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The 3 critical duties of a Product Owner.

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

If you're aware of the scrum methodology, you probably have heard of the Product Owner (PO) role. In case you haven't, scrum is currently the world's most popular framework for product development. It takes a disciplined approach that helps companies delight customers through the delivery of value.

The product owner is a core role in scrum and serves as an essential link between the customers and development teams. Without the presence of the product owner, the scrum team will lack the product expert, thus resulting in development teams taking product decisions based on their priorities or, worse, not knowing what even to do.

Run a quick search online, and you'll find an awful lot of blogs and articles providing you long lists of product owner responsibilities, making you wonder where even to start, but do not feel discouraged. Here, we'll explain precisely, the three essential ingredients of a great product owner.

Customer Obsession

This one is a "No Brainer." The world's most successful companies are highly obsessed with customers. A case in point is Amazon, which has "customer obsession" right at the top of their list of 14 leadership principles.

Quoting Amazon's words "Leaders start with the customer and work backward. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers."

Similarly, product owners acting as customer representatives frequently engage with customers to discover their real needs and communicate them to development teams.

How each product owner achieves this can vary from person to person; however, listed below are three crucial tips for identifying these needs.

  1. When customers describe their most pressing needs, ask them "why" they feel it is a genuine problem and what would they have done to solve it.

  2. Capture and analyze customer and business metrics. Such analysis will help you gather critical insights about your customers using which you can design useful strategies.

  3. Stay on top of the recent developments taking place in your industry and which ones apply to your customer's scenario.

Lastly, customer obsession does not necessarily mean that you'll build every fantastic feature that your customers desire but that you'll analyze the cost, time, and risk of developing them versus their returns in dollar terms.

Prioritize and own the product decisions

Product Owners are responsible for coming up with the list of features included in the product, and such decisions can lead to product success or failure. It is a real challenge for product owners to determine where to invest the company's time and resources. Great product owners understand this challenge and realize the impact of these decisions on stakeholder value (e.g., Customer value, shareholder value, project value). Hence, product owners need a mechanism to cope with such challenges. Smart product owners value time and focus on building a minimum viable product (also called MVP).

Wikipedia defines a minimum viable product (MVP) as "a version of a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future product development."

Sensible product owners use prioritization techniques, which helps them organize the features in a coherent list. Examples of prioritization techniques are the Kano analysis, MOSCOW prioritization, backlog prioritization quadrant, amongst others. Choose a method that does not feel very cumbersome to start with. It's crucial to realize that prioritization is a continuous process and should be done from time to time with assistance from the development team.

Product owners need to work with full authority, and without this authority, the role diminishes to that of a proxy product owner. Proxy PO's are incomplete versions of product owners, and this seriously undermines the effectiveness of the product owner role. Hence, it might be helpful to get buy-in from management to let you have substantial authority to decide the product features.

Avoid isolation and collaborate

A product owner does not work in a vacuum and collaborates with stakeholders. Collaboration goes beyond communication in the sense that it's just not an exchange of information or taking orders, but it involves joint problem-solving. Hence, product owners work with not only customers but also development teams, other scrum teams, and people from different organizational functions such as marketing, human resource, or finance.

To collaborate effectively, you'll need to communicate clearly and transparently, earn the trust of your stakeholders, engage in negotiations, and cooperate with people in different areas of the organization. Siloed organizations might find it inconvenient to collaborate, but that is mainly because of the bureaucracy built into the system due to years of separation of teams from one another. Understanding this challenge and addressing it will help avoid the pitfalls of organizational inertia. Plus, a collaborative environment adds the 'fun' element to work, which is missing in severely siloed organizations.

We can keep going on and on about the competencies required to be a good product owner, however, these are some critical ones and are good enough to get your started.

Learning becomes a routine activity for the product owner, and this will help you succeed in this role. So, if you're targeting this role, gear up to invest your time and effort in learning this craft.

If you're interested in learning more about scrum, join our Free 4 hour Scrum Webinar conducted by scrum experts, which covers the topic in-depth. Unlike pre-recorded webinars, this one is a live class where you have the opportunity to ask questions to the instructor. 

Following the webinar, you'll be able to register for the Foundational Certification in Agile Scrum (FCAS) exam and gain this certification.



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