The Product Owner Role Explained in Less than 140 Characters

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Product Owners are captains of the team ship. They set the destination, chart the course, and manage the mates along the journey. #soundseasyright #ayeayecaptain

Now that you can tweet the PO job description, let’s dive deep on what the Product Owner role really means.  While the above is illuminating, it leaves open how the PO adds value to the organization, what the difference between a good PO and a great one is, and why companies without a PO should immediately consider retaining one.

Product Owners are NOT just captains of the dev team

This is more than just a clever play on “ship date.” Although, POs manage resources towards delivering on a specific date - the role of captain is more complex than an engineering manager. The PO is the strategic link between the market, what a company should do and what they are doing. Suppose that an MVP in development suddenly becomes obsolete because a competitor just released a free version. Should the company continue to develop? Maybe. Just like a captain making the call to find an accessible, safe port or weather the storm, the PO must weigh the options and decide.  Knowing the market for “ports of call” is everything, not just managing the ship’s mates.

Set the Destination

What should the overall team be working towards? How does the go-to-market align with the company’s revenue, retention and new bookings goals? As a practical extension on the product team, the product owner takes the overall vision and translates it into monetizable, user stories, and user experience excellence. This means that when the founders want to build an app to make taxis obsolete, the PO knows that Uber won’t deliver on that promise unless it can geolocate riders and drivers, while being able to sort for relative distance, rider needs, and estimated time to pick up.  Oh, by the way, the solution to those problems will need to run at scale, in under 10 seconds or UX will drive potential customers to the competitor.  Not only does the Product Owner define the destination, but they define what it means to achieve that goal and how that translates into a business result.  It’s not just about engineering.

Chart the Course

Sometimes, Product Owners are described as backlog owners or roadmap owners.  If you’re not intimately familiar with these terms, the definition of the PO role as Backlog Owner may not do much to enhance your understanding.  In truth, the backlog is a fairly nebulous concept and owning it means everything from defining the size of the list items, qualifying in scope / out of scope, and organizing the order and roll up.  This is a feature of the Product Owner role, not the purpose.

To have a Product Owner chart the course of product success, means that the backlog will have standards of quality, resonance and monetary gains that enable organizational velocity: Priority, Scope, Requirements, Bookings.

Even the most basic apps like Candy Crush or Flashlight, involve a complex map from input, through algorithm, to output to ensure that when users open these apps they get what they expect.  More importantly, when companies sell apps like these - or monetize by other means - they set expectations with users that match users’ practical needs. The unsung hero of consistent delivery against user expectations is the Product Owner.

Manage Along the Journey

Of course, priorities change.  As we mentioned above, a competitor may release a new solution or market needs may shift abruptly- before your team has a chance to deliver. That’s OK. In fact, Agile development methodology was designed with changing needs and dynamic markets in mind.  Product Owners are the fulcrum between possibility and actuality.  Your team, and most dev teams, would love the chance to build the next Uber - or the next Zendesk - but resource constraints will always hold you back.  Managing along the journey means making enough progress against the vision to keep the company competitive and profitable from here to there. Don’t think it matters? Ask AOL. Ask Kodak. Ask Myspace.

Strategic Value of a Product Owner

As always, don’t forget to ask for help.  C2B Suite has been in the product owner business for 10 years, with hundreds of successful product owner engagements on our record.  If you’ve got a question, it never hurts to ask.


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