Congratulations, You’re a Product Owner Now.

If you are reading this, chances are you’ve been appointment Product Owner (PO) for one of the digital products that MAQE is involved with. Congratulations! Your new role is likely to be both challenging and rewarding. And so to help get you started, we thought we’d share with you our experience and expectations of the role.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that you are now part of a small yet diverse group of industry professionals. PO’s come in all shapes and sizes and no one person is better suited than the next. It all comes down to the product itself. Context is king. And as long as you know your business inside and out, chances are you’ll can make a great PO.

The Responsibilities

Domain expertise is a prerequisite. But to be truly effective, you need to couple this knowledge with a mix of skills that span business, technology, and design:

  • Business: POs are responsible for strategic planning. They decide what to do and when to do it. And importantly, they understand why it needs to be done. They’re business people. And they manage stakeholder expectations regarding scope, time, and budget.
  • Tech: POs are also responsible for implementation. They translate business objectives into user stories and other forms of Agile specifications. They work closely with their engineers. And they have a deep seated knowledge and respect of the Scrum process.
  • Design: Lastly, POs are end-user advocates. They explore user needs through interviews and workshops. They validate new ideas through usability and split tests. And they sift through analytics to find new and interesting ways to increase end-user engagement.

Needless to say, it’s almost impossible to find one person able to cover all of these areas and to do it well. And in our experience, POs typically fall somewhere along a continuum of doing-the-things-right on the one hand, and doing-the-right-things on the other. Knowing where you sit is important as it’ll help your team better understand what to expect from your leadership.

Doing the Things Right

Left-leaning POs are masters of the Agile process. They write users stories and acceptance criteria (ACs), they organize and prioritize the backlog, and they generally make sure stakeholder expectations are met. They also tend to be technical which means they like to be hands-on and to rub shoulders their engineering teams.

Doing the Right Things

Right-leaning POs leave the details to their teams, preferring instead to focus on strategic planning and research. They decide what goes into the product roadmap, and they stay in close and constant contact with their end-users. They tend to focus more on design then technology, and they never loose sight of business objectives.

Finding the Right Balance

Neither of these two extremes are necessarily better than the other. But they do need different kinds of support. And at MAQE, we tend to pair left-leaning POs with right-leaning product managers, and right-leaning POs with left-leaning technical managers. The aim being to create a well-rounded PO function able to do the right things and to do them well.

Deciding which way to lean is a decision partly informed by your background. But in our experience, time is often equally important. It’s not uncommon for POs to get handed their new responsibilities atop an existing workload. And if that’s you situation, please know we are willing and able to help. Together we’ll work to strike the right balance.

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