The Product Owner in Scrum: Responsibilities, Certifications & Tools


Scrum is a framework for organizing agile teams, and its processes and guidelines are excellent for improving team productivity. One reason scrum is so effective is that it clearly defines the different roles of the team. When the roles are clearly defined, the team, as well as the stakeholders, know exactly who is doing what, and what to expect for deliverables.

All of the scrum roles are important, but the role of the product owner is particularly special because this person acts as the liaison between the stakeholders and the developers. The product owner is accountable to the team, the business and the end customer, so the person taking on this role must be an excellent all-around leader.

What is a Product Owner?

A product owner is an individual on a scrum team that is responsible for managing the backlog of work and overseeing sprints. They act as the project manager for the scrum team, although the agile community generally doesn’t use that term. The product owner is responsible for representing the voice of the customer, ensuring that all development work reflects the needs of the end user.

The truth is, that companies utilize product owners in different ways, and the role might change depending on what the company needs. Some companies look at the product owner as a tactical, hands-on manager who oversees scrum boards to keep projects on track. Others might use the product owner more loosely to represent the vision of the product.

In the end, the responsibilities of the product owner will be defined by the company and the team in which they work. We’ll get to those responsibilities in a moment, but regards of how the company defines them, a product owner needs agile tools with the flexibility they need to respond to customer needs. ProjectManager is a cloud-based software with kanban boards that visualize workflow, allow product teams to manage their backlog and collaboratively plan sprints. Product owners get visibility into the process so they can reallocate resources as necessary to avoid roadblocks. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's kanban board
ProjectManager’s kanban boards give product owners visibility into their team’s work. Learn more.

Product Owner Responsibilities

According to the official Scrum Guide, the primary responsibility of the product owner is to manage the product backlog. This means ordering and prioritizing work, optimizing the value of the work and ensuring all team members understand what work needs to be tackled next.

The Scrum Guide breaks the product owner’s responsibility further into five specific items. Let’s look at each one, and explain what it means.

  1. Clearly expressing product backlog items: The product owner needs to take the needs of the customer and stakeholders in order to build a strong backlog of work.
  2. Ordering the items in the product backlog to best achieve goals and missions: This involves prioritizing all of the different tasks in the backlog according to the needs of the organization.
  3. Optimizing the value of the work the development team performs: The product owner acts as a team manager, working with the development team to ensure that time spent on the work is as efficient as possible.
  4. Ensuring that the product backlog is clear and understood by all, and shows what the scrum team will work on next: This means that each item in the backlog should be fully fleshed out and thought through so that anyone looking at it can understand the work and the importance.
  5. Ensuring the development team understands items in the product backlog to the level needed: The development team is the team working through the different backlog tasks, so the product owner needs to work with them to ensure they understand each backlog item fully.

Product Owner vs. Product Manager

What’s the difference between a product owner and a product manager? Both titles are used in agile teams and organizations, and the two roles even have some overlap in responsibility. However, the primary difference between the two is in the scope of their work.

Simply put, a product owner is responsible for the tactical and hands-on management of the development team, while a product manager has a broader responsibility of strategically managing the product in terms of the product vision, the product-market fit and the adoption of the product.

To further clarify the difference between these two Scrum roles, let’s look at the primary responsibilities of each:

Product Owner: Manages the product backlog and ensures the development team is working efficiently towards the organization’s goals.

Product Manager: Owns the overall success of a product by conducting market research, developing strategy, coordinating production, coordinating the marketing and sales strategy and managing the life cycle of the product.

Can The Product Owner and The Product Manager Be The Same Person?

In theory, this is possible, as both roles are intimately involved in the development of the product. However, it is generally not recommended to combine the roles. The product manager has wide responsibilities across the entire organization, so if this person also acts as the product owner, they will have less time to work with the development team, and they will ultimately be less successful in managing the backlog.

Product Owner Certification

While not required, a product owner certification can be a great way to brush up on needed skills and to learn new things. Certification can also help those looking for a new job, as it shows potential hiring companies that you are qualified for the role.

There are many different organizations offering product owner certifications, so it can be confusing to know which certification courses are valuable and which are not worth your time. We’ve looked at all of the available certification courses online, and we recommend that you stick to one of the following certification organizations. Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO) offers three different certification levels: Professional Scrum Product Owner I, II and III. As the levels progress, the certifications become more rigorous. Level I certification tests for a fundamental understanding, Level II is considered an advanced certification, and Level III is for distinguished level candidates.

All three certifications are available for purchase online. After paying, (all three courses combined will cost $950), you will complete an exam to receive your certification. You can find links to each of the certifications here:

Professional Scrum Product Owner I (PSPO I) – $200
Professional Scrum Product Owner II (PSPO II) – $250
Professional Scrum Product Owner III (PSPO III) $500

Scrum Alliance: Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)

Another popular choice for certification is the ScrumAlliance organization. The ScrumAlliance also offers three different course levels.

Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)
Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner (A-CSPOSM)
Certified Scrum Professional-Product Owner (CSP-PO)

The Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) course is the entry-level option. If you choose this course, you will attend an online or in-person course taught by a certified trainer. The certification must be renewed every two years. Once you’ve completed the entry-level certification course, you may register for the next advanced course. The final and most difficult course is the professional-level course.

Pricing on the different ScrumAlliance certifications varies, so check their website to find a course that works for you.

How ProjectManager Helps Product Owners

To be a successful product owner, you’ll need the right tools in place to manage your team’s backlog and to collaborate efficiently with your team. ProjectManager has built project management software specifically for product and development teams, with all of the features you could ever need.


Dashboards to Track Progress

Kanban boards are an efficient way to manage tasks and sprints, but they are not the only way to get information about your team’s work. Our software has real-time dashboards that automatically take information from your kanban board, and compiles the information into helpful charts and graphs. The dashboard shows you, at-a-glance, sprint progress, workload and other project metrics to help you know the status of your team’s work.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

Reporting to Share with Stakeholders

Product owners also need to keep stakeholders in the loop, so we have a reporting feature to help you generate custom reports to share with them. We help you take complex data and turn it into shareable reports that your stakeholders will love.

ProjectManager's status report filter

Software Loved by Scrum Teams Around The World

ProjectManager’s software is used every day by thousands of teams in more than 100 countries around the world. With notable customers like NASA, Volvo and Bank of America, ProjectManager has been a leader in the project management software industry for over 10 years. Our software has all of the tools a Scrum team could ever need, plus additional project planning tools like Gantt charts and calendars. We offer a hybrid project management solution, so both your agile teams and your project managers all get the tools to help them get organized and do amazing things. Try the software today, with a free 30 day trial.