How Do You Select a Product Owner?

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A common question in organizations involves determining who should be the product owner of an initiative. Here are some general recommendations:

  • If the result of the effort is a product that is going to be sold, then the person filling the Product Owner role is usually someone in a Product Management setting who “owns” responsibility for the Profit/Loss of the product.
  • If the result of the effort is for use internally in an organization, the ideal Product Owner is the person who is responsible for the business process that the system is supporting.  For example, if you have a system that is going to be used for Claims Processing, then the ideal Product Owner would be the head of the claims processing department.

But now reality comes into play.  The person who owns the business process will often not have the skills or the time to effectively act as a product owner when you think about what a Product Owner is expected to do. As a result of this, a few models have risen up in the wild for figuring out where the Product Owner sits.  Todd Little put together a nice graphic to describe these different models:

Product ownership models

Product Manager or Business Leader is the Product Owner

It’s easy picking the product owner in this setting – it’s the perspective I described above.

Product Owner is a separate role from the Product Manager or Business Leader, but report up through the business part of the organization

Fill the Product Owner role with someone in the business organization that has the skills to facilitate decision making, and has analysis skills

Business Analysts on the IT side and no specific Product Owners

Find the person on the IT side who has the ability to facilitate decision making (they should have analysis skills if they are in fact a good BA)

If you know what model you are in and have multiple people sitting in that position, or you can’t quite tell what model is best for your situation, another way of deciding who should be Product Owner is to consider the characteristics a product owner should have:

  • Responsibility (to make decisions)
  • Availability (to work with the team to answer questions)
  • Knowledge (to answer the team’s questions and to organize work appropriately)

So the best way to determine who the appropriate Product Owner is to see if there is someone who possesses most of the above criteria.

For some other perspectives, check out this resource on our website: Introduction to Agile Product Management.

If you are a member, you can watch this video for more information: Requirements, Product Ownership and Other Misunderstood Concepts in Agile Development.

How does your organization determine who should be Product Owners?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.


About the Author

Kent J McDonald writes about and practices software product management. He has IT and product development experience in a variety of industries including financial services, health insurance, nonprofit, and automotive. Kent currently practices his craft for a variety of organizations and provides just in time resources for product owners and business analysts at and Product Collective. When not writing or product managing, Kent is his family’s #ubersherpa, listens to jazz and podcasts (but not necessarily podcasts about jazz), and collects national parks.

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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