Since 2000, agile product development and project management have been on the rise, with 60% of companies claiming to experience profit growth after adopting an agile approach.
The popularity of agile positively affected the popularity of a relatively new technical role, Product Owner, with almost 6000 product owners currently employed in the United States.
But, interviewing for technical positions like Product Owner can be challenging.
This article will cover the trending Product Owner role. We’ll give you the toolbox to help you hire your next Product Owner without a hitch.
Keep reading to discover the definition and responsibilities of a Product Owner and 30 product owner interview questions that will help you accurately assess candidates’ technical skills and personality traits.
- How to define your expectations for the Product Owner role?
- What does a Product Owner do? Product Owner and Scrum definitions
- Everyday responsibilities of a Product Owner: Product backlog, product backlog refinement, the definition of done, user story, product roadmap, and more
- Essential technical and personality skills all great Product Owners have
- 30 Product Owner interview questions to assess technical and personality fit
Start by defining your expectations for the Product Owner role
We all think we know what a Product Owner does – but do we really?
Knowing what a Product Owner does is especially important when wanting to select and interview the right candidates.
All too often, job descriptions and expectations are too vague or specific, without any natural middle ground. This can make it difficult to accurately assess whether a candidate is a good fit for your team when asking product owner interview questions.
The first step in conducting a successful Product Owner interview is clearly understanding the role.
How do you define the role of a Product Owner? What responsibilities do you expect the Product Owner to take on? What skills and knowledge should Product Owners possess?
Once you have a good grasp on this, you can start crafting your product owner interview and create accurate product owner interview questions and answers around these topics.
What does a Product Owner do?
A Product Owner is a person who’s part of the scrum team. Now, you may ask about the meaning of scrum; we can think of scrum as an agile framework for developing and sustaining complex products while fostering communication and self-organization within a team.
The Product Owner is the person who defines user stories and creates a product backlog for the agile product, ensuring that the good user story meets customer needs.
The Product Owner is also responsible for securing the success of a project in scrum and maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team.
Product Owners work in the background with internal and external stakeholders to create an ideal product roadmap.
Product Owners interview customers, analyze and understand current market trends, review product feedback, work with upper management to ratify a product vision, and collaborate with development teams, product managers, and project managers.
While the execution may vary across companies, Scrum Teams, and individuals, the Product Owner is usually the primary point of contact on behalf of the customer to determine the product requirements for the development squad.
Are Product Owners and Scrum Masters the same?
From time to time, Product Owners are confused with Scrum Masters. Scrum Masters are responsible for executing the Scrum approach with the development and engineering teams. The Product Owner’s job, on the other hand, is to plan and prioritize work for the product’s Scrum teams.
A Product Owner cannot also be a Scrum Master. In the agile mindset, both roles have different responsibilities and different connections to internal and external stakeholders.
Because being a Product Owner is a full-time job, if a Product Owner took the time to perform Scrum Master duties, they’d then have to cut corners when building the product backlog, managing the development process and overseeing the project performance.
Both need to exist within a successful scrum team and scrum development teams to achieve a long and healthy product life cycle that serves the market needs. (Source)
We can summarize this section by stating that the scrum Product Owner role is critical for companies ready to form an agile team and adopt an agile-based product development methodology.
The everyday responsibilities and deliverables of a Product Owner
While the definition of a Product Owner can vary depending on the organization, here are some key responsibilities that are generally associated with the Product Owners:
1. Product Owners manage, prioritize, and communicate the product backlog for team members
The product backlog is vital for agile organizations because it captures and prioritizes the development team’s user stories to work on in upcoming sprints.
While not all organizations follow the agile sprint framework, the Product Owner still spends a good portion of their time and focus on backlog prioritization, reviewing the roadmap and product backlog of development tasks. This helps serve the product management team’s strategic goals and preferences in prioritizing what the developers should take on next.
2. Product Owners hold product backlog refinement sessions
Adding to our first point regarding product backlog, the Product Owner and the development team members regularly review the items on the product backlog, ensuring that all items on there are valid and arranged based on priority. This process is named product backlog Refinement.
The primary purpose of the product backlog refinement session is to ensure that user stories for the next sprints are ready for Sprint Planning.
Product backlog refinement sessions are also crucial for improving alignment across cross-functional teams, team members, and stakeholders.
Regular product backlog refinement sessions can be thought of as check-ups; they ensure smooth product development and confirm that the correct user stories are prioritized while those not working are discarded.
3. Product Owners know about the market and customers’ needs
The Product Owner is often a translator between departments to decode the company’s strategic plan into the correct execution steps for successful and agile development of the product.
To be successful at the task, a Product Owner needs to understand the market the product/ software is serving. They must also understand the customer, their needs, pain points, customer satisfaction (CSAT), and customer feedback.
To obtain this information, Product Owners tend to be in close contact with product managers and marketers.
It’s an ongoing dialogue between product marketers and product owners. Marketers can share user research results and valuable information on what brings the business value of the agile product with Product owners.
Acquiring this high-level knowledge of the market, ICPs, pain points, and product strategy helps the Product Owner to more effectively perform several day-to-day tactical functions, including:
- Breaking product management’s features into user stories
- Managing, arranging, and prioritizing sprints
- Monitoring the sprint performance
- Conducting the product backlog refinement meeting
- Better sprint planning and sounder sprint goals
- Tracking progress at each stage of development and reporting on the status
- Answering development questions about the reasoning for user stories or tasks
- Conducting demos and presentations to stakeholders
- Defining the Definition of Done for the user story with the development team members based on the scrum framework during product development
4. Product Owners decode product managers’ strategies to tasks for the development team
While managing the backlog, scrum Product Owners proactively draft user stories into tasks the development team can work on. This also helps prioritize tasks as well as choose the development team’s work and tasks to cover in the next sprint.
During this process, the Product Owner should be well-positioned and trained to do quality assurance and tackle any issues that might arise, including technical debt, head-on.
At the end of the day, Product Owners are there to maximize the resources available, facilitate various vital processes and create successful products.
5. Product Owners are the bridge between the product and development teams
The product manager and stakeholders set the product vision, high-level goals, and strategies while the engineering and development teams build the product.
Product owners act as a bridge between both teams to prevent miscommunication and misinterpretation during agile product development.
Thanks to the Product Owner’s position within said departments, the development and engineering teams have a clear understanding of the how and why behind the user story and tasks.
6. Product Owners are accessible to development team members and other stakeholders
In the process of agile software development, it is possible, from time to time, to see the need for clarification for a specific job assigned to one of the development team members.
This misunderstanding could be about a user story calling to design a product feature in a certain way or about the product manager’s strategic decision calling for a specific way to build a functionality.
The Product Owner is responsible for dealing with these issues while managing the product backlog and product roadmap.
Product Owners should be present to guide and provide answers to development teams when these instances occur.
Product Owners also manage the uncooperative stakeholders and other cross-functional team members, such as product managers and the growth department, by giving answers and solutions when faced with a product-related issue.
What are the essential skills all great Product Owners have?
A Product Owner must have a good mix of technical and soft skills to succeed in the workplace. Because the technical skills of Product Owners change over time with technological shifts, a Product Owner must keep updating their skill set according to the latest trends.
Here is a list of the essential skills for a Product Owner to have in 2022:
1. Communication skills
Communication is a must-have skill for a Product Owner as one of the responsibilities of a Product Owner is to create and communicate the product backlog and the product goals to the entire scrum team, development team, scrum master, and stakeholders.
This skill is crucial to managing the product roadmap, developing and prioritizing product backlog tasks, and, ultimately, ensuring that the product is successful.
A scrum Product Owner with practical communication skills should show during a product owner interview that they know how to decode or craft a message using a language the receiver can understand, ring stakeholders on the same page, and choose the correct channels to distribute the said message, gather feedback, and act accordingly on the input received.
2. Analytical skills
The Product Owner has to analyze and solve complex problems and identify possible solutions on a day-to-day basis. Therefore analytical skills, including critical thinking, problem-solving, logical reasoning, research, data analysis, and creativity, are vital to being a successful Product Owner.
A Product Owner with strong analytical skills should show during a product owner interview that they can identify which tasks to prioritize based on their relevance, significance, and association with other items in the product backlog.
3. Decision-making skills
The Product Owner, often, is the person who’s responsible and accountable for the product, making decisions aligned with the company’s goals that affect the product’s future.
Because the Product Owner frequently makes decisions varying from what items to include in the product backlog, how to prioritize them, and how to best convey the message to the development team members, scrum team, and stakeholders, decision-making is another vital skill for a Product Owner.
Because a Product Owner decides on the entire process, including product roadmap planning, a successful Scrum Product Owner with strong problem-solving and decision-making skills should show during a product owner interview that they can easily define a problem, identify alternatives, select a solution without much thinking, implement it and measure the results.
4. Project management skills
While a Product Owner is not a Project Manager, due to the nature of the role’s responsibilities of managing and leading the agile development team, the Product Owner is expected to have good project management skills.
A scrum Product Owner with project management skills should show during a product owner interview that they can effectively apply knowledge, skills, techniques, and tools to achieve project goals, plan sprints, meet project requirements, and manage the product roadmap.
5. Collaboration skills
While a Product Owner is part of the Scrum or product development team, and their close relationship is vital to successful software development and the product’s success, a Product Owner is also in the bridge position, linking different departments. A Product owner is in constant collaboration with the entire team.
Product Owners frequently engage with cross-functional teams, development teams and internal and external stakeholders.
A Product Owner keeps the product ownership and has the power to bring all the team members, from the scrum master to the business analyst, to the same page.
A good scrum Product Owner is a good team player with high emotional intelligence, has influential abilities, can efficiently deal with uncooperative stakeholders, and can work with others to achieve the joint goal of maximizing product value.
A Product Owner with solid collaboration skills should show during a product owner interview that they can be a team player, assure emotional connection, display traits of high EQ, and understand their team members.
6. Technical skills
Product Owner is a technical role, after all. A Product Owner should know their way into design, development, agile framework, agile product development, IT infrastructure, and scrum approach.
Based on the research done by Zippia, the user interface is the most wanted technical skill for the Product Owner position.
Other must-have skills include scrum and agile software development methodologies, coding, designing, UX knowledge, product development architecture, product backlog management, and user story knowledge.
Starting your candidate selection process with a job-specific skills test gives you 3 significant benefits.
By leveraging skill assessments in your hiring pipeline, you can:
- See the Product Owner candidates’ technical and interpersonal skills in action.
- Automatically reject the candidates without the skill set to be a Product Owner, and focus your time on high-performers.
- Have more time to deep dive into technical and personality fit during interviews (and ask below product owner questions in detail)
If you are interested in assessing with skills tests but don’t know where to start, explore Toggl Hire, a skills assessment platform that gives insight into candidates’ job-specific skills.
Other important skills for Product Owners
While the skills covered above were the absolute must-haves for a Product Owner, the list doesn’t quite end there. Here are the other critical skills for the Product Owner position in 2022:
- Leadership and management
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Time management
- Product development
- Domain knowledge
- Product management
- Product vision
30 Product Owner interview questions you can steal to assess technical and personality fit
Now that we’ve covered the definition of the Product Owner’s role, a Product Owner’s responsibilities, and the skills needed for this role, you are ready to craft a successful product owner interview.
You can steal the product owner interview questions listed below to assess the skills that matter for the role, like a pro. Good luck!
- Can you describe the typical day-to-day activities of a Product Owner?
- Can the Product Owner and Scrum Master be the same person?
- What’s your approach to prioritizing product backlog items?
- Your development team is repeatedly failing to deliver on its sprint commitment. How do you deal with that as the Product Owner?
- What, would you say, are the most essential skills for a Product Owner, and why?
- Tell me about a new favorite product you discovered recently. Why is it a great product?
- What is a product roadmap?
- What’s the purpose of being agile? Are there any risks to this approach?
- As a product owner, how do you keep a project moving despite clashes of opinions and stakeholder requests? How do you deal with uncooperative stakeholders?
- Name a product you believe is well-designed and explain why.
- Is it necessary to have a product vision to be successful as a Product Owner? Why or why not?
- How do you know that you’re a good Product Owner?
- Tell me about the proudest moment of your career.
- Tell me about the best product release of your career – how did you contribute?
- Tell me about a time when someone asked you to do something you’ve never done before. How did you handle that request?
- How do you manage a distributed development team?
- How do you learn about new ideas and requirements?
- What practices or frameworks can you use to learn more about customers’ needs?
- How do you determine if an idea is worth the investment?
- Describe your go-to process for collecting feedback from end users and stakeholders.
- What’s a user story? And how do you create one?
- Why is the role of a Product Owner important?
- How do you deal with internal stakeholders’ suggestions and ideas for new features?
- What’s your approach to creating product roadmaps?
- How do you create sprints?
- Who should participate in roadmap planning?
- Tell me about a team when you decided to sunset a feature – how did you arrive at that decision, and what was your process?
- How can you, as a Product Owner, help your development team members develop a product mindset?
- How do you measure the success of your product releases as a Product Owner? Please walk me through your standard process.
- How do you stay motivated when project managing?
Summary – 30 Product Owner Interview Questions to Accurately Assess Candidates
Product Owners, essential members of the Scrum Team, oversee the product backlog, feed the value of the agile product and ensure consistency with the product’s vision.
The Product Owner role is the most critical position for ensuring an Agile project successfully delivers value to the business. So, you need a great Product Owner to maximize the return on investment from the product.
Product Owners must have a good mix of technical and soft skills to succeed in the workplace. But, hiring for a technical role like the Product Owner position can be tricky. To prevent bad hires, you can leverage a skills assessment platform like Toggl Hire to assess any skill with role-specific questions and assessments.
Don’t forget to take advantage of the product owner interview questions listed above while selecting your next Product Owner; good luck!
Dilara is the Product Marketing Manager at Toggl Hire. You can connect with Dilara via LinkedIn.