19 April 2024

Scrum framework : Evolution of the Product Owner Accountability

Evolution of the Product Owner Accountability

  • See the original post : Evolution of the Product Owner
    • Profile picture for user Ron Eringa
    • Ron Eringa
    • June 17, 2016
    • 4.3 from 9 ratings

Product Owner

  • What is a good Product Owner and am I the right person to fill in this Accountability ?
  • If you have ever struggled with this question, you should probably keep reading.


  • The advantage of being a trainer and a consultant at the same time is that you get the chance to meet a lot of Product Owners.
  • I hear the stories of Product Owners struggling with their daily challenges.
  • Sometimes these stories are beautiful & inspiring, but mostly they look like an episode of ‘House of Cards’ (meaning it’s ugly and full of politics and tough decision making).


  • Looking at all these stories you can see an evolutionary pattern appear, describing how a Product Owner grows in his Accountability.

The pattern

  • Evolution Product Owner
    • Many Scrum minded organisations are trying to create a good implementation of the Product Owner.
    • Questions
      • But where do you start?
      • Who is the right person to fill in the role of the Product Owner?
      • Do they come from marketing, sales or maybe from the IT department?
      • Or maybe it’s that perfect project or product manager?
      • All these questions will pop up, once you start implementing Scrum.
    • Answer
      • The answer to this question is not that simple.
      • It is hidden in the evolution pattern, that describes how many organizations have implemented the Accountability of Product Owner.
      • Pattern
        • The pattern describes the required ‘features’ of a Product Owner.
        • It’s an incremental pattern, where at each step in the evolution the expected benefits of the Accounatability grows.
          • It’s like a Russian nesting doll that becomes more beautiful and richer the more it grows.
  • Five levels
    • The evolution pattern contains 5 levels of Product Owners that I encountered, the Scribe, the Proxy, the Business Representative, the Sponsor and the Entrepreneur.
      • These levels can be described by a graph that we use in the Professional Product Owner training.
      • Expected benefits Product Owner
        • Each of the PO-versions in the graph is an upgrade of its predecessor.

The Scribe

  • As a first attempt of implementing the Product Owner Accountability, organizations often start with someone who has strong analytic skills.
    • This is often a member of the Scrum Team that was used to writing requirement (or specs) or someone who used to be the ‘Business Analyst’.
      • Since this person typically comes from the IT department, it is easy to take the first step towards implementing Scrum and we can get started with the creation of a Product Backlog.
      • However, a Scribe has limited benefits, since they often need others (marketing, sales, product/project managers, steering committees, etc) to answer difficult questions.
    • This delegated decision making often leads to a disruption of the flow, bottlenecks, large piles of stocked work, and a slow generation of Business Value.

The Proxy

  • In order to solve the communication problems of a Scribe, organizations update the Product Owner Accountability with a senior analyst that has strong communication skills.
    • This person is like an account manager that is still coming from the IT department.
      • The focus of a Proxy shift from creating Product Backlog items towards creating Product Increments.
    • The expected benefits of a Proxy are slightly better since they are more connected to the business than the Scribe.
      • However it cannot be 2 Accountabilities Product Owner and Proxy.
      • Although the delays
        • Product Owner and a Proxy waiting time, and hick-ups will decrease, many of those remain.

The Business Representative

  • A problem that is often heard with the Proxy (and also the Scribe) is that the business (often marketing & sales) is disconnected from the IT department.
  • Once organizations understand that they need to break down the inter-departmental barriers, they send in someone from marketing/sales/product management to fill in the Product Owner role.
    • This upgrade to a business representative is the next step in the evolution.
    • From this moment on the Scrum Team consists of people from all parts of the organization, and not only from the IT department.
  • The expected benefits increase again since there is a broader collaboration.
    • Now there is direct availability of functional knowledge & stakeholder expectations.
    • Yet, the business representative still has limited autonomy, since marketing\sales\product management department is still the real authority.

The Sponsor

  • Once a Business Representative has felt the pain of continuously asking the business departments to make decisions, they will probably fight to get some mandate.
    • Once the business departments dare to give control to and trust the Business Representative, the next step in the evolution is made and the Business Representative is upgraded to a Sponsor.
      • It works better if the person is not only from the business but also has the trust and the mandate to take decisions (on the spot).
      • A mandate is a signal that the role is taken more seriously.
      • The sponsor is often allowed to spend more time as a Product Owner, leading to fewer hick-ups, context\task switching & largely improved flow.
      • The Developers can focus more, and get things done.
  • The issues of a Sponsor mostly come down to a need for lobbying for a budget.
    • A sponsor still needs to negotiate to free up money from the different business departments.
    • Maybe he can already decide on how to spend the money for his own department, but there are still other departments that need to be convinced.

The Entrepreneur

  • The last step in the evolution of the Product Owner is to make him fully responsible for functionality and budgets.
    • This makes him a real Entrepreneur, whose job is to create as much Business Value for his customers as possible.
      • They are like a mini-CEO, a real owner over the product.
  • The Entrepreneur is responsible for all aspects, like marketing, competition, users, legal & finance within the scope of his product.
    • His professional life is dedicated to the well-being of the product.
  • Unfortunately, this kind of Product Owner is still a rare species (espèce rare), since organizations are often not ready to delegate this kind of control.

If you would like to use the personas described in a workshop, you can download them here.


  • Created on 01/08, 2023.
  • Updated : 01/16, 2023.

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