With Scrum being insanely popular the recent years, the demand for Product Owners remains high. If you see it as your possible future career path, our tips may help you with taking the first steps towards this goal.
While there are various other project management methodologies applicable for IT out there (take Waterfall, Kanban, Lean, or APF), Scrum has been the industry’s favorite for a long time already. Even though it’s mainly applied in software development, it can work for various other sectors as a framework aimed at maximizing the team’s efficiency. Scrum is versatile, easy to scale, and brings tangible results – no wonder that it’s so popular. But it also differs radically from the other methodologies – also in terms of roles within the team. That may cause confusion, especially if the company is recruiting professionals for the very first Scrum project.
What is a product owner?
Product Owner is the most Scrum role among all, but unfortunately, its definition is quite vague in the official guide. Therefore, it’s understandable that even project managers and product managers that want to get into Scrum have trouble defining the scope of their responsibilities. Here’s the Scrum Guide take on this role:
The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Development Team.
A brief definition, to say the least – but what does it mean in practice? In a nutshell, Product Owners act as a bridge between the client and the team. Their fundamental role is to represent the customer’s voice and communicate it to the team members. POs have to stay familiar with customer needs and the product to be able to make decisions that move its development forward. For every sprint, they prepare a product backlog. It’s a list of prioritized functionalities that the product should contain at this particular stage and their requirements (like changes in infrastructure or bug fixes). Aside from managing the backlog, the Product Owner creates the user stories which help the team step into the client’s shoes.
You can read more about PO’s responsibilities in this comprehensive post.
How to become a Product Owner?
There is no magic formula, but here are some essential steps that will help you land your first PO job.
#1 Study Scrum
Since the Product Owner is specifically a Scrum role, you’ll obviously need to know a lot about this framework – everything you can possibly find. There are many open-source materials you can learn from (take the mentioned Scrum Guides), but in order to fully master this project approach, we recommend taking an official Professional Scrum Product Owner course. It’s a two-day course only, but its intense formula, with various practical exercises, is very efficient.
According to Scrum Guide, as a PO, you should have a good understanding of such Scrum features as:
#2 Get certified
Let’s not forget that the course leaves you with an official Scrum Product Owner certificate. Even if you have proven experience working in the Scrum team, the potential employer will most likely require a certificate that confirms your skills.
#3 Gain project management experience
To work as a Product Owner, you also may need previous project management experience (unless it’s an internship) plus a degree in management or computer science. The academic background in IT is not obligatory since, as a PO, you’re not responsible for technical implementation, but it may be an asset. It’s a common misconception that POs should all be computer science graduates – in fact, empathy and communication skills are much more valuable for them than the technical background. Once you’re pursuing this career, you should have an understanding of computer science basics, though. Otherwise, it will be hard for you to communicate the client’s voice to the development team.
Transitioning to Product Owner role – what are the challenges?
A project management background is crucial for your employers, but a transition from a project manager or product manager to a Scrum Product Owner may be challenging. That’s because there is no team management in Agile methodologies – the teams should naturally organize their work in a horizontal way. It may be hard to find ways to maximize the product’s value without actually managing the team members, but worry not – it comes with time!