What is product ownership? (Definition, types and benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Product ownership is a critical component of business and software development that primarily assumes supervisory responsibilities over all business activities. Despite the role's name, the product owner doesn't own a product, yet they're responsible for the project's outcome in a Scrum team setting. If you're looking to expand your software development terminology and business knowledge, you may benefit from learning more about product ownership and its relevance to your career. In this article, we define product ownership and list the different types of ownership and the key responsibilities of the role.

What is product ownership?

Product ownership, also known as Agile product ownership or Scrum ownership, is a factor in the Scrum model for Agile development, which is an approach to project management and software development. Product owners act as supervisors, managers or leaders who oversee project operations, making decisions and communicating with other departments in the organisation. The role requires first-hand knowledge of the project and interpersonal skills to communicate with clients, other departments and stakeholders.

Related: What is Agile project management? (Everything you need to know)

Types of ownership

There are different types of ownership that are relevant to product owners:

Scrum ownership

Scrum owners are also referred to as project managers and deal with the final product and all its features. Scrum owners are responsible for all decisions regarding the product and manage the team that develops it. Digital applications and software are typically too big and complex to manage and own by oneself, which is why many software development teams have several product owners with roles that reflect their scope of ownership.

Related: What is a Scrum master's role and how to become one?

Platform ownership

Software platforms are a collection of digital assets that several products utilise and benefit from. Platform owners own such platforms and are responsible for maximising their value. For example, a platform owner may seek to reduce the time-to-market of the products that utilise their platform. As a platform grows, it may be necessary to share responsibilities with other owners. Platform owners require an in-depth knowledge of the platform and the products that use it in their build to manage its operations properly.

Related: What is a platform business model? (A definitive guide)

Portfolio ownership

A portfolio owner is responsible for a collection of products under a single brand identity. For example, Microsoft Office includes a collection of software called a product portfolio. The portfolio owner maximises the value of the portfolio by collaborating with the product owners of each product, managing each product's individual strategies and roadmaps and aligning major releases and updates with necessary marketing departments and development teams. Portfolio ownership requires excellent management skills and previous experience in managing products due to its scope of responsibilities.

Related: How much does a portfolio manager make? (With skills)

Feature ownership

Feature ownership refers to someone who controls and manages a particular process, major component or product feature. This feature is typically a fundamental part of the product that contributes to its functionality. For example, the ability to edit or save a Microsoft Word document is a core component of the product. Feature owners manage, maintain and test these features to ensure they work as intended. Feature ownership requires in-depth technical knowledge as these owners work closely with the development team to ensure the features remain functional and bug-free.

Why is ownership important?

Ownership is important as it provides accountability for the project and acts as the link between the development team and the clients or stakeholders. Product owners are also adept in technical knowledge for the aspects of the project they manage and can lead a team and manage them effectively. The closer a project is to client specifications, the higher the satisfaction rate and success of the product. Ownership also delegates tasks to relevant team members, encourages project cohesiveness and motivates the team to contribute productively.

Related: How to create product plans (with steps and best practices)

Key product owner responsibilities

Here are some key responsibilities a product owner faces on the job:

Creating the vision

A product owner collaborates with clients and stakeholders to understand project specifications, negotiating any technical and business aspects where necessary. During these stages of initial planning and collaboration, product owners ask clients about any issues they may have and come up with broad solutions to their problems. They require high levels of perspective, experience and management ability to effectively communicate the abilities of the software development team and meet the client's needs.

A product owner with strong communication and collaborative skills adopts a cohesive vision that they can convey to the development team. When the team understands the objectives of the project and mission they're contributing to, they can work more productively. A way to maintain a cohesive vision is by creating supporting documentation such as a project roadmap. Roadmaps help owners visualise the development process and inform the team on how the project is expected to progress.

Related: What is strategic vision? (And benefits, importance, skills)

Prioritising needs

There are many factors a product owner reviews during the development phase, such as managing budgets, delegating tasks and communicating with stakeholders. Projects have distinct priorities. For example, if a product is to launch in six months' time, the product owner can help them stay focused on completing their tasks in the given timeframe. As the project evolves, the product owner shows flexibility by managing different aspects and employees as needed.

Related: Product owner responsibilities within a development project

Supervising development stages

A significant portion of a product owner's responsibilities is in the form of supervising its development and managing employees to help them stay focused on the task in hand. The owner is a major contributor and the final decision-maker on each stage of development, including planning, prioritising, reviewing and finalising. Therefore, they're required to have extensive knowledge of all relevant information pertaining to the individual stages. There may be several disruptions and setbacks during the developmental process, which makes the product owner's expertise essential to the project's success.

Related: The scope and benefits of a product breakdown structure

Acting as a liaison

A core duty of ownership is constant collaboration internally and externally. Anticipating clients' needs and ensuring they're met in the scope of the project is a key responsibility for a product owner, and they educate and inform the team of exactly how to satisfy the brief. Product owners also ensure that the development team collaborate productively within the organisation. They can act as the link between external parties and departments to ensure all parties understand how to market, test and deliver the product.

Related: The importance of good communication in organisations

Evaluating progress

Although different product owners have varying degrees of responsibility, they're all leaders who evaluate the finished product and track its progress to secure the product's continued functionality. Evaluating progress can involve performing regular bug tests, listening to user feedback, tracking sales figures or evaluating similar customer metrics. Product owners frequently implement tools and business theories to assist with their evaluation, such as creating customer journeys and roadmaps, implementing trackable KPIs and planning presentations for stakeholder meetings.

Skills for ownership

Here are some necessary skills to help you progress with your product ownership career:

  • Communication: Communication is one of the most important skills to have as a product owner, as you don't always participate in the project's development first-hand. Instead, product owners often act as a liaison and oversee the project to satisfy the clients' needs.

  • Decision-making: Product owners have the ability to make important decisions at every stage of the product's development process. They use critical thinking abilities, knowledge and experience to make informed decisions.

  • Technical knowledge: Regardless of the type of ownership, they require native technical knowledge of the product and industry they're involved with. Without technical knowledge, a product owner can't make informed decisions and lead their team effectively.

  • Leadership: All product owners require strong leadership abilities to be able to direct their teams and act as authoritative figures. Strong leadership allows the development team to contribute productively to the progress of the product's development with the assurance that the product owner can ensure their success.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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