What is a Product Owner in the Scaled Agile Framework SAFe? – Figures, data, facts 

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You know that the agile organization structure is organic with roles and not hierarchical. The Scaled Agile Framework – SAFe is a method to scale agility. You can find out more about SAFe itself in our various blog articles, e.g. about the 4 levels of the Scaled Agile Framework. Today, we take a closer look at the role of the Scaled Agile Framework Product Owner. The SAFe Product Owner has different responsibilities than, for example, the Scrum Product Owner.


So what is a Scaled Agile Framework Product Owner?

A Scaled Agile Framework Product Owner takes care of the product details. His tasks include defining user stories. Due to the size of the products and projects in SAFe, he only works on a selected part of the product backlog. However, he takes care of one or more development teams. The SAFe Product Owner's focus is on product tactics.


The 6 types of Product Owners

  • The original "Scrum Product Owner" is responsible for a product in its entirety. His task is to maximize the value. He is, therefore, often called "Value Maximizer".
  • A "Feature Owner" manages a key product feature that end users interact with - such as search and navigation on an online retailer's website. 
  • A "Component Owner" owns an architectural building block such as the persistence layer - that is, "just" individual components of the software.
  • A "Platform Owner" manages a platform as a collection of shared software assets. 
  • The "SAFe Product Owner" owns the product details. 
  • A "Portfolio Owner" manages a group of (related) products.

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To see the differences in the tasks of each product owner, feel free to have a look at the graphic here.


An example to understand the different types of Product Owners

To make it even clearer what a SAFe Product Owner is, here is an example. Let's imagine we are developing a cell phone - let's say an iPhone. There is the case, the screen, the circuit board and much more. The Platform Owner is responsible for the development of the entire circuit board (electrics), which can also serve as the basis for further development of the cell phone. (e.g. iPhone 10 - iPhone 11). On this circuit board, there are different components e.g. all functionalities for the keyboard. The Component Product Owner takes care of this. The Feature Product Owner is then not only responsible for individual components, but for the complete functionality of the cell phone including light and sound for example. The SAFe Product Owner is then responsible for a part of the cell phone and manages Feature, Component and Scrum PO. The Portfolio Owner is ultimately responsible for the complete cell phone and thus "manages" all POs.


Comparison Scrum Product Owner and SAFe Product Owner

A Scrum Product Owner is responsible for the product. He takes care of the vision, strategy and tactics for a product. However, the SAFe model divides product responsibility into two different roles: 

  • The SAFe Product Manager: He is responsible for strategic product decisions.
  • The SAFe Product Owner: He is responsible for the product tactics. 

Simply put, this means that the Product Manager decides which products to build next. The Product Owner, on the other hand, helps the development team build the products. Together, the two effectively do the Scrum Product Owner's job, with the split being due to scaling and the size of the products and projects. The split is a common scaling technique. Just have a look here.


What is the Product Owner Sync?

The term Product Owner Sync often appears in this context. The PO Sync is like Scrum of Scrums, at least in terms of content. The purpose of the PO Sync is to ensure the alignment of the product vision and work-related content across all teams. It effectively synchronizes vision, strategy and tactics. It is another role within SAFe.


Tasks and responsibilities of the SAFe Product Owner

The Product Owner is responsible for preparing and participating in PI planning. Within the iteration, he is responsible for maintaining the team backlog, for the following: 

  • Iteration planning
  • Just-in-time development of the story
  • Application of Behavioral Driven Development (BDD) (Testing)
  • Acceptance of the stories
  • Appearance as an enabler
  • Participation in team demos and retrospectives

He uses methods such as design thinking – and continuous exploration tools like personas, empathy maps, customer journey maps, story maps to foster insights and understanding in the teams for the customer and the product. The diagram also gives a good overview of the division of tasks again.


Source: SAFe


The FAN-out model

How do you actually take care of adequate and effective resource planning? This, including the workload and competencies of team members, is a crucial factor in collaboration. Especially when many people work together, the planning of resources and roles is enormously important. It is imperative that these are coordinated with each other. In the worst case, bottlenecks can occur. Speed is also inhibited by incorrect or suboptimal planning - all of which cause unnecessary costs.

The FAN-out model takes care of the right number of resources of product managers, product owners and the agile team. This is because they should be as balanced as possible to effectively manage the Agile Release Train (ART). If the workload is not optimal, the entire system and people in it will spend a lot of time clarifying issues instead of working productively. From experience, I can say that in most cases this causes costs and errors. In addition, an uncoordinated way of working has a strong external effect and costs points in excellence here as well.

You can, therefore, make good use of the FAN-out model here. Each product manager can support up to four POs. Each can be responsible for one or two agile teams. Again, note that the more people involved, the more important is communication and transparency.


Certification of the Scaled Agile Framework Product Owner

How and where can I get certified?

To get certified, you should book a course incl. exam via Via this platform you have access to all providers and trainers who are allowed to certify SAFe. The certifications (courses and exams) usually take place online. Besides the SAFe PO certification, there are many other certifications.


Job description and target group

A certified SAFe Product Owner / Product Manager is a SAFe expert who works with customers and development organizations to identify and prioritize requirements.


You will be taught the following core competencies:

  • Apply the Lean-Agile mindset and SAFe principles and practices 
  • Identify customer needs
  • Writing epics, capabilities, features, and stories
  • Prioritizing work to add value to the business 


Procedure and duration

You can take a course in different countries, from different trainers, partners (e.g. IBM or Capgemini). The duration is usually 2 days. You have 90 minutes (1.5 hours) for the exam. A total of 45 questions must be answered. The certification language is English. If you answer 35 out of 45 (77%) you will receive POPM4. POPM5 is awarded if you answer 33 out of 45 (73%) correctly.



Costs and salary of the product owner

As a rule, the costs range between 995 euros and 1,400 euros and vary depending on the provider.

The first exam attempt is included in the course registration fee if the exam is taken within 30 days of course completion. Each retake attempt is 50 euros.

A certified Scaled Agile Framework Product Owner earns approx. 55,000 to 65,000 EUR / per year.

It depends very much on the maturity level, experience and personality of the Product Owner, but also on the environment in which he will work.


Summary & criticism

The Product Owner in SAFe is not the same as the SCRUM Product Owner. Due to the size and complexity of the SAFe method, the tasks and responsibilities of the Product Owner are divided between two people. 

This requires collaboration so that products can be developed optimally. Often it results in more coordination effort. If you are likely to have a lot of uncertainties and changes within the project, the SAFe method including the SAFe Product Owner is less suitable. 

As long as you are still looking for a well-functioning strategy to bring a product to market, achieve product-market-fit and then grow the product further, it is especially important to combine strategic and tactical product decisions and implement this e.g. with SCRUM. Therefore, it is advisable to use SAFe wisely in the development, launch and (early) growth phases of the product life cycle.

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