A Product Owner is a role in a product development team or a scrum team who is responsible for the product backlog, making sure that it is up-to-date in terms of priorities and has the items which translate back to the vision. The Product Owner represents the business or user and is accountable for collaborating with the consumer to define what features will be in the product release.
Since the time I embraced agile, I got to work with several Product Owners and mind you, this role is really critical as it handshakes at both the ends – the development team and the stakeholders. The Product Owner works with the stakeholders to get the right requirements, right in the sense, help the users to devise the requirements which they might not see or comprehend at that point. This not only improves the relationship with our customers but also helps to build up the trust. And at the other end, the Product Owner helps the delivery team/development team understand the vision and the requirements. Hence, this role is kind of a bridge between the two ends, holding tight the two corners and effectively enhancing the smooth communication.
According to Roman Pichler, the ultimate responsibility of a product owner is to ensure that the product creates value for its customers and users, as well as for the company. “Think of the product owner as the person who champions the product, who facilitates the product decisions, and who has the final say about the product,” he says. “This includes if and how feedback is actioned, and which features are released.”
The role and responsibilities of a Product Owner are too deep so as to make sure he/she understands the core of the product and too wide that collaboration is done at 360-degree level, being a liaison and face of the user.
Let’s look at the major responsibilities that this role demands:
The Product Owner has the responsibility of creating a vision so that the development team clearly visualize the expected outcome by the user. It is the Product Owner who majorly interacts and collaborates with the users to understand their requirements, thus, it is really important to translate this in a form of a vision to the team. Also, it is equally significant, to communicate to the stakeholders the vision and goals so that every talk the same language and have an identical understanding of the outcome. To make sure every item from the goal is aligned to the business objectives, the Product Owner should create a product roadmap, which is a high-level, tactical graphical summary that shapes the vision and direction for the product.
The most essential responsibility in a role a Product Owner is managing the product backlog. Today’s market is really dynamic, every customer wants to stay at the top of the new features being introduced. Even the items in the product backlog might require some movements due to changing priorities. It’s the Product Owners responsibility to build up a stack of items in the backlog and prioritize them as per the business goals and the global approach. The product backlog is a dynamic list of items and as we call it in agile, it is ‘live document’ that should be frequently updated based on changing project requirements all the way through development.
Making choices about the priority of product backlog items in order to deliver the maximum outcome. The Product Owner has to order the items in the Product Backlog to best achieve goals and missions. We live in a world where help is readily available in term of awesome tools, hence, there are heaps of tools to help Product Owners do this. The Product Owner is required to have the Backlog sequenced prior to the Sprint Planning Meeting. This means that each user story must be ordered by relative importance.
Once we have the basic entities in place – vision, product backlog, and the prioritization, the product owner has to make sure that he/she is participating in the overall development stages of the product. The team might need their Product Owner to get the clarity on a few queries or they might need to demo the committed item. The Product Owner will participate in the ceremonies with the team, in some ceremonies, this role can be active such as planning or backlog grooming but can be passive or inactive such as in the daily scrum.
In today's’ competitive environment, it is really important for someone in a role of a Product Owner, to understand the client/customer’s needs. The product owner should understand the market, the competition, and the users’ pain points. With those valuable pieces of information, the product owner can determine what features should be implemented, and in what order, with respect to time and importance. Sometimes the Product Owner can help the customers configuring and penning down the items which they want but are not able to comprehend. And here communication plays a big role.
As we have talked about this at the start of our discussion, a product owner role is more into acting as a primary liaison between the teams and the customers. The person in this role has to make sure the information flow is quick and clear so that there is no interpretation or reading between the lines. The Product Owner has to make sure that the goal and the vision are correctly aligned with the work items on the product backlog. The Product Owner also acts as a liaison for business stakeholders and end-users, determining whether each story meets their shared expectations.
The product owner makes sure that the development works upon the priorities and monitors the progress of the items over the course of a sprint. Work that is either not complete or un-done needs to be re-prioritized or sequenced. The Product Owner makes sure that the development delivers the expected outcomes from the stories they worked upon and accepts it.
Scrum ceremonies give a chance for the Product Owner to inspect and adapt. And as a result being present at these ceremonies is identical to success. It is important for the product owner to join the scrum meetings, it not only keeps the development team up-to-date with the priorities but also helps the product owner understand the perspective of the team if there are any impediments.
If the Sprint goal has no meaning (will not deliver business value) because of the extreme change, the product owner can terminate the sprint. The termination is most frequently the outcome of an intense change in business priorities--something previously considered important is no longer important, or something even more significant is learned.
Getting into a product owner not only requires a thorough understanding of the product but it also takes into account the analytical and strategic skills. The person who wants to deep dive and become a good product owner needs to understand the market and the stakeholders, he/she should be able to create a vision and knows when to juggle with the items in the product backlog so that the bucket is always prioritized.
You can opt for some good certification programs provided by different authorities and gain a confidence in this area. As per my experience, I would recommend to select a domain, stick to it, master it by all means and then there is no stopping for you!
As defined by the Scrum Alliance, a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) is someone who has been taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer about the Scrum terminology, practices, and principles that will enable them to fulfill the role of Scrum Product Owner.
Both a project manager and a product owner watch over teams who work to carry developments across the finish line together. But the path to that finish line deviates entirely from the start. The product Owners are product driven and customer focused. The product owner needs to be actively engaged with the team because they are the ones responsible for deciding what features will go into the final product.
As everyone in the Agile teams, the Product Owner also has a few challenges to tackle with, let’s talk about few of them:
1. Missing product roadmap
2. High-level acceptance criteria
3. Spending too much time dealing with product support instead of grooming the backlog
4. Changing priority while sprint is in progress
Product Owners can escape these usual snares by working around the product roadmap, centering on high-value backlog items, defining crisp acceptance criteria, concentrating on grooming quality backlog item, and avoiding disturbing sprints.
The role of a Product Owner is indispensable for the scrum teams, this role can be compared to a deeply rooted tree which has a firm foundation on the product side and provides vision, approach, and planned execution on the outer side. The product owners carry the ownership of the product in terms of quality and delivering as per the expectations set with the stakeholder.
Product Owner needs to have an all-inclusive view of the product along with all the other factors that make product successful which involves understanding business, go-to-Market, organizational readiness, and product capabilities. All of these should be collectively managed, coordinated and aligned to drive product success.
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