Navigating the Product Owner Career Journey:

From Essential Roles to Senior Leadership

Reggie James
February 1, 2023

Creating a product requires basically two things: attending to the customers' needs and responding to the organization's business strategy. The Product Owner is the one responsible for bringing those two elements together.

In this article, we summarize a Product Owner's primary roles and duties, desired characteristics, and career path.  

What is a Product Owner?

In an Agile framework, the Product Owner enhances the value of the product the Scrum team delivers. His job is to keep the developers' Product Backlog updated, relevant, and aligned with the Business Strategy designed by corporate leadership.

The Product Backlog is more than a to-do list; it is the developers' North Star. Contrary to other work methodologies, where developers divide tasks, Agile's Product Backlog shows what stakeholders want, ranked by priority from top to bottom. 

That is why the Product Owner must update the Product Backlog frequently to ensure developers maximize their efforts to deliver the most relevant features first. 

Why are Product Owners necessary?

A Scrum team needs a clear vision of the product they must create. The Product Owner is the one who translates the organization's business strategy into actionable items for developers in the Product Backlog.

If Product Owners weren't there, developers would take orders directly from stakeholders, causing several problems. This is because stakeholders have a unidimensional vision; they focus on

reducing costs and increasing profit, and aren't in touch with customers' pain points and needs. 

What makes a good Product Owner?

A Product Owner must have an excellent understanding of the product's marketplace, be an eximious communicator and problem solver, and be able to decode the project's priorities into clear instructions. 

Product owners can only deliver a quality product if they understand the problem in the consumers' life they are trying to solve, the product's sales channels, and revenue streams. They must think of ways to make the product more attractive, think of its long-time success, and add innovative features that aren't accessory elements and provide real value. 

What are the Product Owner's Duties?

Product Owners must be acutely sensitive to what the customer wants and design and strategize the product's development according to it. They must:

  • Touch base with customers and stakeholders frequently - As the value of what is delivered is determined by the customer, Product Owners must know the customer's needs and pain points and focus on creating solutions to solve them. Also, Product Owners must be aware of stakeholders' desires regarding the project and find the middle ground between their desires and the customer's needs. 
  • Identify and solve problems quickly - Identifying customers' struggles is vital to direct the developer's team efforts. Once Product Owners identify a set of problems to be solved and then decide which ones should be fixed first.  
  • Contribute to the vision and set the course - Product Owners know what their teams are capable of; therefore, their input is crucial to create realistic expectations by contrasting what the team should deliver with what the team can provide. Also, as the Product Owner is in constant touch with the customer's needs and what they expect from the product, it is easy for them to ensure the vision represents real value to the end user. 
  • Update and manage the Product Backlog - Product Owners' permanent communication with stakeholders and customers allows them to understand what should be delivered next clearly. Each item at the top of the Product Backlog must represent an equally valuable feature for stakeholders and the end user. 
  • Ensure their team is constantly delivering value - Every item pulled from the Product Backlog must represent tangible value to the end user. Through constant communication with the customer, Product Owners must ensure their team's efforts produce the most valuable outcome. 
  • Be able to deal with and apply feedback from multiple sources - Product Owners receive feedback from the stakeholders and the customers. Stakeholders' feedback derives from revenue and cost savings. On the other hand, customers' feedback is based on value, how the product serves and provides solutions for them. Therefore, Product Owners must implement changes to meet customers' needs and stakeholders' desires.

What does a Product Owner's Career Path look like?

In a Scrum Team, the higher management corporate position in a Product Owner's career path is Head of Product. To get there, Product Owners must go through previous roles, such as Senior Product Owner, Scrum Master, Portfolio Owner, Product Manager, and Product Director. 

  • Senior Product Owner - After a decent amount of experience and substantial industry knowledge, a Product Owner can become a Senior Product Owner. Senior Product Owners oversee features' development; they primarily manage feature upgrades and resolve issues reported by the users. Sometimes, significant product components are split into several Scrum teams, each with its own PO; in these cases, Senior POs manage all the POs working on the same product. 
  • Scrum Master - Scrum Masters have three prominent roles: managing Scrum teams, guiding and mentoring Product Owners, and educating and guiding stakeholders. By assisting Scrum teams in improving their practices, Scrum Masters are responsible for Scrum teams' effectiveness. They also have close contact with stakeholders on a strategic level, participating in the planning, advising, and training at an organizational level. Being a reliable Scrum Master implies having a vast experience as a Product Owner; otherwise, it'll be impossible for them to assist and mentor Product Owners.
  • Portfolio Owner - Portfolio Owners manage several products that are related. For instance, working as a PO in a company like Yahoo! with several products like Email, Address Book, Calendar, AOL Mail, and Notepad, each managed by a PO. Working on several products for the same company prepares Product Owners to become Portfolio Owners as they understand the nuances of each product, their customers' needs, and stakeholders' expectations of those products. Portfolio Owners manage the portfolio, constantly collaborate with Product Owners, maximize the portfolio's value, manage product strategies and goals, and collaborate with stakeholders.
  • Product Manager - Product Managers and Product Owners might be the same for many people, yet they are not. Product Managers are in charge of the product's long-term value; it is a more strategic position than the Product Owner. They are in charge of customer and product development and the product vision, roadmap, and strategy. They must possess solid marketing knowledge, conduct regular pricing and competitor analysis and provide the most profitable marketing strategies. 
  • Product Director - Product Directors manage and oversee Project Managers. It is a senior management position responsible for managing all the products developed by the firm. Product Directors collaborate with seniors and subordinates, strategize long-term product planning, consult and collaborate with stakeholders, and are in charge of the marketing and consumer strategy. They spend most of their time leading senior positions, planning and strategizing long-term goals, and controlling outcomes and procedures.
  • Head of Product - Head of Product or VP of Product is the higher management role a Product Owner can aspire to within an organization. They are responsible for every product in the organization. They set overall strategic product goals, allocate resources, and manage product owners, product managers, and product directors. VP of Products also mentors and coaches senior management positions and ensure every product goal is met. 

And then... What?

Once you've reached the highest level of an organization and want to achieve more, there are a couple of options to consider. 

After some time as Head of Product, you'll have the experience needed to become a CEO, make the leap of faith and start your own company. You can explore consultancy and become an in-demand speaker to share your knowledge and inspire others. 

If you have some savings, you can become a Venture Capitalist or an Angel Investor. Being for so long in the industry, you'll definitely have a trained eye for turning brilliant ideas into profitable businesses. 


The Product Owner is a crucial piece of any Agile organization focused on maximizing their products' value, getting the best out of their Scrum teams, and developing smoother and more cohesive work strategies. 



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