What is a Product Owner anyway?
A Product Owner is often described as a software project’s key stakeholder or the most important stakeholder for a development team. According to the Scrum Guide, “a Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the scrum team”. It’s also important to note that a Product Owner is a single person, not a team or a committee.
To highlight this, let’s discuss a real-world example. But first, let’s set the scene: at WorkingMouse we use what is called our Way of Working (if you’ve spent some time on our website you may have heard of it already). Because the Way of Working is adapted from the Agile methodology framework, it allows for the shifting of priorities and other risks.
Recently we worked on a project where this agility came in incredibly handy. When a major development priority shifted close to the launch deadline, the dedicated Product Owned stepped in and took charge. They were able to give us the necessary approvals quickly and efficiently so that we could continue on without being blocked by lengthy decision-making processes from the leadership team. This is just one of the very real advantages that a Product owner has.
This scenario is a typical example of how a Product Owner’s role adds velocity to a software project. In our experience, this extra velocity could be as high as 30% which translates to saved time and budget for the client.
In agile projects that follow fast feedback loops, a good Product Owner is critical not only for the time-bound execution of a project but also for ensuring the business requirements are properly translated into the product. The Product Owner represents the involvement of business in each iteration of an Agile project. The role faces both internally, working together with development teams, as well as externally, understanding the market direction and acting as the voice of the customer.
So, what are the qualities of a good Product Owner?
Not a lone wolf
The Product Owner must be collaborative. If they work in a silo or like to be dominant over others it will often result in bad decisions. They must conduct joint decision-making sessions, take on feedback from other stakeholders and collaboratively groom the backlog.
Scientific but not heartless
Product Owners should follow a scientific approach to building their product but at the same time should keep user requirements and experience in mind when prioritising the features of the product.
Urgency but not rushed
While it's important for Product Owners to keep the development team on their toes and ensure timely development, they should not rush the team into building something without considering the pros and cons first.
Maintain the product backlog clearly
It is important for the Product Owner to clearly define and maintain the product roadmap together with the Scrum Master (if you’d like to know if the Scrum Master and the Product Owner can be the same person, we wrote a blog about that). The ability to prioritise and communicate the requirements in the right order is important for success in the role. Although they are responsible for ordering the backlog, the team should be allowed to decide how much work will get done in each iteration or sprint.
They should have insights on where the product sits in the market, who the consumers/users of the product are and what they need.
Ownership and authority to make decisions
A Product Owner should have the go-ahead from the leadership team to own the product. They should be trusted by the organisation to represent the business needs and to make the right decisions.
Confident and knows the product (..like, really well)
A good Product Owner should be confident in their understanding of the product, the objectives it needs to achieve and the business requirements. This way they should neither themselves get influenced by others, nor let the team get influenced by outside sources. However, this does not mean they are not open to feedback and opinions.
But why do we need a dedicated Product Owner at all?
Sometimes it's hard for businesses to let one of their best employees in the organisation work full-time on an IT project. Shouldn’t they be working on the growth of the business or finding ways to get more revenue? Well, that’s exactly what they’re doing in their role as Product Owner (there are also plenty of other Product Owner responsibilities). Let me explain how.
Every so often the leadership team that wants the software product in the first place is not available to go into the details of the project, carry out user testing and attend discussions with the development team. After all, this is often a full-time job. This can slow down the pace of development, cause frustration and ultimately can lead to the failure of the project.
Not having a Product Owner reinforces the gap between the software development team and the business, effectively slowing down the communication and therefore also slowing down productivity. The same is also true for having proxy or pseudo–Product Owners on the project, as they might not be able to commit or make the relevant decisions that are needed.
‘Time is money’ is particularly true for software development. Time spent on software projects directly translates into the final cost of the product and inefficiencies can push these costs higher.
If you only take away one thing from this blog, take away this: if the software product you are building is vital for your business, you need a good dedicated Product Owner to ensure the success of the project.
Think of it as an investment in the product so that the business can generate better returns in the long term. For example, if you are building a business system to automate or digitize internal processes, it is important to get it right. This would help to bring in efficiencies and save on admin costs over time.
Any great software product is not built by the development team alone. It is developed with a combination of a great Product Owner along with a fantastic development team. A Product Owner is a leader and visionary for the project. They are an integral part of an agile project.
Now that you know you definitely need a dedicated Product Owner on your software project, what about that skilled Development team that’s necessary? We can help you out there. Get in touch and book a free product strategy session with us today.