Learn about the different product owners that exist, their responsibilities, and how they contribute to building a product that meets the user’s expectations.
•Published: Sep 27, 2021
During agile development (or Scrum), product owners manage all the tasks, processes, and workflows. They oversee each sprint and make sure that the developer team progresses toward turning the product vision into reality.
The product owner is responsible for maximizing the productivity of the Scrum team. Their tasks include communicating the product goal to developers, managing and ordering the product backlog, and ensuring that the backlog is easy to understand for everyone on the Scrum team. The product owner is one person (not a committee) and represents the needs of the stakeholders in a company.
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the various roles of product owners or if they even have a place in product management. In addition, whether or not there’s a difference between the product manager and product owner is also a big debate in the product management community.
However, while product owners are different from each other, they all contribute to optimizing the value of your product for users. Each has specific expertise in various areas that, when combined, create a product that meets the needs and expectations of your audience. Let’s find out what these different product owners are:
- The Scribe
- The Proxy
- The Business Representative
- The Sponsor
- The Entrepreneur
1. The Scribe
The scribe manages the product backlog and turns requests from stakeholders into actionable, easy-to-understand user stories for developers. It’s very common for requirements engineers and business analysts to take this position, with the mandate coming from a steering committee or project management office (PMO). However, their authority during product development is pretty limited: it doesn’t go beyond collecting the wishes of leading stakeholders and getting developers to execute on them.
2. The Proxy
The proxy has similar responsibilities as the scribe but with a bit more authority. For example, they can decide which items to include in the product backlog and how to order the different items. They’re also in charge of deciding when you can release product increments to customers.
Typically, project managers or team leads take the role of the proxy product owner because of their previous experience completing projects under strict deadlines. They can use the same skills to manage the work of developers on the Scrum team.
However, they are not the final decision-makers and don’t control the development budget or define the product vision: the stakeholders are. They also don’t determine crucial aspects of product development, such as business goals or scope, which instead are determined by other stakeholders, such as the executive team.
It’s also important to note that the proxy still needs the approval of stakeholders if they ever want to make changes in the team’s product development priorities. Of course, that also goes for any changes in planning or the roadmap.
3. The Business Representative
The business representative represents the business side of your company to customers and potential prospects. Contrary to what people might assume, the business representative doesn’t necessarily have to come from a business background. These product owners can also come from the IT department and be product architects or information managers. Thanks to their experience with the product, they have extensive knowledge of your market, target user, and business context.
They can help improve product development by identifying what the target user expects out of the product experience along with predicting their needs. Business representatives can also determine what work the development team needs to carry out without higher approval.
As a result, they have much more authority than even the proxy product owners. If they seek to make any changes in the budget, however, they need to get the approval of the main stakeholders first, such as management or a steering committee. Also, another stakeholder in the product team defines the list of company goals, not the business representative.
4. The Sponsor
A sponsor is the product owner who manages the budget responsibilities in the agile process, which allows them to upscale or downscale developers based on the needs of your product. For example, if you’re building a complex feature within the product roadmap and need more developers, the sponsor can bring more people to the team. Unlike the business representative, the sponsor gets to have their own budget spend.
In Scrum product teams, it’s usually IT managers or business managers who fill in the role of the sponsor. They define which projects the dev team must perform and have a voice on what must be added to the product.
If your product experiences success, the sponsor can expand and grow your team of developers for more scalability. They also have the power and flexibility to accelerate or delay the development process, which means they strongly influence ROI.
That said, it doesn’t mean that they can make changes to the team during a sprint. Another factor that provides the sponsor with more authority than the previous three product owners is that they have a say in what goals the product team must achieve.
5. The Entrepreneur
The entrepreneur (also referred to in Scrum as the “mini-CEO”) is the product owner with the most responsibility and authority. Their role is to get the most ROI out of the product and drive it to success.
Some of the essential skills that an entrepreneur will need include communication, leadership, marketing, and a passion for the product. The entrepreneur takes full responsibility for the product (such as the profit or loss) and has complete authority over the product backlog. They also need a full understanding of the product vision, your market, and the target audience.
This product owner is the one with the most impact on your customers, organization, and product. They’re also in charge of other areas of your product, such as marketing, sales, legal aspects, and operations, hence the term “mini-CEO.”
Know Your Product Owners for Better Collaboration
The Scrum guide says, “for Product Owners to succeed, the entire organization must respect their decisions,” so effective collaboration and communication are needed to build a strong relationship with them.
As a product manager, make sure to understand which type of product owner you’re working with, so you know how to collaborate with them better to reach your company goals. That way, you’ll be on a faster track to launching a product that meets customers' expectations.