The Product Owner: Strategic asset or organizational trend?
In a context where competition is becoming fierce, companies are seeking to stand out by adopting an effective management style that focuses on people. Several of them are interested in Agility and Scrum which defines roles to increase the value chain. Among these roles is the Product Owner (PO).
Beyond its theoretical description in the Scrum Guide, the PO's posture has not always been unanimously accepted, even to the point of being considered a passing fad. This leads us to ask what means enable the Product Owner to be a strategic vector of continuous improvement?
Presentation of the Product Owner job
Firstly, it should be noted that in theory, the PO is a member of the SCRUM team. The PO is responsible for gathering all the customer's needs and converting them into what is called a team Backlog, so that the project team can implement them.
The art of the PO is to streamline the execution of program priorities while maintaining the conceptual and technical integrity of features or components for the team. The PO’s ultimate aim is to provide value, while supporting the product over time.
The PO must always keep in mind the final value that the product provides to the users. This requires not only a broad perspective relation to the product, but also support from key stakeholders. Without this shared understanding, the role of PO can be confusing and confused with other related roles, such as that of Product Manager. The role of the latter is to analyze the market to draw a strategic roadmap around the product. The PO must rely on and be inspired by this strategy to bring together the worlds of business and technology around a vision of the product to increase the business value generated. Everything is done in an iterative and incremental approach that allows the PO to make adjustments if the need arises.
The two roles co-exist and are complementary as long as the perception of these roles does not inhibit the PO.
Barriers preventing the Product Owner from generating value
In some situations, the role of a PO is compromised:
- If the requirements are known in advance and unlikely to change, or if the tasks cannot be divided and scheduled to deliver increments quickly, the nature of the project does not require a PO. In this case, appointing a Product Owner is merely a trend.
- In some projects or organizational charts, the PO position is designed to play the role of a pass-through between the customer (Business) and the development team. This certainly hinders the PO’s role as a value chain optimizer.
- Confusion about the PO’s role: if the PO has no room to maneuver on the product, or if the PO is present simply to facilitate communication between the teams, the PO does not have a vision of the product that "belongs" to him or her. In this case, a RACI matrix is needed to identify expectations and to cross-reference them with the PO’s role, as defined in SCRUM. The team or organization will then be able to decide whether they are useful to the team.
- The lack of communication with the customer generates a lack of information, which will subsequently affect the team's work. This results in a gap between the product increment and the customer's expectations, and thus generates a loss of value, whereas a PO must bring value to the product and the company.
Product Owner's tools for adding value to the product
The PO must optimize the quality of deliverables, lead the team and satisfy the customer.
To achieve this, the PO’s environment must be part of an Agile approach that gives the PO the necessary room for maneuver which, with the right tools, will allow the PO to be at the heart of the company's strategic improvement.
To take on this role, the PO must have the correct posture. The PO must think product rather than production through a clearly defined vision and effective communication.
- The PO must have a good set of key indicators to measure the impact of certain decisions and the deviations from the Po’s product vision, and finally to make the necessary trade-offs.
- Technological and methodological intelligence is necessary to combat resistance to change within the organization.
- Choosing the right granularity to break down the requirement or the solution to increase the value of an increment.
- Provoking change, being a lever for continuous improvement: the PO's proactivity and ability to make proposals will deepen the stakeholders' confidence in the PO’s vision of the product.
- Sharing backlog content in a way that is transparent to the organization. This facilitates negotiations with other stakeholders, should the need arise.
The role of PO depends on the organizational and technical maturity of the team and the organization. This means the importance of factors such as project complexity and expertise in practical terms of Agile. This enables stakeholders to support the PO by providing the necessary room for maneuver to act on the product while carrying a strategic vision through which the company can respond to market requirements and customer expectations.