Why Invest in a Dedicated Product Owner?

By: Agile Velocity | May 29, 2015 |  Article,  Product Owner

In Agile methodology, the role of the Product Owner is critical to the overall effectiveness and success of the development team. When a company is looking to increase the time to market and productivity, a dedicated product owner is one solution.

Using the analogy of a sailing ship, the Product Owner is the Navigator – the one who sets the direction and ensures that the team is on course at all times; the Agile Development team is the Crew that sets the sails for best impact on the speed; the ScrumMaster is the Captain to ensure that everything is running smoothly. If the Product Owner is not effective, there will be many changes to the direction, wasted energy by the crew, and many risks will be found along the way, thus delaying the journey and increasing the cost.

Product Owner Responsibilities

  • Providing the vision to the development team for the product
  • Actively engaging with stakeholders to understand business value, market, competition, and future trends
  • Owning the product backlog (prioritized feature list) and the product direction
  • Working with development team to provide goals
  • Communicating to internal and external stakeholders on status, direction, and plans
  • Explaining details for required features to the development team
  • Overall, providing direction to the development team for a high probability of success

Key Contributions of a Product Owner

Product Owner Responsibilities

The four key elements for the Product Owner to contribute are Vision, Features, Prioritization, and Communication – resulting in a Direction composite. As the skill level of the Product Owner decreases, the Direction to the development team drops dramatically as risk increases. Likewise, if a Product Owner is overloaded by too many projects or does not have the proper skillset, then their effectiveness will drop accordingly resulting in a poor Direction factor.

Some organizations try to save on the cost of Product Owners by not hiring them – not advisable! Or maybe they do hire Product Owners, but don’t have enough of them to support all of their development teams. In some cases, when the Product Owner is spread across several teams and not readily available, a Technical Lead or another member of the team may fill in for the role.

There are 3 key impacts from this kind of arrangement:

  1. The effective team size drops due to the Product Owner being spread across multiple projects.
  2. The team’s velocity is impacted since the Technical Lead (or another team member) has less time to work directly with the team to ensure that it is most effectively working on the development of new features, refactoring, and addressing technical debt.
  3. The product’s direction is impacted because when the Product Owner has less time to focus on the vision, features, prioritization, and communication, those elements are determined by someone who may not have the appropriate skill set or knowledge to do so.

The role of the Product Owner is critical to the success of an Agile Scrum team and there is huge leverage in having the right person with the right skills for each Scrum team. Short-changing this one role by not filling it with a person that has proper experience or by overloading the person is not recommended as it will have a dramatic impact on the delivery of business value. If you or someone in your organization needs to build up their Product Owner skill set, check out our Certified Scrum Product Owner training.

We’re interested in helping your team adapt and improve. Contact us today and talk to a Player-Coach about what kind of improvements you want to make!

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