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What does a Product Owner do at

Every project is unique. It takes a team to make quick, informed decisions – without obstacles. That’s why we have chosen agile working principles so that our teams can choose the best possible setup and roles. Each role moves within a framework of responsibility. In interviews with applicants and customers, we notice that this is lived differently in every company. A few colleagues therefore sat down together to explain our central roles. Today Felix explains how we at understand the product owner role:

A Product Owner (PO for short) represents the interface between the customer’s strategic goals, the user needs and the feasibility of the product. The demands of all three areas play important roles in the successful completion of a project. The PO has to create an overview, coordinate all areas of the project and finally assess its implementation.

Alongside the Scrum Master, for whom Manuel previously gave us insight into the areas of responsibility, the PO also forms an integral part of the SCRUM framework which we use for project management and delivery. The PO is also responsible for the product backlog and ensures the organisation and manageability of the project: all requirements are collected, formulated and prioritised into tasks for the team. This creates transparency for the project approach and presents the outstanding tasks clearly. Aside from this, the primary responsibility of a PO is to plan, control and, if necessary, take action to improve the balance between the scope, time and budget of the project.

What makes the role of Product Owner in an agency special?

 If the implementation of a digital project is outsourced to service agencies, this interface function must be split between two organisations: agency and customer. The traditional roles of SCRUM – Product Owner, Scrum Master and team – are often on the side of the agency developing the product. The PO represents the customer in the team and, at the same time, is the team’s representative for the customer. The completion of the interface function is required here in particular since the expertise for the requirements lies in the various fields of the parties involved.

Side Fact: In some projects the PO is also called ‘Product Owner Advisor’ on the side of the service provider, because they support the customer’s Product Owner and advise on their responsibility.

The specialist input and goals come from the customer to define the product vision and the business value. These help later in the prioritisation of the backlog. The technical feasibility and implementation possibilities are then defined in consultation with the team. The PO thereby minimises the project risks through the discussion of feasibility and requirements.

However, the team setup of the customer is not always directly compatible with the service providers team setup and, at the beginning of a project, Product Owners on the agency side often have the job of finding the best possible ways of working for their collaboration with the customer. Of course, this is done in consultation with the Scrum Master and team.

What skills does a PO need?

Different content must be sent to various stakeholders during the project – this requires empathy, experience and confidence. In consultation with Felix we have identified the other skills he needs for his job:

  • Persuasiveness: From the beginning, a Product Owner must represent the vision of the project, communicate it to the participants and demonstrate commitment. In difficult situations, clear decisions and open communication are necessary within the team.
  • Setting priorities: The backlog must always be up to date and has to define the scope of the project. A Product Owner must therefore be able to record all requirements and set priorities in conjunction with stakeholders.
  • Support of specialists: Even when the Product Owner is the contact person for the project, they cannot do the job alone. They need to know which tasks can best be assigned to whom and where to find the appropriate support from experts.
  • Conflict management: Disagreements occur in the implementation of every project, especially if a project is being implemented within two different organisations with different cultures and processes. In this case the Product Owner needs to know how to mediate between the parties and resolve conflicts.
  • Knowledge of market and customers: Depending on the project, a Product Owner needs to know the challenges the customer faces in the market. A Product Owner is also responsible for checking the requirements of the target group for technical feasibility in accordance with these challenges, and for integrating them into the project.
  • Technical understanding: For all projects in the digital domain, experience with the relevant technologies should already exist. A Product Owner needs this knowledge in order to be able to assess possible effects on the schedule and to maintain communication with customers and end users.
  • Project planning and control: In order to achieve a balance between budget, scope and time, the Product Owner needs an understanding of the relevant performance indicators. Ideally these figures can be used for control to ensure a transparent presentation of the project.

At first glance, that is a lot of requirements. But the good news is that there is no reason to worry about not being up to the job. No-one is expected to be able to control everything immediately. Proficient work and the necessary overview come with time. Our agency also attaches great importance to everyone sharing ideas and receiving technical support. For this purpose, we have founded a company-wide domain. Product Owners who are involved in internal projects throughout the year meet here to discuss processes and tools, to optimise them and develop new ones. Everyone has the opportunity to get involved, to initiate change, to help others and/or to learn from them.

Author Felix Fischer-Helwig

Product Owner

At Felix discovered his passion for managing digital projects. Since then he supports our teams as organizer and first point of contact for our clients in the role of a product owner. It’s rumored that some of his colleagues are very envious on his magnificient hair. No one has ever seen a hair slipping out of his very well made plait. 😦

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