Scrum product owners (PO) are at the center of Agile development teams, constantly balancing several responsibilities. How can the PO speed up development cycles and deliver better digital platforms?
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The question “What makes a product owner a good product owner?” is a bit like asking “What makes a parent a good parent?”. Consider raising a kid – it’s always a bumpy road. They don’t know anything unless you teach and guide them every day. Are we – Product Owners - supposed to do the same thing as we lead the development of digital products such as websites, mobile apps or intranets?
Working as a functional analyst and Proxy Product Owner (Proxy PO), it has struck me (more than once) that in a Scrum framework a product owner is supposed to keep a lot of plates spinning: you have to keep on practicing day to day in order to excel as a product owner in all aspects of the job. The image of a juggling magician spontaneously popped up.
So with all the responsibilities the product owner is supposed to take up, what does it take to be a product owner for Scrum and Agile development teams? Check our essentials of Agile product management for starting product owners and digital project managers.
1. Tell your story based on an aligned vision
Consider the kick-off for a project to implement a new digital product or platform. For the project to succeed, all stakeholders need to move into the same direction, so there needs to be an aligned vision of the desired outcome.
A strong product vision with clear objectives acts as guidance throughout the whole project. All decisions taken – even on a daily basis – should be in line with that vision and its objectives in order to succeed in establishing the desired outcome.
It is the role of the product owner to - at all times - articulate that vision so everybody who gets in touch with the (unfinished) product or platform knows what to expect. The product owner serves as a true story teller.
2. Keep your product roadmap up to date
Once the vision is clear, defining a product roadmap is the logical next step. This is typically a joint exercise, together with the project’s stakeholders and the scrum team, including developers and testers. The result is an initial draft of the product’s scope, its priorities and future releases which serve as input for a first high level forecast and commitment.
But, just like in real life, reality changes often and so does the scope and priorities of your (agile) project. In order to keep track of all those changes and reflect reality, the product roadmap needs to be kept up to date. This is a recurring activity, typically done together with all necessary stakeholders, and it is crucial to manage your product.
3. Make sure your team is building the right product
Being a product owner is about creating value for your end users. This is one of the hardest parts of the job, where you – as a product owner – should act as a true politician: you have to make sure you know your end users very well, their current ways of working, daily hurdles or frustrations and what they need to become enthusiastic about your product.
You can only build the right solution when you know what are the users’ current challenges with their existing tools, what works well and what frustrates them. Spending enough time with the end users and giving them the opportunity to thoroughly test each feature or increment as the project advances is one of the most crucial steps to ensure.
This feedback will help you to manage your product backlog and continuously adapt where needed to make sure that you’re tailoring the solution to the customer’s needs and requirements. In the end, it’s the product owner’s responsibility to deliver the expected return on the technology investment.
Nevertheless, you will need all your empathy and diplomacy skills to educate your end users: not everything they ask for should necessarily be implemented. Otherwise, Henry Ford would have ‘built’ faster horses.
4. Stay tuned on the latest product developments
Testing is not a core activity of the product owner, but as a product is evolving on a daily basis (as long as increments of the product are being built) you want to know how the platform interfaces look like or how it’s performing at a given moment. Testing the platform on a regular basis yourself is also a key agile practice, for example before each sprint demo, you stay on top of the latest developments and status of your product.
5. Have a wide-ranging skill set
But these skills are not enough. The skill set which you require to assume the above four responsibilities is very diverse. You need to have strong communication skills and be resistant to pressure from stakeholders, so you can negotiate with them if their ideas don’t feel like the right track for your product.
When working with end users and doing research, other skills become important too: to have a genuine interest in (using) the product, observe users in action, understand the users’ experience, listen to their worries and needs, as well as coach them with regards to the upcoming changes, among others.
A magician was born
Following these top tips will help you become a better product owner and navigate the PO world of balancing, prioritizing and clarifying.
When you continuously improve your PO set of skills and you notice that both stakeholders and end users are delighted about the product’s outcome, I am pretty sure you can give yourself a pat on the back: a true magician (I mean, product owner) was born. Or, as Wikipedia explains: « Magic (product ownership) is the performing art of seemingly impossible feats using natural means » 😊!
To learn more about the secrets to a successful cross functional team, check our blog on the product owner's roles and responsibilities. Do you have any experience working as a product owner with agile development teams? Feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.
About the author
Katy Willems is Business Consultant at Amplexor, based in Belgium. Specializing in Business Process Analysis, she focuses on capturing all the business and functional aspects of projects and translating them into solid technology solutions. Katy has over 5 years of project experience when it comes to delivering a solid business or functional analysis report.