Rated as the No 1 emerging job in product development by the World Economic Forum, a product owner’s role is one of those job profiles that is both satisfying and rewarding. Everyday, there are hundreds of listings for product owner jobs, most offering attractive remunerations.
If you see yourself as a Product Owner-- managing businesses and stakeholders, motivating teams, engaging in Scrum processes and practices, then you must have these top product owner skills that organizations look for in Product Owners.
First of all, let’s touch upon what it is that a Product Owner is expected to do.
While the interpretation of a Product Owner’s role varies between companies, it is always agreed that it is the Product Owner who creates and maintains the product vision and chalks out the product roadmap. In accordance with the schedules set, he or she plans releases, prioritizes tasks and grooms the Product Backlog. All this is done while stringently following Scrum processes and attending all Scrum meetings.
Product Owner skills and competencies:
“The people who are best suited to the role thrive on accountability, visibility, and the art of negotiation”—Scrum Alliance
While you may think that these are qualities needed to perform any job role, delve deeper and you will understand why these are so important to be successful as a Product Owner. Most experts would agree that there are eight qualities that differentiate the exceptional product owners from the mundane.
1. Keeps the customer happy:
Your skills as a Product Owner need to go beyond just complying with everything that the customer says. You should have the skill to look beyond what they are requesting, and present them with possibilities that they haven’t even thought of. Everyone likes to have more, and giving your customers more will keep them happy.
A product owner has to work with many different groups of people. They have to liaise with multiple teams, developers, customers, stakeholders and other product owners and make sure that there is alignment with respect to time, budgets and requirements. The skill to collaborate is essential for a product owner working on critical projects.
3. Resolves Conflicts:
As a product owner, you have a lot to deal with. Unreasonable customers with difficult requirements, or a team that is sensitive and unwilling to work with the customer, or even stakeholders who are at loggerheads. A skill that will help you in these difficult situations is that of conflict resolution. Having the ability to dissolve disagreements and act as a mediator or negotiator will come in handy to diffuse any animosity that may arise with or between stakeholders and development team members.
4. Has Knowledge of Scrum:
As a Product Owner you will mostly lead Agile projects. You will also be required to guide your team and help them understand the requirements and what is expected of them. While the Product Owner need not have a technical background, he or she should have sufficient domain knowledge, and should certainly have agile and scrum skills. This skill is essential in order to help team members follow the right processes at the time of product development. Though one would argue that this is a core responsibility of a Scrum Master, Product Owners without this skill can be ineffective.
5. Knows when to delegate:
You may be used to juggling a number of responsibilities and may be an excellent multitasker—but knowing when and what to delegate is a skill which you must learn. This will make your life much simpler and give you time to focus on strategic product management tasks that need your attention.
Facilitating dialogue is another skill that most successful Product Owners have mastered. Your role is not merely to relay messages from stakeholders to the development team and back, but rather to facilitate the conversation and decision making, thus empowering the team and aiding transparency.
7. Conveys the Product Story:
A major part of your job is to convey the product vision to the development team and conversely let the stakeholders know how far the development team has reached in the product development cycle. This all-important skill helps you motivate team members, keep stakeholder happy and also garner the support of senior management by effectively conveying your product features and implementations.
What’s the one thing, as a product owner, do you need to do really well? That’s right! Manage the product backlog. Prioritization may be underrated, but it’s a skill that you must cultivate in order to be a successful product owner.
Besides these eight skills there are some inherent skills a Product Owner must possess.
Product Owner Soft Skills:
- Communication Skills: Good communication skills are paramount to being successful as a Product Owner. Having to work with stakeholders, development team and scrum masters means that Product Owners must be able to communicate the status of the product, technical knowledge and other information that is product related to all parties.
- Empathy: Being empathetic towards both your customers and your team should be part of your winning personality.
Product Owner Hard Skills:
- Analytical skills: Analytical skills are crucial to ensure that you are able to accurately define product requirements. Though analytical skills are often the domain of business analysts, as a Product Owner, you will perform business analysis too.
- Core domain skills: Depending on the industry you work in, you will need to learn core domain skills. For example, if you are a product owner in a finance company, you will need to have knowledge of core banking in order to build the best products.
Product Owner Technical Skills:
While the debate on whether a product owner should have sound technical skills or not has been raging ever since the creation of this role, one thing that most experts and product owners themselves agree on is that they must possess at least basic knowledge of technical core concepts. These would include:
- Object Orientation
- End to end software development methods, especially Agile SDLC
- Testing practices
- Query writing
- Analytical tools such as Google Analytics
Product Owner Qualities:
So, what are the qualities that you need to have, to be successful in your career and be a well-respected product owner?
Be part of the team:
Although the product owner is a often a single person and not a group of persons, you are still part of the Scrum team. This is important for you to understand so that you can build trust and a solid partnership with the rest of the Scrum team.
Attend sprint sessions:
A good product owner is always present, and this also includes attending sprint sessions. This will help you understand where the product development is going and clarify doubts.
Participate in sprint demos:
As a product owner you would want to know what is being delivered and if it’s being delivered according to customer expectations and what you promised to the customer. And how do you do that? By attending Sprint demos. A good product owner will attend every sprint demo and support the team during these releases.
Be available not just for stakeholders but also for the development team:
A good product owner takes care, not just of the customers, but also of the team. You are empowered to motivate and guide the team and aid the Scrum Master in ensuring that they are able to do their job in an unrestrained manner.
Product owner strengths and weaknesses:
While you may desire to be the perfect Product Owner who embodies all these skills, you must realise that you have certain strengths and weaknesses. Your strengths are your ability to:
- Display Leadership: As an exceptional product owner, your leadership skills will be your major strength. From understanding the team, encouraging transparency, challenging the team members to perform better than their best, and displaying leadership, you have strengths that promote your growth and that of the teams.
- Say No to the customer: This is an important trait of a strong Product Owner. While your job is to be a stakeholder pleaser, you cannot give in to unreasonable demands. If it is a requirement that you know cannot be delivered by the team, you must have the ability to refuse the customer and protect the team.
Your weaknesses may cause you to:
- Interfere in the development team’s work: While being technical is definitely a good trait, using your technical knowledge and interfering in your development team’s work is not. If you aim to be a successful Product Owner, you must learn to overcome your weakness of interfering in the development team’s work.
- Not trust or lack confidence in the team: Trust is difficult to build. But not having trust in your development team is disastrous, not just for you and the team but also for the product and consequently for the organization and the customer. Your lack of trust can set off a chain reaction that may adversely impact everything that you are working towards.
” A good Scrum Master can take the team to the point of being self-organized and motivated; they can help the team achieve good Scrum. But to achieve truly great Scrum, an empowered, dedicated Product Owner with a strong vision is crucial.” --The Product Owner Manual by Scrum Sense
A good Product Owner is a boon, not just for the development team, but also for the organization. Nobody is born with leadership or product owner skills, but these are capabilities that you can nurture and cultivate. With these skills, you can lead your project, lead your team and overcome all adversities to deliver value and exceptional products.