Skip to main content

Product Owner vs. Business Analyst

February 19, 2020
Product Owner vs Business Analyst

Are you a Business Analyst and do you currently fulfill the role of the Product Owner? Or otherwise the Product Owner may have delegated some tasks to you, for lack of time to deal with those themselves. How well does that work for you? Can you manage it? Do you know the difference between these two roles and what additional tasks and responsibilities you have been given when adopting the role of the Product Owner?

As a Business Analyst with an analysis background you already have many skills that are important to fulfill the Product Owner role. You know how to elicit requirements, to ask the right questions, to write user stories and to refine requirements. When stakeholders think too much in terms of solutions, you will inquire after the underlying requirements.

Great, that is a good start for performing the role of the Product Owner.

More responsibilities

However, as a Product Owner, more is expected from you, because you have a different position within the organization and your responsibility goes beyond that of a Business Analyst.

The Scrum Guide says:

"The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from work of the Development Team."

But, what does maximizing the value actually mean?

As the Product Owner you are expected to deliver a (software) product that enhances the business potential and is valuable for the organization and its stakeholders. The Return On Investment (ROI) and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) must be positive over the entire product life cycle and the Product Owner manages this during the entire development process. For that reason it often happens that the break-even point is already accomplished during the development period.

That is quite a challenge and not an easy task at all!

That is why the Product Owner should be someone from within the business, because the business itself knows best how to balance investments and revenues. In fact, one might say that the Product Owner is in fact a Product Manager.

As the Product Owner you can only take your responsibilities if you have adequate authorities and mandates. The Scrum Guide is very clear about that:

"For the Product Owner to succeed, the entire organization must respect his or her decisions. The Product Owner’s decisions are visible in the content and ordering of the Product Backlog."

From Business Analyst to Product Owner

Being the Product Owner responsible for expanding or modifying a mature and stable system is quite different from being responsible for developing a new system for a new process, service or product.

When you are expanding or modifying a mature and stable system, your main responsibility is managing the Product Backlog and the Product Backlog items. If your approach is Value-Driven and you keep a keen eye on stakeholder management, your  success as a Product Owner is guaranteed.

New product

When developing a new product, you will face increased demands. As the owner of this the new product you are the one who has a vision and you know (or think you know) how business problems can be solved and business goals achieved with your product.

It is not just about defining and clarifying requirements and managing the Product Backlog any longer, but it is about managing the Product as a whole, the big picture. It is about Product Management. What direction is the market moving into? What trends must be observed? How do we respond to that?

To know that you are still on the right track you need frequent feedback from the business itself, the users and the market. Thus you will be able to quickly detect changes that impact your goals, and be able to respond to them. Frequently delivering an increment of the system will automatically provide you with the feedback you need. This is also the way to create business value while still in the process of developing the product. That is why release management is also a responsibility the Product Owner faces.

The path towards the Product Owner role

Your knowledge, skills and experiences as a Business Analyst are a solid starting point to fulfilling the role of the Product Owner, because they enable you to perform one of its core tasks: Product Backlog management.

As a Business Analyst you have an excellent head start to become a good Product Owner who is able to create more value for the organization, because with the corresponding authorities and mandates within the business you can exert more influence.

Two steps towards becoming a Product Owner

It is recommended to become the Product Owner of an existing mature and stable product first. In that capacity you will need to present the product in a value-driven way in close collaboration with the Development Team, and it goes without saying that you will need to manage the expectations of the stakeholders. That will probably be quite a handful to start with.

From there you can develop in your role as the Product Owner as intended in Scrum: an Agile Product Manager with a vision, an entrepreneurial mentality and responsibility for the product strategy, budget and ROI.

Nicole de Swart & Michel van der Meulen

Nicole de Swart is the author of the ‘Handboek Requirements’ and with her company Reaco Academy she helps Business Analysts to apply the right combination of agile and traditional requirements techniques.

Special thanks to Ron Brouwer for assisting with the English translation.

Photo by Katka Pavlickova

What did you think about this post?