10/09/2019 Nicola

Product Owner: Expectations vs. Reality

Who Is a Product Owner?

Product Owner is an individual with extensive knowledge of marketing. PO manages the product backlog to ensure that the product development teams achieve their desired goals. It is the Product Owner’s responsibility to maximize the value of any product made by the Scrum development team. The PO operates as a product designer, business strategist, market analyst, and project manager.

Product Owners (PO) play an important role in the product development cycle; they are critical on a Scrum Team. Their role is a new concept for most organizations switching to Agile Methodology. Nonetheless, the demand for a Product Owner continues to grow daily.

Understanding the PO Role in Depth

POs are individuals from the product management team with a solid understanding of competition, users, the marketplace, and future trends of the domain of the system that is being developed. Their roles vary enormously depending on whether the scrum team is developing software for internal use, commercial software, hardware, or any other sort of product. What matters is whether or not the individual in the role of a PO has an elaborate vision of the product being built.

POs emphasize product backlog in the event of a sprint planning meeting. It is the PO’s work to motivate the team members with clear, elevating goals. The team members then choose the user story (that leads on the product backlog) and commit themselves to deliver during a sprint. The role of a PO requires a candidate with specific traits and skills; the person should have great communication skills, be business savvy, and should always be available to the team. Being business savvy is critical to POs since they are the decision-makers regarding the features of the future product.

Why Have a Product Owner?

The role of a PO was created as a section of Scrum Framework with a view of addressing difficulties that product development groups had with multiple, contradictory directions regarding what they wanted to build. For this reason, Product Owners spend quite some time with the product development team clarifying product backlog elements and making crucial decisions regarding the product backlog items’ specifics.

Expected Benefits

POs give a single and reliable source of information to the product development team, which keeps them focused and eliminates churn, which results from conflicting priorities. They represent a single responsibility point for both the team members and non-members whenever they want to identify the party responsible without a hassle.

Common Pitfalls

Realistically, it’s hard for one person to make all the product decisions in a considerable amount of time discussing a product’s future with the development team. This is why the POs’ roles are split among several people to simplify decision-making.

Ideally, one PO is supposed to deal with a single team of product developers. Whenever different teams are working on a similar product, the 1:1 ratio is mostly violated. You might find one Product Owner dealing with multiple teams at a time, which leads to one group being ignored. The ration violation may also result in an absentee PO, thus delaying decision-making solutions.

Whenever the PO fails to show up as frequently as required by the Product development team, a more available proxy PO position is established. The position can be taken by one member of the team or anyone who has ever been a PO. However, it’s risky to make the replacement since the decisions made by the acting PO could be overruled by the initial PO at an inopportune time.

A Product Owner’s Responsibilities

The roles of a PO vary depending on the development and production environment. However, many Product Owners share these common responsibilities:

Alignment on the Vision

It is the PO’s role to create the vision and set the goals for the team. It is necessary to communicate the vision requirements to the parties involved (the stakeholders, the project management group, and the Scrum Team). The vision steers and prioritize the team’s decisions.

Management of the Product Backlog

The POs are responsible for generating and managing the jobs that the Scrum Team need to do. These individuals compose the product backlog items, order the work, and make the product backlog visible to the team. By doing this, the work performance is optimized, which makes it easy to achieve the product goals.

A product backlog is like a living source that is updated continually. It shows the tasks to be worked on during the development. The backlog is used to ensure that the critical tasks are completed incrementally and iteratively.

Defining Constraints

Constraints defined by POs include cost limitation, speed minimums, memory limits, and attainable completion dates. In case an unrealistic goal is set, the Scrum Team, the user’s representative, and the user are supposed to communicate on time for early detection.

Team Responsibilities

It is the PO’s task to engage and motivate the team. Together, they share the firm’s visions, answer the questions asked, and listen to the suggestions given on deleting, adding, improving, or changing the user’s goal.

Owning the Finances

The PO is supposed to provide the best ROI, as well as being accountable for the economic decision-making in the event of sprint release.

The Product Owner should also participate in development events and prioritize tasks during a sprint.

PO’s Qualities and Skills

A PO should be decisive, empowered, available, outspoken, and must have excellent domain knowledge. Being a PO also requires commitment, hard work, and most importantly the skills. Here are five skills every PO must have;

  • Developer – The whole team delivers value; the PO must be able to guide the members well to create strong collaborations.
  • Customer Satisfaction – A great PO listens to customers with a view of identifying their needs while also paying attention to stakeholders’ opinions and modifies the backlog accordingly.
  • Knowledge broker – It’s not a must for a PO to be an expert on products being developed. It is, however, important for the individual to operate professionally as an interface between the stakeholders and the Scrum Team.
  • Conflict Resolver
  • Effective Escalator

PO Anti-Patterns

If the role of a PO is not clearly understood, it will be impossible to transform teams with Agile means of working. Appropriate steps should be taken whenever a PO shows an undesirable quality. While the responsible individual is playing the PO role, it’s likely to observe these anti-patterns:

  • Missing or busy Product Owner
  • Some POs write detailed user stories without scope for negotiation
  • Changing the priorities constantly during the sprint
  • Questioning the estimates provided by the development team
  • Failing to validate the ideas of the customers before implementation
  • Denying the development team members the chance to speak with stakeholders
  • Failing to question clients when collecting the requirements
  • Denying the development team an opportunity to work on the technical debt
  • Not emphasizing on the quality
  • Instructing the team on what should be done and ignoring their opinions

A competent PO is indispensable for any functional Scrum Team. He/she is the bridge between the clients and the development team. The PO should guarantee streamlined product delivery. Contrary to the expectations, many Agile organizations are nowadays battling with ill-defined POs.

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