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What is a Product Owner and What Makes Them Successful?

Successful software products rely on a diverse range of people from different backgrounds with unique skills, making software outsourcing a key driver of innovation.

Designers, developers, quality control teams, product specialists, and client partners all need to work together seamlessly to reach the same goal, which is where a product owner (PO) comes in.

In the past, those working in product roles were often seen as a bridge between the client and the software development team, responsible for passing requirements from the customer to the team. While that is somewhat true today, the role is far more robust and important to the success of the project.

In this post, we'll explore some of the main responsibilities of a product owner and the key skills they need to be successful in their role. 

Breaking Down the PO Role

While each product is the responsibility of the whole team, the PO is like the guardian angel of the project, involved from the beginning to the end of the entire software development lifecycle. In a nutshell, POs ensure that everything goes smoothly through product launch and beyond ensuring a constant process that continuously adds value for both clients and users.

At the highest level, POs need to constantly review the available time, scope, and capacity of the development team, enabling them to outline the overall project strategy with the client. By expertly balancing team capabilities with client goals, the PO helps to build products that meet everybody's objectives. However, this is far from just the responsibility of the PO. The PO also has to be in contact with the team, taking into consideration concerns, comments, etc...

Clients always have their own vision and mission for each product, so ensuring that vision is within the development team's potential comes first. POs then need to plan for every scenario using their understanding of the dependencies and restrictions behind the product. It's all about discovering what the client's most important challenges and problems are before finding a way to collaborate and solve them.

In a trusting business relationship, the iterative process is essential, not only for the product but also the processes that need to be established. POs should provide constant feedback, highlighting great work and honestly identifying areas for improvement. Essentially, the PO is responsible for building a trust-based relationship where mistakes are viewed as opportunities and where both the client and the team feel confident and free to share their honest thoughts Collaborative efforts such as this help both the client and the development team go above and beyond what was originally planned, creating a much more impactful product for the company.

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Essential PO Skills 

In the software development outsourcing world, clients regularly want the app equivalent of a Ferrari, so the PO often has to convince them to start with a bicycle before jumping into a flashy sports car. The ability to negotiate with the client, as well as the development team, the design team, and other project stakeholders, is an essential PO trait.

When a client asks for a specific feature or shares an idea, the answer is almost always "yes, it's possible", but it must be planned for accordingly, which means having a clear understanding of the team's limitations and capabilities, as well as the product itself. More functionality usually means more challenges, so POs also need a figurative crystal ball to help clients see their potential future and plan for it.

On top of negotiation skills and soothsaying abilities, one of the most important PO abilities is empathy, which, in the context of software development and software outsourcing, means listening to everyone's needs and attempting to understand the reasoning behind them. Also, when dealing with clients from a different country or location, PO's need to make sure they pay attention to cultural nuances and contexts through effective intercultural communications

A creative mind and problem-solving abilities are valuable, as POs will often need to find ways to keep everyone happy in a dynamic environment. Communication is also key to building a highly trusting relationship. Clients must feel confident to tell the PO everything about their goals, ideas, and areas where they need assistance. The development team must also be able to trust in a POs knowledge of the client's needs and bring forward their concerns, ideas, etc.. Involving everyone from stakeholders to developers and designers allows the PO to help guide the team towards a solution that satisfies everyone, rather than the solution just coming from one person or part of the team.

Technical knowledge is valuable, but not essential. It's important to understand what is going on behind the scenes, so learning about the development side will help anyone to see the bigger picture. Still, it's good to let the experts handle their area of expertise and not encroach on their work by second-guessing their choices. In other words, don't get too involved in other teams' areas, but recommendations are usually always welcome.

Value-Driven Approach to Product Ownership 

A successful product owner will ensure clients reach their goals and gain value from their products, utilizing their deep understanding of the development team's restrictions and capabilities. A successful product owner includes everyone from users and stakeholders to developers and designers from the very beginning, aligning everyone in the achievement of a shared goal.

POs bring immense value in their ability to balance the needs of the present and the future, ensuring that features, changes, and functionalities are prioritized by importance. When development teams take an iterative approach to these priorities, POs can start delivering iterations to the client, getting feedback, and steering the team even closer to the overarching objectives of the project.

With a great PO who can positively impact projects in this way, software development companies and their clients really tap into the full potential of their multidisciplinary, multi-skilled teams, building stronger business partnerships and long-lasting value from their products. 

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Thursday, 22 October 2020

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