The Value of a Product Owner in Nonprofits

The Product Owner role is generally considered to be the most challenging role in Scrum. Product Owners architect products and services so that they can easily adapt to change even late in the development cycle. They create a shared understanding of the vision for the services and products their nonprofit provides and connects their team with the big picture. They create and maintain the product backlog which contains all of the scope necessary to develop the product and is further refined over time using a just-in-time approach. The Product Owner ensures that the product backlog items are prioritized with value in mind. This process involves advanced techniques to decompose and prioritize work so that it is ready for the team and is accomplishable by the need by date.


Here are a few examples of the techniques that Product Owners use to carefully architect slices of work that the team can work together and that result in working, demonstrable, tested products:

  • Product roadmap development involves decomposing the product vision, milestones, and goals into large buckets of scope. The scope is then sized, prioritized, and time-phased into releases so that there is a high-level plan for the product. The Product Owner decomposes the work in the first release so that there are three sprints of work ready to be pulled by their team. Product roadmapping allows the Product Owner to identify the relationship that scope has to milestones and releases and allows stakeholders, customers, and the team to visualize the connection between lower-level work and the customer’s needs.
  • Release plan development helps the Product Owner answer the questions, “when will the work be done?” and “how much will it cost?” The Product Owner prioritizes work to ensure that a minimum viable product is created and that future releases iterate and further refine that product until it fully meets the customer’s needs. Product Owners operate under the 80/20 rule. They prioritize work in such a way that 80% of the value is found in 20% of the features which means lower value work may not need to be accomplished in order to meet the customer’s needs.
  • Story mapping is an activity in which the Product Owner guides the team through user story development. Stories are written with a user story narrative that captures who the customer is, what their problem is, and why the problem needs to be solved. Stories are small pieces of work that can be completed within a Sprint. Story mapping connects the development team, customers, and stakeholders with how a more granular product backlog item relates to the larger pieces of scope found on the product roadmap or how it relates to the product vision and milestones. It also helps the Product Owner ensure that all the scope is covered when work is decomposed. Click here to read our blog on how to create a story map for your nonprofit here.


Product Owners spend half of their time interfacing with the community and stakeholders to better understand their needs and the other half getting work to a ready state so that the team has a solid understanding of the problems they are trying to solve. Product Owners ensure that the work the team produces is valuable, meets the definition of done, and is of high quality.


There is no better way to set your Product Owner up for success at your nonprofit than to send your Product Owner to a workshop where they are taught by qualified and experienced instructors, surrounded by peers from other businesses, and witness first hand examples of how Scrum is drastically improving the way nonprofits approach work.


When your Product Owner attends our  Scrum Product Owner class designed by Dr. Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of Scrum, they will learn what it takes to be a good Product Owner, clearly communicate their vision for a product or service, develop a Product Backlog that will help achieve that vision, maximize the value of the work done by their team, and be ready to help their team consistently deliver products and services to their community.  We hope to see you at our next Scrum Product Owner class!


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