Product Owners have a misunderstood role in Agility in general. Many people come to think of them as glorified order-takers and list managers.
Most people don’t realise that these professionals can and do influence the future of the firm. Their accountability is also critical in the Scrum Framework, and it is an intense and active role.
So what does a Product Owner do, and how does this role help push forward the ideas in the Agile Manifesto?
This blog post will discuss these questions and others (that I get asked during my training) and explore how this critical accountability creates successful outcomes.
We’ll also look at some of the benefits and challenges that come with being a Product Owner and how scrum product owner training can help overcome them.
What is A Product Owner?
A Product Owner is a key role in any agile environment and a necessary person in the Scrum Framework.
Let’s put it this way: they are responsible for managing the development of products and services that offer true value to a firm’s customers.
They set the vision and direction of the product while working with stakeholders to define requirements, organising Product Backlog Items, and ensure that projects are delivered within forecasts and budget.
Based on the Scrum Guide, the Product Owner is accountable for maximising the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team.
The Product Owner is also accountable for effective Product Backlog management, which includes:
- Developing and explicitly communicating the Product Goal;
- Creating and clearly communicating Product Backlog items;
- Ordering Product Backlog items; and,
- Ensuring that the Product Backlog is transparent, visible, and understood.
They should also have knowledge about the customer’s needs as well as the expertise to ensure that the right decisions are made regarding feature selection and value delivery.
The Agile Manifesto
Globally, the Scrum Framework is the most popular Agile approach to project/product management. That’s because agility emphasises collaboration, flexibility, and continuous improvement. It focuses on delivering value by breaking down projects into smaller pieces of work that can be completed in a shorter time frame.
And to accomplish that, a team should always consider the Agile Manifesto. It’s a manifesto that contains a set of values and practices that guide software development. It becomes more important now as Agility has matured these principles, and adapted them to apply to more than just software.
The Agile Manifesto:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
- Working software over comprehensive documentation;
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation;
- Responding to change over following a plan.
A Product Owner’s Role in the Agile Manifesto
But how does this relate to a product owner?
The Product Owner, as we’ve discussed, plays a mandatory role in Scrum as they are responsible for ensuring successful customer outcomes and value through delivery of great products.
The four tenets above should be applied in the following ways:
- Focus on building strong relationships with stakeholders, customers, and team members across the organisation, encouraging collaboration and communication.
Product Owners should not do things alone; instead, they should collaborate across multiple teams throughout the organisation to develop great products that offer true value to the customer.
- Prioritise delivering working software that meets customer needs and provides value.
- Value close customer input in the development process and make decisions based on feedback across many disciplines to maximise value delivery.
- Be flexible and able to adapt to changes in customer needs and market conditions, adjusting the product roadmap and strategy as needed.
Product Owners must have strong communication skills in order to effectively manage stakeholder expectations and balance customer needs while working closely with Developers to ensure successful project delivery.
Additionally, it is important for them to stay up-to-date with industry trends so they can anticipate future customer needs when planning out upcoming releases or feature updates. Formal scrum product owner training can be helpful in ensuring all of this.
Understanding The Product Owner
The Product Owner is a single person and is responsible for maximising the value of the product through effective management of the Product Backlog.
This includes developing and communicating the Product Goal, creating and communicating Product Backlog items, ordering Product Backlog items, and ensuring its transparency, visibility, and understanding.
They may directly do this work or delegate it to others, but they should remain accountable for the decisions. Respect for the role from the entire organisation is necessary for the Product Owner to succeed.
What Happens In A Day For A Product Owner?
Most people who are relatively new to Scrum think that the Product Owner is a feature list guardian or glorified order taker and maker.
However, the list below shines a light on all the many things a Product Owner must do to keep value delivery at the forefront of their activity.
- Creation of user stories based on customer feedback (through delegation or personal creation);
- Creating wireframes;
- Managing Product Backlogs;
- Writing/reviewing acceptance criteria;
- Facilitating the running of Refinement sessions;
- Being available to Developers to answer key questions;
- Facilitating and collaborating with Developers during Sprint Planning meetings;
- Monitoring progress throughout each Sprint;
- Facilitating and conducting Sprint Reviews at the end of Sprints to inspect progress;
- Reviewing Product analytics to measure product usage, identify areas for improvement, and ensure product quality;
- Working with marketers and sales to conduct market research to gain insights into customer needs and trends;
- Review customer satisfaction surveys around the product (if already in production);
- Work with customer groups to detect market and product trends;
- Staying abreast of industry trends and best practices;
- Interacting with Stakeholders;
- Reviewing Product Budgets;
- Reviewing Product Roadmaps;
- Forecasting delivery dates in collaboration with the Scrum Team or Developers; and
- Participating in Sprint Retrospectives.
Managing Product Backlog Effectively
Managing the Product Backlog can be one of the most challenging aspects of being a Product Owner. The Product Backlog requires constant attention and maintenance. It is a living artefact, and should be updated as new information regarding the value of a Product is learned.
The Product Backlog can and does include both short-term goals. These include things like bug fixes or minor feature enhancements, as well as long-term objectives like major new features or redesigns.
Product owners must order items to move forward while still allowing time for unexpected issues or delays along the way.
By breaking down large tasks into smaller chunks, teams can focus on completing valuable pieces rather than trying to tackle everything at once, which often leads to burnout or missed deadlines.
Skills That Every Product Owner Should Have
Of course, if you’re a professional, there will be a couple or a set of skills you need to obtain.
These skills will absolutely help you and make your job easier.
- Ability to define a Product Vision: A Product Owner must have a clear vision of the desired outcome for the product and be able to communicate this effectively to stakeholders, team members, and customers.
- Market awareness: You should use multiple approaches to learn about customer needs, trends, and innovations that drive the market. Without this solid understanding of customer needs, you may find yourself building product teams that offer no value or have no market.
- Strong Collaboration Skills: You must have strong collaboration skills in order to work with multiple teams including developers, designers, marketers and more in order to ensure that all aspects of the project are considered when making decisions about features or functionality.
The Product Owner’s job is intense and demanding. Knowing how to delegate and manage work is key to extending reach and staying on top of the work stack.
Good Product Owners don’t do it all; instead, they coordinate with the Scrum team and share the load.
- Ability to Negotiate: You should be able to manage stakeholders and potentially conflicting priorities. Knowing how to balance and manage competing priorities will get you a long way in your role.
- Strong Communication Skills: Product Owners spend a lot of time collaborating. Without solid written and verbal communication skills, it will be hard for an effective Product Owner to understand their market and customers.
- But more importantly, convey this information to the teams responsible for building valuable products and services. Poor communication skills may mean that teams don’t clearly understand what they are building and/or why.
Do You Get It Now?
Product Owner is an important role in Agile and mandatory in Scrum.
They are responsible for managing the Product backlog and making sure that all stakeholders have their needs met.
A day in the life of a Product Owner is multifaceted. It involves working with stakeholders to ensure that their vision for the product is achieved while also ensuring that deadlines are met and tasks are completed on time.
Ultimately, understanding what a product owner does will help you decide if this type of career path is right for you.
If you’re interested in learning more about Product Ownership excellence or Scrum Mastery, see our courses below!
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