Project Management

How much technical knowledge should a Product Owner possess?

From the Easy in theory, difficult in practice Blog
My musings on project management, project portfolio management and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organizational change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog contains articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Go slow (to go fast later)

Should we hire full-time or contract agile coaches?

The only thing we have to fear on projects is...

Transparency improves customer satisfaction

Handling complexity requires psychological safety

In an earlier article I'd written about the pros and cons of a Scrum Master or agile lead having deep technical expertise in the solution space but what about a Product Owner (PO)?

In their 2003 book, Balancing Agility and Discipline: A Guide for the Perplexed, Barry Boehm and Richard Turner coined the well known acronym C.R.A.C.K. to describe the attributes of an effective PO and the K in that acronym stands for Knowledge. Normally, we consider that this is business or product knowledge, but couldn't it also extend to technical acumen?

Technical expertise is likely to help the PO prioritize the product backlog such that there is a healthy balance between business and technical drivers. In the absence of this knowledge, team members might find themselves spending greater effort in helping the PO understand why certain technical work items are time sensitive from either a risk management, dependency or technical debt reduction perspective.

While there is some benefit in a PO having such knowledge, it comes at the cost of greater vigilance. The PO will need to be disciplined to ensure that he or she is maximizing product value by focusing on the "what" and "why" of the product and letting the team own the "how" and "when". Without that mindfulness, such knowledge could result in a PO who:

  • Responds to technical inquiries from stakeholders without confirming the answers with the team
  • Places higher priority on technical work items in the product backlog and neglects the true business needs of stakeholders
  • Turns a blind eye or even encourages technical gold plating
  • Provides the team with system requirements or design guidance thus reducing the team's ability to be creative or innovative
  • Unreasonably challenges the team's sizing of work items or how much they are able to complete within a given amount of time

With great knowledge comes greater responsibility.

Posted on: April 14, 2019 07:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (11)

Please login or join to subscribe to this item
Remarkable points on real responsibility of Product owner. Thanks for sharing!!

...Responds to technical inquiries from stakeholders without confirming the answers with the team

Misrepresentation, a common pitfall. Thanks Kiron.

Good points Kiron.

Getting the balance right is the challenge
- how much technical knowledge do I need to guarantee the business goals are the focus
- how much technical knowledge do I need to so I know when I need to get down in the mud with team without taking away their capacity to innovate, take responsibility, and (ultimately) pride in, and ownership of, success

Interesting. Thank you.

thank you Kiron, for sharing this information.

Thanks, Kiron. Certainly a balance. I appreciate you bringing up both sides of the topic on this. My gut and experience tells me that there is more 'danger' with a more technically minded PO.

Absolutely Kiron, very valuable and interesting thought.

Agreed, I think it's better if the PO is more high-level in their knowledge - stick to business processes. When they're technically inclined there isn't a single PO on the planet that won't try to help with answers, solutioning, etc. despite knowing that this should be left to others.

Thank for sharing! It is true! I witnessed a PO bragged about technical knowledge and promised to delivery without discussing with development team.

Please Login/Register to leave a comment.


"I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

- Voltaire