So you want to be a Product Owner? These are the four main responsibilities of the role, along with some frequently asked questions about product ownership.
Although in some cases it is best to leave people to do their jobs on their own, direction and leadership are needed to work towards common goals.
Self-organization doesn’t go that far in a group, and when you’re dealing with the development of a product or service, it’s crucial that you protect your vision of the end result with someone whose job it is to adhere to this view.
This is exactly why your next product in development needs a Product Owner.
Overview: What is a Product Owner?
The product owner is the ambassador between the customer/stakeholder and the product development team. They oversee the product backlog, help shape the product vision, and provide feedback to the customer on product development progress.
This is a commonly used concept in agile project management, which is why this role is sometimes referred to as scrum product owner (scrum being a major concept under the agile umbrella).
This role is different from that of a product manager, whose job is to work closely with the development team to ensure the team is clear on their responsibilities, prioritize work as they go its execution and provide real-time feedback on development progress. to the product owner.
If you want to learn more about product management, be sure to read our Small Business Guide to Product Management.
The 4 main responsibilities of a Product Owner
Now that you have a general idea of what a Product Owner is, here is an overview of their four main responsibilities.
1. Manage the development backlog
Managing the development backlog is one of the most important responsibilities of a product owner. For those of you who don’t know, the Product Owner’s backlog is the list of tasks to be completed by the development team.
The Product Owner creates backlog items, oversees their completion, and adjusts the scope of the backlog as needed.
This means the Product Owner must maintain strong communication with their team to anticipate team needs, including extra time to complete backlog items, change the order of those tasks, and assign different teammates to these tasks.
Once the tasks are complete, the Product Owner will review the quality of the submitted work and mark them as complete.
Here are some of my favorite project management software options for managing a product owner backlog:
2. Assess Product Development Progress
While the product manager is more likely to get into the weeds and help move the product lifecycle forward, the product owner remains a higher-level evaluator.
Their job is to inspect development reports as well as gather feedback from the team and manager to provide insight into the direction of the product.
If the product owner feels the development process is going off track, then the product manager should step in to determine the cause of the problem and get the team back on track.
This also means that the product owner is responsible for reporting updates on development progress to stakeholders. They can gather feedback from stakeholders on issues that are hampering the process, while managing expectations around timing and the end product.
If you’re looking for the best project management tools to track and report project data, here are some of my favorite recommendations:
3. Shaping the product vision
As shown in the overview, the product owner is the middleman between the customer and the product development team. In this aspect of the role, the Product Owner is responsible for shaping and communicating the product vision to the development team.
They will help shape this vision based on the client’s needs and keep the development team on track so that the final product meets those needs.
The Product Owner also manages customer expectations by communicating development progress, alerting the customer to any roadblocks that arise, and notifying them of any interesting product development that may affect the product launch.
However, to ensure that the project does not deviate from the established vision, the product owner is also responsible for developing and managing the product roadmap.
4. Work with the product manager on the product roadmap
Developing the product roadmap is a shared responsibility between the product owner and the product manager. The product roadmap is an overview of the product development process ahead. A comprehensive roadmap includes everything you need to know about the product development process, such as:
- Development schedules
- Product Features
- Resource Lists
- Status markers
- Key indicators
Your product roadmap should be clear and easy to understand, since you or the product manager will use it to align your capabilities with the needs of the stakeholder. Like your backlog, the roadmap is not a static document and is designed to evolve with the needs of your customers, your team, and your product.
Can you climb Mount Everest? Technically, yes, but it’s incredibly difficult to do. It’s possible to work as both a product owner and a product manager, but the level of work, planning, and oversight that each role requires is often far too much for one person to handle.
Personally, I would recommend separating these two roles so that two people can manage them. The last thing you want to do is have your product development fail because of an overworked manager/owner.
After all, the idea behind an Agile Product Owner is the ability to move forward and lead product development in a fast and “agile” way. That’s hard to accomplish when your product owner is overworked.
Yes and no. Although the Product Owner should be familiar with the ins and outs of the product development process, their role remains a more abstract, high-level form of oversight.
The Product Manager is more responsible for taking action with the small details and operations, while the Product Owner will take care of the directional issues.
Product expertise, hands down. Since the product owner is the link between the development team and the stakeholders, it is essential that they understand the product at its core.
They are supposed to be the evangelist who understands the vision of the product in order to resell it to stakeholders once it is completed.
What if product ownership isn’t for you?
If you’ve decided that product ownership isn’t the right role for you, don’t worry. At The Ascent, we’ve got you covered with all aspects of project management from start to finish.
We have plenty of tutorials and beginner’s guides that will not only help you understand the project management industry, but also find your niche.
If you’re a newly minted product manager, we’ve also got plenty of helpful resources for you, from software reviews to new articles on the concept of project management.
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