The Product Owner (PO) is a member of the Agile Team responsible for defining Stories and prioritizing the Team Backlog to streamline the execution of program priorities while maintaining the conceptual and technical integrity of the Features or components for the team.
The PO has a significant role in maximizing the value produced by the team and ensuring stories meet the user’s needs and comply with the Definition of Done. For most enterprises moving to Agile, this is a new and critical role, typically translating into a full-time job, requiring one PO to support each Agile team (or, at most, two teams).
This role has significant relationships and responsibilities outside the local team, including working with Product Management, Customers, Business Owners, and other stakeholders.
The PO is the member of the Agile team who serves as the customer proxy responsible for working with Product Management and other stakeholders—including other POs—to define and prioritize stories in the team backlog. This allows the Solution to effectively address program priorities (features and Enablers) while maintaining technical integrity. Ideally, the PO is collocated with the rest of the team, where they typically share management, incentives, and culture. But the PO also attends the relevant Product Management meetings for planning and Program Backlog/Vision refinement.
The PO fulfills the following duties:
Program Increment (PI) planningRoadmap
During the event, the PO is involved with story definition, providing the clarifications necessary to assist the team with their story estimates and sequencing. The entire Agile team, which includes the PO, also work together to determine their team PI objectives for the upcoming PI.
Maintaining the team backlog
Just-in-time story elaboration
Apply Behavior-Driven Development (BDD)
Understand enabler work
System and Solution Architect/EngineeringTeam Backlog
Participate in team demo and retrospective
Iteration RetrospectiveAgile Release Train’s (ART’s)Inspect and Adapt (I&A)
System DemoValue Stream
Teams address their larger impediments in the I&A workshop. There, the PO works across teams to define and implement improvement stories that will increase the velocity and quality of the program.
The PI system demo is part of the I&A workshop. The PO has an instrumental role in producing the PI system demo for program stakeholders.
To ensure that they will be able to show the most critical aspects of the solution to the stakeholders, POs also participate in the preparation of the PI system demo.
Product management in SAFe is a collaboration by Product Management and POs and as such they share content authority ARTs. They must collectively understand their customers by leveraging Design Thinking tools such as Personas, Empathy Maps, Customer Journey Maps, Story Maps, and other tools that support Continuous Exploration. Figure 1 provides some guidance on how to delineate the responsibilities across these roles. Depending on the solution’s size and architecture (and to some degree the organization’s culture), authority for these items can become more decentralized, shifting them to the right (see SAFe Principle #9, Decentralize Decision-Making).
Successful development is, in part, a game of numbers in the Enterprise. Without the right number of people in the right roles, bottlenecks will severely limit velocity. Therefore, the number of Product Managers, POs, and Agile teams must be roughly in balance to steer the ART. Otherwise, the whole system will spend much of its time waiting for definition, clarification, and acceptance. Instead, SAFe recommends a fan-out model, as illustrated in Figure 2.
Each Product Manager can usually support up to four POs, each of whom can be responsible for the backlog of one or two Agile teams.
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