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Become an effective Product Owner 1 - introduction

Working as a Product Owner (PO) and being responsible for a team and its products is a quite challenging mission if you want to do it in an effective way and satisfy all stakeholders involved.

To add further pressure, the PO is also responsible for defining and communicating the vision for a product or service. All of this while maximizing customer value and value for everyone involved. In this article series, I intend to delve into the role of the PO, what it actually entails, and how you can exercise it as effectively as possible.

To begin with, I'll provide a brief introduction to the role of the PO and describe what typically entails in the tasks.

Become an effective Product Owner 1 - introduction

Vision and strategy

As a PO, you are expected to have a clear vision and strategy for the products/services that the team delivers. This involves understanding customer needs, market trends, and business needs, and translating them into more tangible concepts that the team can comprehend. The key here is to get the team to understand what needs to be done and why.

To gather customer needs, for example, you can invite customers to various workshops or interviews where you have the opportunity to ask open-ended questions and listen to their needs, challenges, ideas, and desires. You can also combine this with conducting user surveys or creating focus groups to discuss one or more areas.

You can also spend time with your customers in real-life situations, observing how they use the team's products and what challenges they face in their daily lives. This also gives you an opportunity to directly hear about the pros and cons of the product. Also, consider trying to rephrase customer needs into user stories where you can describe the needs in more easily understandable terms.

While it's certainly important to listen to customers and gather their needs, it's also crucial to align everything with the team. The team's expertise is immensely valuable when it comes to interpreting customer needs and translating them into practical solutions that can be realized.

Don't forget the agile principles of small building blocks and the iterative approach. Make sure to continuously update requirements and priorities based on market trends and customer needs. This way, you become better at adapting the product/service to truly meet your customers' needs and expectations.

Prioritizing the product backlog

Another important responsibility is prioritizing the product backlog, but that can be easier said than done. This task is strongly related to the previous point about defining needs. The most prioritized items should always be at the top of the backlog, and it's the PO's responsibility to ensure that it's truly the case.

Prioritize the things that provide the most value and reduce the risk of building unnecessary functionality that would later need to be discarded.

Prioritization can be done, for example, using the MoSCoW method that I discussed in a previous blog post. I also mentioned some other methods. For more information, refer to my first post in the series where I describe how to create the optimal IT development team.

The prioritization work also includes being able to express product requirements in a clear and reality-based manner. This way, the PO can explain what needs to be built and how it should function.

Communication and collaboration

Directly linked to prioritization and gathering needs is ongoing communication and collaboration with stakeholders and the development team. By listening to feedback, understanding needs, and involving stakeholders in decision-making, you, as a PO, can create natural communication channels and promote collaboration among different stakeholders to achieve common goals.

If you're a PO in a team that is part of a more supportive organization, it might be difficult to identify the direct customer. In that case, you can take it a step further and participate in meetings where your client meets their stakeholders. This way, you can gain better insight into what the end customers actually want and what they discuss.

As a concrete example of this, in a team I worked with, we were tasked with developing a system that would aggregate data from multiple sources, which would then be used by the finance department as a basis for their decision-making.

Essentially, it was a kind of BI system. When we sat down to define the requirements/needs, it was very unclear and vague, which made me suspicious. Who was the actual customer, and what were their needs? After some investigation, it turned out that the decisions to be made were used by the acquisition unit based on recommendations from the finance department.

Therefore, I took the initiative to organize a small workshop where we met representatives from the finance department and the acquisition unit. I also invited some members from my team to ensure a reality-based approach. It turned out to be an incredibly successful workshop that resulted in a list of much more concrete requirements and a vision that extended approximately three years into the future with various desires for what different stakeholders wanted to see.

So find out who your customers are and who their customers are, and meet them together to gain a much better understanding of the requirements.

Decision making

In addition to understanding all the needs/requirements and ensuring that the team truly works towards those goals while maintaining a prioritized product backlog, you must constantly make decisions regarding product development and various priorities. It's not easy to be responsible for the team's backlog, and sometimes it may feel a bit lonely, but seek help from the team and other stakeholders.

Always remember to involve rather than exclude. If different stakeholders are interested in the team's work or if the team is interested in the work of other stakeholders, bring them together and let them get to know each other. The more we interact, the better!

By understanding and addressing these expectations and responsibilities, you, as a PO, can become a successful leader and contribute to creating valuable and user-centered products.

User needs and their requirements are an essential part of your daily life as a PO. Therefore, in the next article, I intend to delve further into that topic.

Written by André Johansen