The Role of a Product Owner (Part 4): Pragmatic Considerations


The Role of a Product Owner (Part 4): Pragmatic Considerations


stacked rocks on beach

In this series of posts, I have covered responsibilities, characteristics, daily activities and anti-patterns of product owners. In this final post, I wish to summarise a few pragmatic considerations of the role.

The product owner is the single neck on the block, and is responsible for setting the direction for development as well as making hard decisions in the interest of driving value creation. They work in close collaboration with stakeholders, customers, the Scrum Master and the development team daily.

Filling the Product Owner Role

Unfortunately, experienced product owners are hard to come by in many organizations. For this reason, existing employees will typically be expected to fill the role. The two employees who are most likely to make that transition are:

Project managers: PMs can serve as effective product owners by using their financial, people, planning and organisational skills to oversee domain knowledge and product backlog management. The ability to shed any command and control tendencies in exchange for a “one-team, one-dream” mentality will also help to smooth the transition. They will usually require assistance from a business analyst to manage the product backlog.

Business analysts: With their strong product knowledge and solid customer relationship skills, BAs also tend to transition well into a product owner role. They will often require a project manager’s support, particularly when it comes to stakeholder management and financial modelling.

Developing as a product owner takes time, so a “product owner team” comprised of both a project manager and a business analyst is often employed to provide the project with a secure foundation. This allows both the PM and BA to learn from each other for the duration of a project (or product development life cycle), and thus develop more rounded skills than they would have otherwise.

A Careful Balance

A product owner must carefully balance customer outcomes against business value while simultaneously considering both technical debt and team morale. This requires deliberate coordination between many elements within the project, including other teams, suppliers, business departments, customers and users.

Another necessary consideration is the widespread organisational change required to support agile development. Although this change begins with small Scrum teams, it quickly expands to encompass the entire concept-to-cash life cycle of a product. Of course, changing the finance, legal, HR and PMO departments of an organization can be a lengthy process, but agile requires--or perhaps causes--rapid cultural transformation.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading this series of posts. It has been an interesting exercise to open my thoughts on Scrum roles to challenge and discussion, and I hope they have proven useful to you in some small way. If you have any opinions or observations on this series, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.

If you’re interested in learning more about product ownership, I recommend the following five books:



 

Peter Hyde (CSP, CSM, CSPO, SA) is an enterprise agile coach who resides in West Sussex, UK.

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