Should a Product Owner come from the business or technical side of an Organization?

No two Product Owners journeys are the same in their journey to helping lead a Scrum Team. 

Before we answer the question of where a Product Owner should come from, let’s explore the role of a Product Owner.

As a reminder, a Product Owner’s Accountabilities are:

  • Maximizing the value of the Product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.
  • Managing the Product Backlog effectively, which includes:
    • Developing and explicitly communicating the Product Goal;
    • Creating and clearly communicating Product Backlog items;
    • Ordering Product Backlog items; and,
    • Ensuring that the Product Backlog is transparent, visible and understood.
  • The Product Owner may do the above work or may delegate the responsibility to others. Regardless, the Product Owner remains accountable.
  • For Product Owners to succeed, the entire Organization must respect their decisions. These decisions are visible in the content and ordering of the Product Backlog, and through the inspectable Increment at the Sprint Review.
  • The Product Owner is one person, not a committee. The Product Owner may represent the needs of many Stakeholders in the Product Backlog. Those wanting to change the Product Backlog can do so by trying to convince the Product Owner.

Business or Technical?

If we explore these aspects from Scrum Guide 2020, who is the best Product Owner to deal with all the Accountabilities?

In most Organizations, it’s a Product Owner from the business side who is familiar with working hand-in-hand with customers. Having a strong understanding and connection with customers is key for a Product Owner to manage their Accountabilities. 

Also, a business-minded Product Owner can allow us to break down the barrier between business and IT and work together to deliver items in an itemized order. According to the 15th State of Agile Report, almost 50% those surveyed said that the most important reason for adopting Agile in their Organization was for better alignment between business and IT. 

However…

There’s a caveat. A lot of times, using Scrum in an Organization is initiated by IT, and therefore both the project and Product Owner come from IT.  Here it’s more beneficial for a Product Owner to come from the IT side, because the customers are internal, so a tech background works well.