In this episode of B60 TV B60 CEO, Chris Williams and Product Owner and Digital Transformation specialist, Alex Hansford talk about the importance of having a product owner.
What is a product owner/manager?
AH: A product owner often sits between the three pillars of a business:
- The business owner is responsible for the success of the business and it’s commercials.
- The role for the customer is usually taken by the visual or UX designer, ensuring its easy to use
- The tech lead or CTO often takes responsibility for the technical solution, making sure it’s fit for purpose and build quickly and scalably.
As companies grow, they increasingly need a member to help lead, coordinate and they are measured on the delivery and success of features and balance the competing needs of the three pillars.
Often this role is confused with a project manager, who can co-ordinate, but can’t make decisions and understand the trade-offs necessary to deliver quickly and effectively.
Project managers are focused on the delivery of software - product managers are more focused on the business outcomes and success of the product (for everyone’s benefit) - even if that means the solution to get there is different from the original intention.
Product managers also aren’t looking for complete consensus - their focus is on business metrics, which is why iterating often and proposing and managing tests is important.
How do companies identify the need for a product owner?
If companies are finding that development times are slowing - features are complex and deadlines are being missed, then a product manager could help. In larger organisations, you’ll often find them going by different names - delivery manager or development manager - but a product manager is often more focused on the delivery of value to the business, however that is implemented. They must have strategic element too, often reporting to business owners, rather than just IT.
What experience and skill sets should they look for?
In these instances, I’m talking about software development mainly - although some product owners end up managing a series of third-parties, particularly if development is outsourced to another company. This role becomes more liaison and acting as a business owner, with responsibility for sales - but I personally feel that a development focused product owner is most valuable.
They will need to understand all aspects of the development process, but also have an appreciation for UX (as they will often direct designers) and understand the importance behind delivering business value (both commercial and IP) too. They will understand the pitfalls of delivering software and will understand how to deal with them efficiently.
Strategic mindset is very important - knowing which features to develop in which order, identifying the greatest business benefit is a key part of the job.
They will be good people persons, as a lot of the role is liaising with colleagues in different teams and sometimes third-parties.
When do you need a product owner?
All sizes of company could probably do with one - but if you’re offering a long-lived product, ideally with incremental development to respond to customer and business need, a product owner can help with prioritisation of features, as well as the know-how to work with colleagues to get them done as quickly as possible.
Any more questions to add:
Should a product owner be involved at a strategy level at concept phase?
I believe that most business loose months if not years of traction in their early years due a lack of product owner being hired early in the product life cycle.
Absolutely! I’ve joined startups that have consisted mainly of founders, ops and developers - and found that many delivery choices made at the start can really impact development speed both at the start and in the future.
Ideally a product owner/manager should be relentless in their focus on delivering business value early and often, driven by user feedback and business metrics.
This means that you accept manual process over automating at the start, and automate as workload increases. Knowing when to automate and when to not is really key to avoid wasted effort - sometimes founders can get this wrong, as they don’t work within the team day-in and day-out.
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