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A GOOD PRODUCT OWNER

In an agile organization the Product Owner is the responsible person for the product, that is why we say he/she is the owner of the product. To achieve a well-made and/or successfully working product, the Product Owner has tremendous amount of tasks to be done in each step of the value chain. This post not only gathers all these tasks but explains all aspects of how to become a really good Product Owner.

Creating vision and validating

The PO has to create a vision of the product or service (henceforth „product”) by identifying the target group and their needs and then defining how these needs could be satisfied. To do this, the PO has to understand the market, the real and latent demands, the competitors and all the needs and wishes of the stakeholders. To compile the list of these pieces of information, market research, trend, competitor- and stakeholder analysis need to be done. To get these researches done is not necessarily the job of the PO, however they should facilitate the creation of these by the organization they work for.

Unless the vision and all the needs listed besides have been validated, we call them hypotheses. There are significant risks in planning future development based on these hypotheses.

The Elevator Pitch is a perfect tool to get hypotheses validated. This is a 1-minute, well-defined, and straightforward presentation of the product. After pitching the product to the target group, the PO can follow up the feedback on how valuable the product is and if it satisfies the possible and actual needs of the later users.

Besides creating and validating the vision, the PO has to assess the types of resources required to design, develop and operate the product, for which Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas provides a great guide.

In addition, the PO should examine and understand   to what extent the product itself fits into the corporate strategy and if it is consistent enough with the current and future product portfolio strategy. This process can prevent the product from accidentally cannibalizing other products or services of the company.Creating the vision is also one of the most important activities of the PO, as they must continuously revalidate if the vision is for maximizing business value creation. This should shape the characteristics of the product and redefine the target groups.

I would like to become a Product Owner or a Scrum Master

5-level planning

The Product Owner’s activity does not come to an end  by creating the vision, as his/her responsibility is (though not exclusively his/her task) to work out a prioritized task list that is broken down into pieces small and detailed enough that the team can start the development with confidence.

Key activities of the Product Owner while developing the product and setting up its market performance

The Product Owner cannot have a rest while the development team is working on the implementation. Besides presenting the expected content of the following springs on the backlog refinement and sprint planning events, the PO must think together with the team about what new functions should be included in? the sprint backlog. In addition to the open demos, he/she should also keep in touch with stakeholders and users.

The PO should collect all the necessary information that help clarifying what can be the greatest business value of the product/service even during the process of implementation. Feedbacks should be integrated into the backlog, and the PO must focus on how to maximize the market performance of the product.To get the market performance maximized, the PO must understand where the product is currently positioned in the product lifecycle and in the BCG matrix. Different marketing, product development and sales strategies should be applied when for instance early adopters start using the product. Integrating their feedbacks into the product, the desired majority can be achieved.  Or when for instance the product has reached the “dog” phase and only the laggards could be attracted. In this latter case, it is worth considering phasing the product out of the portfolio or narrowing down and developing those features that can result in another upturn cycle. 

I would like to become a Product Owner or a Scrum Master

The PO should continuously monitor and track the product’s performance, whether all the listed features are still necessary, or some could be phased out from the list. Often the simpler the product, the higher the value is for users ( e.g. Microsoft Excel has some thousands unused features versus Google Spreadsheets has few but  often used features.). Deciding which is the right approach should be concluded from the strategy of the product. There is no “one right way” in this topic either.When multiple teams are working on two separate parts of the same project, the PO should keep in touch horizontally with the other team’s PO (or with the Chief Product Owner, if there is one), and plan together in order to maximize the business value of the entire product portfolio, and meanwhile explore all possible integration points amongst the solutions.After the product is “fully developed” (there is no such an ideal state as there are always opportunities to improve or tweak some features) and maybe delivered, the PO should go on to collect  the support demands and bugs, then  evaluate, prioritize and integrate these implementations into the following sprints.

The list of the above-mentioned activities is not fully comprehensive. These are only some well-defined focus points that can help keeping the right direction in every case regardless of the organization or the project itself.

Personal qualities of a good PO

What kind of personality should a good Product Owner have and what qualities should he/she possess?First of all, it is essential to be trustworthy and responsible. To be able to confidently represent the product at any phase of the development process, similarly at any stage of the product lifecycle, we need to look for a decisive and charismatic personality. The proactive attitude  helps to continuously find the ways of how to maximize the business value,  which contributes much to the overall success of the product.
Creativity, and assertive communication with the stakeholders and users are a must.

Once the ideas and needs have been collected, the PO’s analytical and systematic approach helps to define appropriate requirements. The same approach helps to map the product in that specific business and market environment.

The PO should know exactly the environment in which the product is being created. He/she must understand the language of business and know what the motivations and the drivers of the stakeholders are. It is not expected, although it is beneficial to have some level of knowledge of the technology used for the implementation of the product, or at least understand the key development contexts (software and hardware development, research and methodologies). The Product Owner as an agile actor must have an in-depth knowledge of the agile methodology and should be able to  competently use the tools of an agile PO (product vision, roadmap, release map, epic level backlog, user stories, backlog items, business logic workflow, business model canvas, elevator pitch). To maintain the backlog, the PO needs to know some estimation and prioritization methods.

Finally, and most importantly: besides all of the above-mentioned qualities, the PO then and only then will be able to make the maximum impact if he/she has the necessary authorization and decision-making power over the whole product life. 

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