Are there any open source projects that have roles that would be equivalent to a Scrum product owner role? If so, how did you go about finding these examples, and how do you believe those product owner roles came to be?

(Just to be clear, it's not a requirement the project is Scrum based, just that it's open source and roles stated are equivalent to a Scrum product owner role. Also, I'm talking about a volunteer role, not a paid position at a non-profit.)

  • the idea of a product owner goes against the idea of open source. – Ryathal Jan 27 '12 at 21:34
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    I can only imagine these existing within the context of a corporation that develops an open source project, and decides how to use some finite amount of funding and allocate it to a project. Maybe ask around places like Mozilla, Canonical, or redHat? I seriously doubt that any of them "do scrum" or follow roles that don't matter to the open-source world, but you should ask them. – Warren P Jan 27 '12 at 21:46
  • +1 @Warren P: Yes, in fact the only role I've ever heard of that fits this description was at Mozilla; since you suggested it, I just contacted a manager at Mozilla that has product owners reporting to them. I will look into Canonical and redHat too. Again, thanks! – blunders Jan 27 '12 at 22:43
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    Your title and the body of your question don't seem to have much in common. Do you want to find a product owner, or know whether they exist? – Caleb Jan 28 '12 at 5:40
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    @Ryathal A product owner is the person who is responsible for making decisions about a product: prioritizing tasks, deciding what features should be added, etc. It's not necessarily the person who "owns" the code in the sense that one might own a car. – Caleb Jan 28 '12 at 5:44

Open source projects have product owners.

Python's product owner is Guido Van Rossum, the Benevolent Dictator for Life.

All open source projects with a single decision-maker (not a committee) have a product owner. All.

Most open source projects are small. There are a few committers and one decision-maker. The product owner.

A few open source projects are large. With a committee.

Some open source projects endure "forks" because more than one person wants to be product owner.

  • This appears to the incredibly tactful version of my own answer, very well put. – tsundoku Jan 28 '12 at 11:49
  • With this metaphor the Product owner is also a member of the team : They are specifying what functionality is required and taking steps to implement it. – ahjmorton Jan 28 '12 at 12:33
  • @ahjmorton: "Product owner is also a member of the team". Isn't that always the case? In some larger projects, they not develop. In smaller projects they may. – S.Lott Jan 28 '12 at 12:59

If you want to be an open source product owner, follow these steps:

  1. Create a useful product. It doesn't have to be complete, but it should be useful enough that other people are drawn to it and decide to start using it and contributing to it.

  2. Make the source code available, along with an appropriate license. The details of how to do that are up to you, but there are plenty of good examples out there. Github seems popular for distributing source, and there are any number of licenses to choose from.

  3. Continue to develop the project, and integrate appropriate contributions from other people. At some point during this phase, you might want to pick up a book about open source project administration. Or not. You're in charge.

Congratuations! You're an open source product owner!


  1. Find an open source product that you like and to which you can make a meaningful contribution.

  2. Become active in the development community for that product. Contribute heavily. Gain trust. Work your way through the ranks of contributor, committer, etc. Make it obvious through your deeds that you're the best person to lead it after the current product owner steps down.

  3. Continue to participate actively in the development of the product while waiting for the current product owner (often the project founder) to become tired of the product, too busy to actively maintain it, or otherwise decide to hand the reins over to you.

Good luck.

  • +1 @Caleb: Thanks, you're answer is interesting, since it appears to be entirely based on me coding OSS in some form or other; which honestly has nothing to do with being a product owner in my opinion, though really have no idea what the right answer is, just sharing my reading of it. – blunders Jan 28 '12 at 6:43
  • Agree that you're view is pragmatic, though in my opinion it's not attempting to frame the answer in a way that would position me to make the case for why my involvement in would bring value to a project beyond just prioritizing tasks and deciding what features should be added; for example, collecting metadata in how to prioritize tasks and presenting it to the community. – blunders Jan 28 '12 at 6:46
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    @blunders You don't need to be a product owner to collect data or contribute in other meaningful but non-development ways. Don't expect "add value" is going to carry a ton of weight -- all contributors add value. Furthermore, OSS developers by definition give stuff away, so economic arguments aren't likely to win the day. Most OSS projects start out as labors of love. Ask yourself: Why would someone cede ultimate responsibility for their pet project to me? If you can't or won't code, I'd guess that they won't -- most of the important decisions are going to be related to code. – Caleb Jan 28 '12 at 7:01
  • +1 @Caleb: All contributors add value is vague, some contributors clearly add more real value than others, or for that matter have more say in the community, don't add bugs, etc. While I'd agree economic intelligence would be a hard sell, doesn't mean it's unlikely to win the day; case in point in my opinion, all the different distros of Linux, some of which would like to be the most popular. As for "Why would someone cede ultimate responsibility for their pet project to me?" -- it's happen before, no reason to believe it's not possible again. You're answer is good, and likely to be selected. – blunders Jan 28 '12 at 7:12
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    @blunders Look at it this way: contributions that don't add value are likely to be rejected by sensible product owners. Different Linux distributions are essentially separate products with separate product owners; code changes might make it into the base distribution managed by Linus Torvalds, but most of the content of a "distribution" isn't part of the Linux kernel. Anyway, short answer if you want to take over a project: work to build trust and reputation in the community, and don't hold your breath. – Caleb Jan 28 '12 at 7:22

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