
  • Quick decision-makers who can trust their intuition and expertise when deciding on the priority of backlog items
  • Excellent researchers who can discover innovative features in the field and introduce them to their product
  • Well-educated on the stages of development
  • Clear and efficient communicators who can provide regular feedback to the development team
  • Open to feedback from the development team, as well as from other stakeholders
  • Flexible and understanding of the consistent changes that accompany the development team

Product Owner Salary

According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a product owner is $115,102 per year. The average additional compensation — including bonuses, tips, commission, and profit sharing — is $7,822.

The low end of the range marks at about $103,000, while the high end is about $131,000.

If you believe you have the skills, experience, and interest to be a product owner, consider it as a future career opportunity. Not only will it help you see the behind-the-scenes of your company's product development, but you'll also get to exercise your leadership skills.

For more information, read about the difference between a product owner and a product manager next.

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