A Product Owner (PO) is a constitutive part of the Scrum Team. The Product Owner represents the Stakeholders and is accountable for maximizing the value of products created by the developers. In agile, maximizing the value means creating a valuable product for the Stakeholders and customers that ensure the return of the investment. In this respect, the decisions made by the Product Owner are crucial: poor backlog management can put at risk the whole project.
Next we describe five essential skills for high-performing Product Owners so as to better respond to the changing needs of customers, technology and market.
The decisions they make, even the small ones, might have a huge impact on the company’s future. An unwise decision could bring on further difficulties. It could delay the delivery, reduce the value of the product and trigger many other problems. Nevertheless, not making a decision is even worse than making a bad one. For this reason, to prevent financial losses to the company, it’s key to make decisions on time.
In order to prioritize, the Product Owner will focus on the most critical areas. They will have to refine their ideas and think strategically. In order to do so, the Product Owner will gather empirical data through the iterative process. Only with this information the Product Owner will know what needs to be developed now and what can wait. This is way, decision-making is one of the most important skills a Product Owner needs to master.
As the Product Owner is the “vision owner”, she/he is expected to support it and generate enthusiasm among the Scrum Team. In many cases, however creative their ideas might be, they fail to inspire conviction. A true leader has the power to build support and influence from both the Stakeholders and Developers.
In addition, a great Product Owner helps the developers by working collaboratively with them. She/He makes an effort to create and develop strategies to boost their morale and ultimately empower them to be more creative and innovative. For example, a Product Owner can give them problems to solve instead of requirements to implement. This way, developers will have some autonomy to present valuable solutions to customers.
According to the Scrum Guide, the Product Owner is one person, not a committee. Thus, the Product Owner is the only one accountable for the changes made in the product backlog. However, many scenarios can be presented everyday in which the Product Owner will have to negotiate the items that change the final product.
A Product Owner knows that it is practically impossible to create a valuable product and at the same time please everyone. Sometimes what Stakeholders want is not the best for the product. In this situation, the Product Owner will have to apply all of his skills in order to negotiate and discuss the features with the Stakeholders. The goal will be to achieve shared understanding of the product.
The Product Owner will make decisions on the product when doing the refinement with the Scrum Team. It is possible that the developers show resistance to the changes. In this case, the Product Owner will have to come up with alternatives so as to come to an agreement with them.
4. Communication skills
Communication skills are vital to rule out any misunderstanding likely to impede the progress of the project. The use of vague or ambiguous words can lead to multiple interpretations that confuse and affect team’s coordination and, eventually, decrease productivity. Therefore, it’s important to put ideas in order and keep messages to the point.
As it was mentioned above, communication skills are essential to a Product Owner. A good communication between the Product Owner and the cross-functional team not only will improve the dynamics of the team but also will increase productivity. In this regard, communication during the Sprint is key for a successful delivery.
5. Variety of expertise
An extensive and wide variety of expertise add value to the organization and make the difference in the project’s development.
One of the biggest responsibilities of a Product Owner is managing the backlog in order to create a valuable product. However, it’s not enough for the Product Owner to understand the customer’s needs; it’s also necessary to study the market and the competition. Knowledge on the market and the competition can be key to right decision making.
Last but not least, it’s vital for a Product Owner to possess knowledge about Scrum and its processes and metrics. Not to mention, a thorough understanding of their responsibilities is required to carry out their duties smoothly.
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