Product Owner's Role Explained
A PO has all the information, makes some important decisions daily, and is there every step while a product is being made, balancing everything until they make sure everyone’s needs are met.
A Product Owner’s Typical Day
They say it's vital that a PO's desk is right next to their teams' so they can constantly communicate and clarify any doubts as soon as they arise. If the teams are working remotely, the product owner should be only a click or phone/video call away. A PO's day is therefore filled with interactions, but meetings aren't all they do.
Meetings With the Team - In Scrum daily standups are a must. The team goes through what they've done the day before, what they'll be working on that day, and what obstacles they're facing if any. Scrum masters host these daily meetings, while POs can skip them. Sometimes, the team will discuss issues or dilemmas they're dealing with during the daily standup and call the PO for assistance once they've gone through their tasks. The PO should be available to answer any questions at all times simply because the team can't make decisions independently about acceptance criteria and prioritizing bugs.
Meeting the Stakeholders - POs are crucial in connecting stakeholders' wishes with the development team's activities and market trends. They need to create a plan for transforming the stakeholders' input into reality and convey it to the dev team, then report back on how's the plan realization going. This includes letting them know some requirements can't be achieved in the current setting or that the market isn't favorable. Being able to say "no" sometimes is one of the most valuable skills a PO can possess because, at the end of the day, the product owner is responsible for the product's success.
Updating the Product Backlog - The backlog is a PO's primary playground. They decide the order in which the product is developed by prioritizing tasks, adding new user stories, and updating the backlog. They'll gather initiatives, break them into epics, and turn epics into stories which they'll then elaborate. The more details they include, the less their team will be confused. This task could require daily attention, although it's more likely that POs will dedicate their time to checking the backlog before the planning or refinement meetings. Making sure that all items are accurately described and prioritized shortens meetings, allowing all team members to focus on what's important: working on the product.
Market Research - Each product, whether physical or digital, stems and ends on the market. Customers' needs define what needs to be created, what has to change, and what is no longer needed. A product owner keeps their ear glued to the market's wall, informs the stakeholders, and updates the backlog accordingly. Each company is different, and so are each role's responsibilities. Sometimes, the PO will do all the market research, while other times, they'll let the marketing team or the product manager collect information from the field and consult them before talking to the stakeholders.
Difference Between POs and PMs
People often confuse the roles of project managers, product owners, and product managers. Here we'll explore the differences between the first two.
Typically found in software companies and Agile teams
Present in all industries
Focused on the product
Focused on the project lifecycle
In charge of the product backlog and vision
In charge of the project plan
Prioritizes features, delivers value
Makes sure the project is finished on time efficiently
Main goal: create a quality product that satisfies the customers' needs
Main goal: deliver output on time and within budget
Decides what's best for the product
Compiles the stakeholders' wishes and makes them happen
Accountable for the success or failure of a product
Accountable for the success or failure of a project
Being a product owner pays well globally as it is the highest paid role in the Agile industry. Glassdoor says the average yearly salary is $92,845, while it amounts to $90,190, according to Payscale.
Becoming a Product Owner: Get Started
A college degree is not necessary if you want to become a product owner. However, there are other areas of expertise you'll need to master and skills to develop if you're aiming for this role. First, you must learn everything about the Agile framework and how Scrum teams function. Second, you'll need technical knowledge of the product you're developing. Here are some certification courses to get you started:
The role of a PO is a highly technical one, so a bachelor's degree in computer science or a similar field is a good starting point and can make a better product owner. If you don't own one, you'll have to make an extra effort to learn all about the product your team will be developing. A PO who doesn't understand the technical details of software won't be able to assist the team and clear their dilemmas or answer their questions.
The team will also be highly frustrated if they need to spend too much time trying to explain to their PO what can and can't be done and why.
On the other hand, the PO must have a deep understanding of the development process and its problems, so they can inform the stakeholders in detail on how everything is progressing, which challenges the dev team is facing, and what additional resources they need to overcome them.
If you don't have a software development background, make sure you learn from your team members and additional sources about the product's technical details and the code behind it.
Just like project managers, many POs used to be developers, engineers, or designers. Of course, not everyone can become a product owner. Some skills are innate, and some can be learned. If you're aiming to make a turn in your career toward this role in Agile, you should be aware that communication skills are a must. Without them, negotiating with stakeholders, displaying the achieved results, and interacting daily with the dev team is impossible. Organizational skills are also necessary for this profession because only highly organized individuals can regularly prune and maintain the backlog.
A Product Owner’s Career Path
Your career probably won't start in the shoes of a product owner.
The role of POs requires great responsibility and knowledge, so it's unlikely someone fresh out of college or high school could perform it with flying colors. Some previous experience is preferred, whether in engineering, marketing, software development, or UX design.
After years of experience in product research, development, or sales, professionals can change the direction of their careers, gain additional knowledge about Agile and become a PO.
But what comes after? Let's explore some options available after spending a year or more as a successful product owner. The closest role is that of a scrum master. Some people say it takes experience as a PO to understand their role both theoretically and practically, so you can advise and assist them in the best way possible from the position of a scrum master. This doesn't have to be the case, as you can become a scrum master without previous experience in the field.
A PO can move on to the function of product manager. Although similar and often misinterpreted as synonyms, these two roles are different. In fact, product managers are considered to be a level above POs as they are cross-functional leaders.
In larger companies, product owners can evolve to be portfolio owners, i.e., product owners of multiple related products. They manage more than one product and product owner, focusing more on the strategic rather than just the operational management.
Depending on the size and structure of the company, POs could climb up the ladder to become senior product managers, product directors, heads of product, chief product officers, or chief executive officers (CEO).
It's helpful to remind ourselves of their daily activities and responsibilities to understand which tools a PO needs. They communicate with their team and the product's stakeholders, maintain the backlog and radar their customers' needs.
This means product owners must have project management software, communication tools, and lots of space for organizing tasks and their strategy.
Hiring a Product Owner
If you run a software company and have implemented the Agile framework, other than the development team, you'll need a scrum master and a product owner. They're the main protagonists of a scrum team.
A PO will be the main liaison between developers, customers, and stakeholders, so you should pay attention if they possess a wide range of skills.
First of all, the ideal candidate has no issues collaborating with different types of people. The dev team should respect and listen to their PO, and the stakeholders and upper management should trust them. The product owner will be responsible for the product's releases and presenting the team's progress. So, you're looking for a responsible and reliable person with experience in product development.