What is a Product Owner?
The Product Owner role within the SCRUM framework designates a person in charge of defining the scope of the project. It is a demanding role that requires an in-depth understanding of customer needs, knowledge of software engineering and UX design, stakeholder management abilities, as well as leadership and communication skills. While originating in the SCRUM methodology, many agile teams now incorporate someone who handles the associated tasks. Part of the product owner responsibilities include:
- Setting product vision and strategy
- Creating a product roadmap
- Specifying the product requirements
- Defining and prioritizing the product features
- Outlining product backlog
If you’d like to get a more extensive overview of the importance of the product owner, or more details about how the SCRUM methodology works, check out our articles on these topics!
It can be tough to decide on what methodology to use when developing a product, or if to name a Product Owner role at all. Therefore, in this article, we will be focusing on the circumstances which necessitate the establishment of a product owner role in the agile context.
Why does your project need a product owner?
Choosing the development team members is a key aspect of any software development project. Some roles and their value are clear from the start – such as those of developers, designers, testers, etc. However, a role such as Product Owner is not so straightforward. Let’s take a look at some scenarios which should prompt you to start searching for your own PO!
1. Your team needs a communication buffer between all stakeholders
There are two areas where a PO will help the project.
A Product Owner will exchange information between all the relevant teams
One of the most important Product Owner skills is the ability to communicate. POs are the ones in continuous contact with all stakeholders as well as the development team and are in charge of making sure the communication between all parties goes smoothly. They are responsible for providing both the developers and the stakeholders with the knowledge necessary to make executive decisions or to understand and develop the product.
A big part of this is relaying information through presentations and meetings. A PO will most probably be in meetings every day, and in most of these, the PO will moderate the interaction. These meetings will cover all the aspects of development including: refining the product backlog and planning the sprints with the development team, brainstorming sessions with all included parties, user story mapping sessions, etc.
A Product Owner is ready to take on conflict
Another part of the POs job in the context of communication is successfully handling conflicts with any of the concerned parties. Conflicts are natural and are bound to happen when opinions are expressed openly, as different people normally have differing opinions. The answer is not to avoid conflict, because conflict brings opportunities – as the Product Owner well knows! However, not letting that conflict turn a relationship sour is one of the toughest parts of a PO’s job. Negotiation is a big part of the Product Owner role!
The Product Owner decides which features matter most to customers and evaluates which of those are crucial to the business. If the stakeholders or the tech leads are not challenged on their ideas, the end product might not be what is best for the company. A balance needs to be attained, and it falls to the PO to do it – like the ones with the product vision and those who can maximize the product’s value. After all, this is why we set up the Product Owner role in the first place – to see the things we may be missing or are too biased about!
2. The product vision is not adequately defined
Product Owners can see a product with a fresh pair of eyes and make suggestions for improving the product idea creation process. By achieving a consistent product vision, POs can help with team efficiency and motivation which highly benefit the project. The PO achieves this through various techniques for determining new product areas of functionalities such as: data analysis, user journeys, story mapping, competitor analysis, etc.
Above all else, the Product Owner needs to make sure that the team understands the product well, and this includes the end-user perspective. At times, the team can lose focus, but it’s the PO’s responsibility to reign them in and lead them back on track. One, this means explaining the business needs in order for the team to develop a product that meets the business acceptance criteria. And second, this means breaking down the work to a level best suited for the team to devise the most desirable solutions. Once the team can truly understand the vision and have a clear understanding of the product they are working on, they can work more effectively towards creating that product, rather than just jumping from task to task.
All in all, a product owner can bring new product ideas or structure, as well as an improved product approach that directly benefits the business and its goals. For the development team, bringing a product owner on board translates to a clearer vision of product goals, and improved focus and team morale!
3. The project requires the creation of a product backlog
One of the chief responsibilities of a Product Owner role is creating a clear and organized product backlog. The Product Backlog is an account of all the work that needs to be done, which includes the product requirements, features, improvements, bug fixes, etc. It’s a planning tool that gives the development team a clear and concise idea of the work that needs to be completed in the short term, as well as the big-picture long-term tasks that need to be done. An additional thing to note is that the product backlog is not static. Rather, it should be continually updated based on evolving project needs throughout development.
A properly arranged product backlog makes it easier for the development team what the next tasks for them are at every point of the project and to resolve the possible relations between the various tasks. Thus, a highly efficient product backlog facilitates a smooth development process, and more importantly, also reduces risk and other limiting risk factors. Some of the PO’s functions concerning product backlog management include:
- Determining the content of the backlog as well as types of entries
- Clearly and accurately documenting all entries
- Sorting the product backlog entries for optimal progress of the goals and objectives
- Preparing cost estimates
- Prioritizing entries and making decisions about timing and requirements
- Ensuring that the product backlog entries are visible, transparent, and understandable for the development team and other stakeholders.
4. You need someone to step in and make decisions
A good Product Owner is great at making decisions, although it is probably the most challenging aspect of the job. A PO must be ready to make decisions daily – some will be small and simple, some will be very difficult and stressful. Indecision means inaction – and action is the basis of success! If the PO is not able to (quickly) come to a decision, they will become a bottleneck in the development process and significantly hamper progress.
Here are some decisions Product Owners need to make:
- which features to implement
- which direction to take on feature implementation
- when should the product go live
- which items in the product backlog are priority
- when is a feature ready to be released
The above is only a small sample of the decisions a Product Owner would be faced with. Generally, a PO will have to make well-balanced decisions, taking into account the perspectives of the customer, the business, and the technology. Another important thing is to avoid consensus! Not everybody needs to agree with the PO’s decision, and the PO shouldn’t try to appease everyone at the cost of the product! If necessary, the PO can choose to delegate certain decisions to other members of the team who may be more knowledgeable in a certain area, leaving the PO to focus on other important issues.
5. You need someone who can listen as much as they can talk
At this point, you may be under the impression that the Product Owner never stops talking. Actually, and even more crucially, a PO needs to have the ability to listen. Of course, we are talking beyond the listening required to understand crucial information in order to accurately pass it on where it is needed. It also means learning not to jump to premature conclusions and instead gain insight by asking the right questions.
For example, if someone on the team insists that something is “impossible to do” or is “urgent” (which can create panic and stress in the work environment), the PO should not simply accept these statements to be true. Rather, they should try to determine the reasons behind those assertions. By listening to the explanations they will be able to gain a more thorough understanding of the situation and offer better solutions.
Finally, it is critical that a Product Owner can truly listen to the customers and determine their real needs. This goes beyond simply asking customers and reading customer reviews, but analyzing user behavior and patterns that can uncover product performance issues.
A good product owner can make a valuable contribution to a project and consequently to a company’s success in the market. Take the time to evaluate your team and what the project requires to be successful? Have you recognized your shortcomings throughout this article? Then it just may be time for you to introduce a product owner role in your product development! If you decided to add one to the team – let us know, we can support the delivery of your invention!