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5 vital traits of a great product owner (from the dev team perspective)

Jakub Stachowiak

Ask ten project managers what the ideal product owner looks like, and you’ll get ten different answers. This vital role in any software development project or team leasing job helps guide development and serves as the go-between among developers and project sponsors. This person needs to be available to the team, know the backlog very well, and has decision-making power. 

Below is a list of the most valuable features from the point of view of the development team. While working in a software house, you can meet many product owners from various organizations. We at Espeo usually work in agile, we often use scrum, but cooperation with the product owner looks different due to different rules in the organizations we work with.

 

5 Most important product owner traits

 

Extensive knowledge about the product and the product vision

Product owners should be people who answer the team’s questions during development. They’re also the people who know the vision and purpose and are able to present it to others. They’re a hub collecting requirements from stakeholders and manages requirements accordingly. Being able to distinguish must-haves from nice-to-haves is essential. For this, they should have a lot of domain knowledge in the field. 

 

I can’t imagine a product owner who doesn’t know what we’re doing. Of course, this does not mean that he must immediately know the answer to each question asked, but he will know where to go to receive this information. One of the worst things that can happen in a project is the team’s question: why are we doing this? This is one of the biggest reasons for falling motivation.

 

Availability to the team

A product owner should be available to the team on a daily basis. He cannot be the person who answers after two days. Usually, we work in two-week sprints. If he is a person who is difficult to contact, he will definitely have an impact on the result of the sprint, and may even lead to its failure and some stories/tasks will not be delivered. If a question arises from the developer and he doesn’t receive a response in time, he may either proceed with his own ideas, or wait for the answer — both situations are not ideal, and in the long run they will cause low team velocity/performance or will miss business assumptions.

 

Final decision making power

Remember that the product owner is always a final decision-maker! We have many stakeholders and project sponsors in the project —  they can all propose new tasks to the backlog. However, it’s always up to the product owner to decide what scope the team should address. For the development team, his words are more important than other stakeholders’ ideas. 

That implies that there should always be one product owner! There’s one product backlog, one review session after the sprint, and one person who’s responsible for it. I heard a sentence paraphrasing The Lord of the Rings: “One Product Owner to rule them all” —  it’s so true. 

 

Prioritizes the product backlog 

Prioritizing the product backlog is one of the key responsibilities of the product owner. Sometimes he has to make more ad-hoc decisions, for example when prioritizing print items. Members of the development team very often ask the question of which task is more important and need a specific answer.

 

Communicativeness 

There is a need for effective communication. And by being communicative I don’t mean that he’s talking all the time. So not only speaking but also listening, watching, and writing precise reports. Empathy with both the business and tech team is important because the product owner is a bridge between business and tech. 

Also, face-to-face contact happens when he or she has a conversation with a developer about the details of the user story. The communication aspect is also important during the sprint when providing early constructive feedback related to the work done. A good product owner always knows the current state of the implementation and isn’t waiting till the end of the sprint. 

 

And a few other appreciated by the team

  • Understands the domain
  • Knows business model and can sell it to the team
  • Understands tech issues — for sure it’s not a must, but in general, it helps when communicating with developers
  • Understands agile

 

Conclusion

Software development is a near-constant work in progress. There is always more to do and tinker with. But to set clear goals and set a team up for success is perhaps one of the most important things to do to ensure a good product comes out of it and on-budget. Appointing a product owner who can serve as the person between the development team and the client and who can help keep a team on track can mean the difference between a project that lags and one that succeeds.

Product owners are a vital part of any agile development project good communication, the power to make decisions, and prioritizing tasks are some essential traits every product owner needs.

 

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