A Product Owner has various responsibilities and the efficient application of this role across an organization or during a project tends to be a challenge. With this being said, there are several pitfalls that result from this. In addressing some of these pitfalls, best practices can be derived resulting in the highest quality product being delivered.
This article will convey common pitfalls of Product Owners, suggest best practices in avoiding these pitfalls and give examples of how these best practices can be applied.
“The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the development team” Ken Schwaber.
From this definition, several goals of the Product Owner can be derived:
- Lead product discovery
- Help identify and describe requirements
- Manage the product backlog
- Engage in product planning, visioning and product road mapping
- Reviews work results and decide on the content of a release
- Provide feedback to the team, manage customers, users and other stakeholders.
Figure 1. Product Owners role in a Scrum Project
Pitfall: Underpowered Product Owner
This occurs when the Product Owner does not have the full trust of the management team. Whenever a decision should be made the Product Owner must first seek permission from management and this results in delays and diminishes the team’s confidence in its Product Owner.
Best Practice- Product owners must be empowered. An empowered Product Owner must be free to make the necessary decisions which guide the lifespan of the project he/she is working on. The team takes direction from its Product Owner having full confidence and trust in the Product Owner’s ability.
Application- Product Owner and Management should set aside time to meet and discuss the scope of authority that the Product Owner is privy to. Management should instill a level of independence within the Product Owner giving them enough leeway to make important decisions. Management should also hire a Product Owner that possesses the right skills which should negate any reason for lack of trust.
Pitfall: Delivery of low quality products due to globalization
Globalization is an ever present phenomena occurring in all aspects of the world we live in. Its effects if not planned for properly can be detrimental to a project especially as it pertains to the agile world.
Best Practice- The most effective means of communication within members of a development team is face-to-face communication. On the other hand, as our world becomes more globalized it is best to utilize teams who are in similar time zones and speak your own language. Distance carries its own challenges without the need to add additional ones such as thirteen (13) hour time differences and speaking completely different languages. This will allow for greater communication, transparency and increase the quality of the delivered product.
Application- Daily stand ups become more crucial. Members of the development team need to adopt a “wide open door” policy, where offshore members of the team have access to resources and are free to ask questions. Utilize tools such as Slack and Asana which are tools I have used on past projects. Over communication in this scenario is necessary as there is a greater need for trust to be built among members of the team.
Pitfall: “I don’t need to have both Business Analysis and Technical Skills”…
There are Product Owners who can relate well to clients but have no basic understanding or appreciation for what their development team does or how they do it. They may tend to find it hard to successfully do their job without many challenges. The flip side is also true, where a technical Product Owner may not be able to communicate well with clients and does not possess the pertinent business skills to handle a project.
Best Practice- A Product Owner needs business analysis skills and technical understanding.
The skill of negotiating is a prime asset for a Product Owner to have as they often have to prioritize requirements, manage conflicts arising within the development team and collaborate with developers and stakeholders. They ensure that the team is able to work at a sustainable pace while still being able to meet deadlines. On other hand, having technical skills will allow the Product Owner to have deeper insights into the technical aspects of the project thus being able to make better informed decisions. This will aid in the highest quality product being delivered to the client.
Application- Everyone has an area of weakness but a Product Owner should set aside time to fill any knowledge gaps present. This could take the form of attending some extra classes, reading books related to the area or sitting down with a fellow colleague for some one-on-one time.
Pitfall: Limited scope of the product that is to be delivered
If the Product Owner is expected to lead the development effort then they must become domain experts. If a Product Owner does not fully understand the client’s needs or can not envision the end product then they will not be able to convey any meaningful directives to the development team. Without the blueprint for what is to be built, it is likely that the end product will not be of the highest quality.
Best Practice-Product Owners must have a clear vision of what is to be built.
The Product Owner uses the product backlog to keep the development team abreast of all the activities in the project that are outstanding. Activities should be placed in a particular order to convey higher priority vs lower priority tasks. It is because of this that the Product Owner must act as a proxy stakeholder where he/she understands the needs of the stakeholders, manages sprints, makes necessary adjustments to the backlog based on changing requirements and timelines.
Application- A Product Owner must be in constant communication with clients to ensure that requirements are properly documented and understood. They must be able to create meaningful user stories of the right size that can guide the team as sprints progress. The Product Owner should be the first to recognize when members of the team have diverted from the plan because they have the end goal in mind at all times.
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