Organizations that follow Agile practices for software development usually need a product owner. These vital players carry out many different functions during development, from defining user stories to ensuring the production backlog doesn’t become too overwhelming.
Given the importance of the role, you’d expect a product owner to earn quite a bit in compensation, and most of the time you’d be right. Let’s dig into salary and compensation for product owners, as well as employer demand and the role’s future.
What is a product owner?
Although it seems like a very generic term, “product owner” actually denotes a role with quite a bit of specific responsibility. Perhaps the most tactical responsibility is monitoring the backlog, which usually consists of the parts of an app or service that remain to be built. Based on the backlog’s status, a product owner informs the team which tasks need to be carried out, which team members will participate in which activities, and how long those activities are expected to take.
Product owners are also responsible for ensuring the end user’s needs are adequately represented in the final product. That’s a more strategic responsibility, and it’s what differentiates product owners from product managers, who are generally more concerned with keeping product development within a budget and on schedule.
What skills do I need to become a product owner?
Since product ownership is an element of Agile, learning the latter is absolutely key. If you’re unfamiliar with Agile and its approach to building software, read the original Agile Manifesto. It’s also important to learn everything possible about Scrum methodology, a variation on Agile that involves a specific set of processes; that means learning how sprints work and how to optimize team communication.
Depending on your organization and industry, you may also have to learn the specific technologies employed by your team to build products, including (but definitely not limited to) different types of databases, programming languages, and the cloud. If you’re jumping to product ownership after a stint in a technology-oriented role, chances are good you’ll already have a solid base of technical knowledge, especially if you’re migrating within the same organization.
Product owners who ultimately succeed in the role can accurately grasp the mindset of the end user as it relates to the product. Developing that intuition is something that usually comes with experience. Finding a mentor or more experienced product owner who can guide you through the role can accelerate your learning curve.
What is a product owner’s average salary?
According to Glassdoor, which crowdsources its compensation data from across the United States, the average product owner makes $100,000 per year. That aligns with crowdsourced data presented by other job-centric websites, including Indeed and Builtin.
As you might expect, average salary can vary depending on skill, experience, certifications, and location—as well as the size of the company. Other forms of compensation, including stock options, are also a factor.
What is a product owner’s starting salary?
A product owner is fundamentally a leader and expected to manage teams; as a result, the starting salary is often quite high. In addition to extensive experience running Scrum teams, product owners must usually have a grasp on data analytics, their organization’s tech stack and technology goals, and people management.
It’s not a simple job, in other words, which is why even starting salaries for product owner positions are quite high. According to Product Manager HQ, the average compensation for product owners with less than one year of experience is $57,985. By the time a product owner has racked up between 5-9 years of experience, they can earn $92,619. Those with extensive experience can expect to earn a six-figure salary, especially at larger companies.
What do product owners make in comparison to other popular tech positions?
According to Dice’s latest Tech Salary Report, the average technologist salary stands at $111,348, which represents a 2.3 percent increase between 2021 and 2022. Product owner salary seems to fall right in line with that generalized average.
Are product owners in demand?
Product owners have a complicated job, especially at bigger companies where they’re expected to help wrangle truly massive software projects. For example, a product owner at a major tech company can expect to identify customer needs; guide technical and functional conversations within the team; manage the product backlog; and utilize a variety of approaches to gather the necessary ideas and requirements for the project.
No matter what the size of the company, product owners are expected to present a concrete, executable vision for the project that teams can easily follow. As the teams work to transform customer needs into reality, product owners will also need to optimize the team’s feedback loops in order to validate and test ideas, adjust priorities, and set acceptance criteria.
In addition to experience with product ownership and Agile, companies expect product owners to have intimate knowledge of how a company and/or industry functions. According to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, product manager roles (which many organizations treat as synonymous with product owner) are expected to increase 10 percent over the next 10 years; current time-to-fill for vacant roles is 43 days, hinting at a strong level of employer demand.
Is product owner a dying career?
As long as organizations build software using Agile methodology, there will be a need for product owners who can successfully guide every part of the process. And Agile doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for a long, long time.
Product owners can play a vital role in any organization, especially when it comes to helping create products that end users actually want. Successfully becoming a product owner hinges on a mix of “soft” and technical skills, as well as a mastery of Agile-related processes. For those product owners who adopt such skills, the potential rewards (and salary) are lucrative.