The responsibilities are few but require discipline and dedication to the vision of the product. The key task is to prioritize (stack rank - not hi-low bucketing) the product backlog. By doing this the product owner optimizes the return on investment for the project as a whole and within the enterprise ecosystem.
Steve Jobs on innovation. "It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much."
-- BusinessWeek Online, Oct. 12, 2004
I was reminded this week of why the committee of product owners will not work. I was working with a Steering Committee. [Aside: Is that term an oxymoron or what? How many peoples hands do you want on your steering wheel?] My challenge to them was that their primary role was to find the teams a Scrum Product Owner. It was not to set the priorities of the various projects that the teams should work on - which is what they had met to accomplish.
A colleague mentioned the 1962 Chicago Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley's failed College of Coaches as an analogy. Having tried a baseball analogy and failed to make the point with this largely international group, I decided to search other domains for inspiration.
How about Apple - home of "insanely great" products - is there inspiration for the Scrum roll of the one Product Owner at Apple? Why, yes - yes there is!
How many companies are envious of Apples ability to deliver great product to market, and even shape the new and emerging markets? Answer: many - if not all. Even Nokia is willing to burn their platform to create a reason to change to a new Windows 7 solution in hopes of holding onto market share. While Nokia's CEO Stephen Elop has realized (perhaps too late) that the environment has changed. Apple has created a whole ecosystem of simple products that are symbiotic (see eHub strategy - 2001).
While I enjoyed Elop's use of the burning platform metaphor - I don't think one should pour gasoline upon their own burning platform. That sounds like a suicidal tendency. Perhaps he intended to mix his metaphors. I also enjoy a well mixed metaphor - shaken not stirred.
But back to the product owner roll. Why has Steve Jobs been so successful and has Elop in a panic state? I think it comes down to vision - purpose - acting to fulfill ones core values. Steve Jobs has been doing this since he built and sold his first Apple computer kit. He set out to change how people interact with computers. The March 2, 2011 iPad 2 announcement indicates that he believes this is at least the 2nd time if not the Nth time Apple has delivered on the dream - "to make computers for the rest of us." He refers to the iPad device as a post-PC device. He knows the landscape has changed - he had a dream.
The human is the only creature on earth that is capable of imagining a future and then creating that future. To do this we use one powerful ability - Imagination. This is one of my personal values. I believe this is an ability every great product owner must have.
See Also: We Don't Hire Product Owners Here