Leadership, Product management

Business Owners

Provides strategic vision, financial, and market insight to guide roadmap prioritization.

Also called: Business Leaders, Business Managers, Business Executives, and Business Directors

See also: Business Analyst, Business Intelligence, Business Owners, Business Model Archetypes

Relevant metrics: Revenue, Profit, Customer Satisfaction, Conversion Rate, and Retention Rate

In this article

What is Business Owners

A business owner in the context of software product development refers to an individual who provides strategic vision, financial, and market insight to guide the prioritization of the product roadmap. They collaborate with an Agile Product Owner, who is responsible for managing the backlog and prioritizing features based on the goals and objectives of the business.

The Business Owner provides input on the direction of the product, including market trends, customer needs, and financial constraints, to ensure the product aligns with the overall business strategy and meets the desired outcomes. The collaboration between the Business Owner and Agile Product Owner helps to ensure that the product is developed with a focus on both market demands and business viability.

Where did the title “Business Owners” come from?

The concept of business ownership has been around since ancient times, with the earliest known examples of business owners being merchants in the Middle East and Asia. In the Middle Ages, business owners were typically members of the nobility or wealthy merchants who owned and operated their own businesses. By the 19th century, the concept of business ownership had become more widespread, with the rise of industrialization and the growth of the middle class. Today, business owners come from all walks of life and can range from small business owners to large corporations.

In the context of Agile and SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), the role of the business owner is to represent the customer or end-user and to provide clear priorities and direction for the development team. In SAFe, Business Owners are a select group of stakeholders who hold primary business and technical responsibility for the governance, compliance, and return on investment (ROI). They play a crucial role by evaluating fitness for use and actively participating in bigger planning events.

The role of a Business Owner within the context of SAFe

Business Owners play a vital role in SAFe by serving as Lean-Agile leaders who share accountability for the value delivered by a specific Agile Release Train. Their responsibilities and duties include participating in Product Increment (PI) planning, assigning business value, and being actively involved in fulfilling their SAFe responsibilities. The continuous involvement of Business Owners throughout the PI serves as an important guardrail to the budgetary spend of the ART and is a determining factor in the success of each train.

The Business Owner role as defined by SAFe and the Scrum definition of a Product Owner have distinct responsibilities, although there may be some overlap. The Business Owner is responsible for overseeing the overall strategy and goals of the solution, while the Product Owner is responsible for defining and prioritizing the product backlog and making decisions about the direction of the product. However, in some cases, the same person may fulfill both roles, particularly in smaller organizations.

PI Planning

PI (Program Increment) Planning in SAFe is a time-boxed event that aligns the ART (Agile Release Train) to a shared vision, sets expectations, and lays out a continuous delivery plan. The Business Owner, as defined by SAFe, plays a critical role in the PI Planning by participating in both the pre- and post-planning phases. They assist in adjusting the ART’s PI plans as needed, provide feedback from the Solution Demo, actively address impediments, and help drive investment in the Continuous Delivery Pipeline. Through their involvement, the Business Owner helps to ensure the alignment of the ART’s goals with the overall vision and mission of the enterprise, while also promoting the responsiveness and quality of the solutions being developed.

Prior to PI Planning

Prior to Product Incremet (PI) planning in SAFe, Business Owners provide input to backlog refinement activities, participate in pre-PI planning, understand and ensure that business objectives are understood and agreed to by key stakeholders of the train, and prepare to communicate the business context, including milestones and significant external dependencies.

During PI Planning

During PI planning, the Business Owners’ role is crucial. They provide relevant elements of the business context, participate in key activities, play a primary role in the draft plan review, watch for significant external commitments and dependencies, communicate business priorities to the teams, participate in the management review and problem-solving meeting, and approve final plans.

Assigning business value during PI planning provides a valuable face-to-face dialogue between the teams and the Business Owners. This is an opportunity to build personal relationships, identify common concerns, and better understand business objectives and their value. Business Owners typically assign the highest values to user-facing features but also seek the advice of technical experts in assigning suitable business value to enablers to drive velocity and support the team’s technical challenges. The assigned business values inform the Program Predictability Measure, a key indicator of program performance and reliability.

Active Involvement

Business Owners must be active and involved in fulfilling their SAFe responsibilities daily. They should be ready and available to participate in key activities, actively circulate during planning, and maintain agreement and alignment among stakeholders regarding the key objectives of the train. The continuous involvement of Business Owners throughout the PI is a determining factor in the success of each train.

Responsibilities of a Business Owner in the context of agile SAFe

Within the context of the agile framework SAFe, business owers might have these responsibilities:

  • Collaborate in Pre- and Post-PI Planning for Solution Implementation
  • Offer guidance in fine-tuning long-term plans as required
  • Share insights and provide insightful critique during Solution Demonstration
  • Address obstructions of progress, particularly those requiring higher level intervention
  • Contribute to Lean Portfolio Management, Product Stewardship, and System Design
  • Champion investment in the Continuous Delivery Pipeline to enhance the long-term planning efficiency and solution quality
  • Foster alignment between development and operations, promoting a shared accountability culture in DevOps
  • Serve as Epic Steward, guiding pivotal enterprise-wide initiatives.

Potential conflicts between the agile Product Owner and the Business Owner role

Tensions between the Scrum definition of a Product Owner and the Business Owner role within SAFe can arise from differences in their respective responsibilities and priorities.

The Product Owner, as defined in Scrum, is primarily responsible for maximizing the value of the product being developed and prioritizing the product backlog. They make decisions about the functionality and features of the product and are the final authority on what is delivered.

In contrast, the Business Owner in SAFe is a broader role that encompasses the responsibilities of the Product Owner but also involves additional responsibilities such as participation in planning, feedback on capabilities and subsystems, and addressing impediments. They also play a role in Lean Portfolio Management, product management, system architecture, and driving investment in continuous delivery.

These differences in responsibilities and priorities can lead to tensions between the two roles, particularly when there are conflicting decisions to be made about the product backlog, investments, and priorities. The Business Owner may also have a broader organizational perspective and different goals than the Product Owner, which can lead to disagreements about the direction of the product and its development.

  • Role clarity. The Product Owner and Business Owner may have different interpretations of their respective roles and responsibilities, leading to confusion and friction.
  • Decision-making authority. There may be differences in the level of decision-making authority between the two roles, leading to disagreements on important issues.
  • Prioritization. The Business Owner may prioritize initiatives that align with overall business goals, while the Product Owner focuses on delivering value to customers.
  • Alignment of Priorities: The Business Owner may prioritize different objectives than the Scrum Product Owner, leading to misalignment in decision making.
  • Authority Over Product Development. The Business Owner may exert greater influence over the product development process, creating tension with the Scrum Product Owner who is responsible for managing the backlog of the development team.
  • Resource allocation. Allocating resources between the two roles may become a source of tension, especially if one feels that they are not receiving enough support to achieve their objectives.
  • Balance between Business and Technical Objectives. The Business Owner may prioritize business objectives over technical considerations, while the Scrum Product Owner may prioritize the opposite.
  • Dependence on Technical Decisions. The Business Owner may be dependent on the technical decisions made by the Scrum Product Owner, leading to frustration if the Scrum Product Owner’s decisions do not align with the Business Owner’s expectations.
  • Budgeting. The Business Owner may have control over the budget and may prioritize spending differently than the Product Owner.
  • Time constraints. The Product Owner may have time constraints that prevent them from delivering the solution at the pace desired by the Business Owner.
  • Stakeholder alignment. The Business Owner may have to balance the interests of multiple stakeholders, while the Product Owner focuses on delivering value to a specific customer segment.

Advantages of having the Business Owner role SAFe overseeing the work of Product Owners

Having the Business Owner role as defined by SAFe overseeing the work of the Scrum definition of a Product Owner can benefit the progression of the product roadmap in several ways, including:

  • Alignment of Business and Technical Goals. Having a Business Owner help ensure that the work being done aligns with the overall business objectives.
  • Improved Decision-Making. The Business Owner brings a strategic perspective to the table, which helps make better decisions that drive the product’s success.
  • Better Resource Allocation. The Business Owner helps allocate resources effectively to support the product development.
  • Holistic View of the Enterprise. The Business Owner has a broader understanding of the enterprise, which helps them make informed decisions about the product development.
  • Better Risk Management. The Business Owner helps manage risks that could impact the product’s success.
  • Enhanced Collaboration. The Business Owner can help facilitate collaboration between different teams and stakeholders, improving communication and coordination.
Relevant questions to ask
  • What are the goals of the business?
    Hint The goals of the business may include increasing sales, expanding into new markets, or improving customer service.

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