What is a Product Owner?

Have you ever had an app idea? Maybe you wanted to make a social media app, health/tracking or simple mobile game. You start asking, how do startups and big companies start building these amazing products?

This is where the product owner comes in.

The Perfect Scenario

Picture this: you're the Product Owner for a new development team. They've just come together to build the latest feature, which is suddenly the 'number #1' priority. Grand visions are presented, slick prototypes produced and graphs predicting crazy growth and benefits build excitement around what is to be delivered. The backlog is transferred from post-its to JIRA, nicely ordered and with a wave of enthusiasm the first sprints commence.

Everything is clear and makes sense, but as showcases are delivered and stakeholders can see the product coming together questions start being asked.

How will this work with our other products?
What about this priority customer segment?
How will you meet compliance rules?
Won’t this be competing with our other products?

Different stakeholders begin wanting their features and requirements addressed and the backlog begins to get out of control.

Prioritization is difficult as everyone’s requirement is priority #1 and progress beings to slow as gaining consensus requires decision by committee and no one will agree.

The team begins to complain that they are overloaded with side-projects and other work that they keep being asked to contribute to. What was once clear and easy is no longer. Stories are completed but direct link to value is not evident.

Eventually the team begins to wonder
Why are we building this?
Who even asked for this feature?

This is agile without a Product Owner. A bit like a ship without a captain, sure we are sailing but there is no guarantee that this will be in the direction of the desired destination. The boat might just go around in circles or even worse begin to sink once it loses enough momentum. Once you lose momentum, developers start jumping ship, scrum masters find new projects and boom you are left with an incomplete project.

What is a Product Owner?

The product owner is the person responsible for representing the interests of the stakeholders. They are responsible for ensuring that the development team understands the vision and goal of the product. The product owner is also responsible for maintaining and prioritizing the product backlog.

The CEO....Kinda

A good Product Owner will have a clear vision for the product they are overseeing. However, there are many factors that can play a role in a product owner ability to influence the roadmap of a product. A lot of YouTube/TikTok content will hype the Product Owner role as the "CEO of the Product" or the "Steve Jobs of small piece".

That is rarely the case. Usually the product owner is coming into an established organization gets to manage a particular piece or individual product within the company. Then usually works with stakeholders to determine what are things they like/dislike or want and communicate that back to developers to make it happen.

Unless you are the VP/Chief Product Owner(we'll assume that's not the case right now) then you are most likely getting initiatives from the top and doing everything in your power to get those things done.

In reality, the organization will ask for the world and you can give them 1/10 of all the request. A good product owner is able to manage expectation as well make good on most of their promises. That requires a particular set of skills.

What is their role?

A Product Owner needs to ensure and realize maximum value for the organization. They are collaborating closely with the development team and ensuring all the product requirements are well defined and executed in time. A Product Owner plays a key role in the Scrum team, along with the scrum master and the development team. However, the responsibilities of the scrum master are different and the Product Owner must ensure that the responsibilities of the two roles do not overlap each other.

One of the main roles of a Product Owner is to manage the product backlog. This may include the following activities:

  • The product backlog must be clearly defined, and all the items need to be mentioned elaborately.
  • Prioritize and order the product backlog in the right manner so that the important tasks are given topmost priority.
  • Prioritize work items and product backlog, this must be in line with customer vision and goals.
  • Evaluate the work done by the development team and provide constant feedback.
  • The Product Owner must ensure that the product backlog is communicated clearly to all team members.
  • The Scrum Team must have clarity on the product requirements and user expectations.

How much can they make?

The average product owner can make from 80K-250K. The average is around 106K. Salaries are hard to quantify in tech because some people are making ridiculous amounts while others are doing well.

What skills are required?

Either way being a PO is not a bad move, but what is required? A good PO is

  • Analytical 🔢
  • Creative 🎨
  • Effect Communicator 🛰️
  • Critical Thinker 🧠
  • Great presenter 🗣️
  • Bonus Points - They got technical skills 💻

Technical Skills

Technical skills are easier to develop such as software development and technology skills. You can take relevant courses and certifications to advance your technical skills. The product owner isn’t an entry-level position so you must have relevant experience in programming, software development, agile methodology, scrum framework, business development, project management etc. If you have experience, you'll not struggle with technical skills.

Essential Skills [!Soft Skills]

Soft skills are hard to acquire. For example, developing emotional intelligence, improving communication and collaboration skills, and polishing your analytical skill requires a lot of hard work and practice. This is the hard part. As a PO you have to read the room. You might be presenting an idea and Elon, Bezos and Kanye might be giving you the death stare. How do you manage that? That's what a PO must master.  Now the likely hood of you presenting to those type of people on day 1 are slim but I'm rooting for you. You will need to learn the fundamentals to break in.

Final Words

Being a product owner is one of the cooler roles in tech today. It's a great fit if you want to be in tech without being on a computer coding all day. Usually I'll see people with some technical background switch into product because they want to combine the best of both worlds. As long as you not afraid to speak to stakeholders and developers and play middle-person then it might be the perfect role for you.

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