Some of you may know of the software Agile Product Owner role. Some of you may not have heard of this before. Or, you want to understand more about it. The Product Owner is a central figure in scrum agile product development.
Get to the next level as an Agile Product Owner!
But what are the top Product Owner skills for Agile software development? Let’s dig into what the Product Owner role is in Agile and talk about ways you can get to the next level as a PO.
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As an Agile Product Owner, you can help set the tone for Agile teams. So do it right! Promote solid Agile principles. Leverage the ideas below to help take your Agile Product Owner game to the next level. These are how you become a Product Owner that really helps the Agile development team.
These are not all of the responsibilities of the Product Owner role. These are some items that will help elevate yourself and your team. Ideas here are part of good continuous improvement, for individuals or the Agile project team.
Practice these concepts, and you will see good things in your Agile process. What does a Product Owner do, continue on to find out the practices driving their work. Without more, let’s dive into these tips for success!
Product Owner skills – translate the strategy and vision into work
The Product Owner must have some goals in mind that drive the content of the product backlog. In this role, you need to understand where the company wants to go, even if the company doesn’t. Then create a product roadmap that will align with that strategy.
This is not set in stone. Know where you want the product to go. Understand in the goals that will deliver business value. Then turn that into work for the team.
Product Owners help set the tone of the team
The team can then run with expanding the goals into more refined work. But the PO must have goals and turn that into backlog work to start. This is one of the most fundamental parts of Agile roles and responsibilities for the PO.
This role is responsible for creating the best product they can, and organizing work in the product backlog to that effect. The PO owns the product and must ensure that it meets user needs and works towards goals and strategy of the organization.
An often-made mistake is having work that ultimately doesn’t align with the larger strategy with the company. You will see work influenced by so many voices. It can be easy to let those voices dictate the work.
Don’t let that happen. Own the work for the team. A practitioner of this idea knows the competing priority of work and keeps work of high priority in front of the team.
Organize and provide an ordered backlog for the team
Product Owner skills need to include the ability to organize work. As the PO will have to organize work in a product backlog. Keep work in priority order for the iterations. At least the next upcoming work. This provides a priority-driven work backlog, that the team can use as they need work. The prioritization of work in a sequenced order gives the product team clear direction on next work. Allowing them to task switch as needed.
Product Owner skills must include analytical skills, as they are needed to identify product needs and to translate that into backlog work quickly. Organizing and managing the backlog, is a big part of the job.
As Product Owner, understand that not all work delivers value. Prioritizing most valuable work first is key. Some work is also too costly for the value delivered. Those are actually the easy questions to answer when having work ready in a backlog for systems development.
Other considerations are arranging work to help with the efficiency of completion of the work. This is how you split work. To both grow the product incrementally, and show delivery of value. Especially to show consistent delivery to your stakeholders. Provide an organized backlog, that delivers value to the organization when your sprints, iterations, and increments are completed.
Product Owner skills – make decisions to move the team forward
This is the day to day involvement with the team. Product Owners have to keep work in alignment with the vision of the product. You answer questions for the team. You negotiate with the team and with stakeholders on what will deliver value. In an Agile environment, Product Owners make trade-offs to get the high priority items delivered. In Agile team roles, the PO is the one that needs to make those calls on trade-offs. They can do so using information from any sources they need to. But they need to make the decisions.
Also, Agile Product Owners make the tough choices to cut or reduce scope, in order to deliver the important items. Getting work out of the way that is not prioritized high enough. Not just impediments from the team, but lesser value work that slows things down. Make decisions and be a facilitator to help keep work Lifecycle moving forward.
Be the last stopgap for work on the Agile team
This item feels more art than science. Product Owners need to sense and seek out the product issues that will slow the team down. Then make decisions to eliminate those issues. This is different from the above as it is pro-active and not reactive. Product Owners Keep a finger on the pulse of the team because the role is a decision-making role. The PO is accountable for their product and must constantly make decisions on the product work.
The Product Owner understands when things are slowed down by unnecessary features. Then, as a PO, you make simple changes to save time and effort. Getting work out of the way, before it is a problem so that other deliverables can be met. This is part of the top Agile PO skills that will help the team deliver work. All so you can get quality software to a ship-able state. Which will deliver business value.
Being the last stop gap requires the need to communicate. The PO role requires communication of backlog info and product goals. Which makes communication an absolute top skill for the product owner.
For Product Owner skills, communication is often overlooked. Yet the role is involved and works with so many areas of a business. The PO will need to communicate with all of them. Understanding the differences and nuances in changes to communication, to best reach the different groups. IE, do you present the same information in the same way to software engineers and business marketing professionals? Obviously not, and the PO often has to make the communication changes.
The best Product Owner skills include a shift to priority-based work organization
Use the priority of the work to determine what is worked. Not driven by timelines and due dates. Organize work by priority, in order to be more flexible and adapt to changing business needs. Work can still have dates it is needed by. That due date drives priority. If a high enough priority, the work can be started with enough time to complete it. Prioritization is based on whatever your organization values. But typically, the higher the value, the higher priority for software project work.
Having a sequenced priority for work makes it easier to organize work into sprints. Making this a very important aspect of the Product Owner role in Agile. For good iterative development and progress forward for the software products. Additionally, the PO must identify work that needs to be prioritized, and continually update the backlog to reflect this priority. Using value, importance, relation to other work, and relevance or part of company strategy to understand work priority.
This is different from the Waterfall model of sequencing work. Where all work, especially its pieces and phases, are lined up and managed. Think project manager and clear organization of resources and phases for the work. That is not the intent of the Product Owner. It’s more about adding to products based on priority and value. Creating a sequence of work for the team. The sequence here is a clear order of priority on the work items. Understanding and organizing work by priority is one of the top PO skills and responsibilities. Having clear priorities is critical to smooth work and software delivery.
Step back from solution creation – Product Owner skills
Promote the team creating their own solutions. As a Product Owner, provide the what and why, and avoid how. Provide the goals and needs, and allow the team to work them as they see best. Teams cannot self organize when solutions and direction are handed down. Get out of the way, and let the team do the best that they can do. Teams need to work together to create the best solution.
Part of Agile practices is the self-organization of the team around a goal. That can’t happen when the team is told what to do. Or how to do it. Not to mention you get inferior products from top driven direction. As opposed to team driven solutions. Cross functional teams collaborate to create the best solutions. Teamwork to arrive at ideas and solutions is always better than a single person deciding. So step back and allow the team to develop the software and further the product.
This is not to say that the PO needs to be removed from the work. That is not the case at all. They just should not be solely directing the solution process of the work. The PO needs to work as part of a team, being constantly in contact with that team, to create the best solutions. Close interaction and work with the team is critical to creating valuable products.
Product Owner Skills need to include eliciting real user feedback
All the research in the world cannot replace real user feedback. Get your software/product into the user’s hands. Get it in their hands early and often. Then take their feedback and use it to improve. The faster you can get good feedback, the better your product will be. Also, it will deliver value faster this way. Agile implementation for software requires feedback.
Unlike the Waterfall methodology. Agile works fast, to get feedback, adjust and ultimately improve. So you can meet the stakeholder and user needs, and deliver value. Efficient feedback loops with good information exchange to the team are a primary factor for the success of the software delivery. Make sure you have good feedback in your software development process.
Measuring results are needed in Product Owner skills
Measure the effectiveness of the product. Determine if goals have been met or not. Always adapting along the way based on the results of the work. If goals are met, you can move on to other work. Measuring results could save you effort and let you move on to other work. Don’t forget who will use and pay for the product. Agile engineering processes require measuring the value of work after completion, to determine if goals were met.
Simplify the features, to enable delivery
We all want more features. The more features the better, right? Well, often times a core set of things are useful and get used. Other things might live on the fringe and might not be as needed. Try to cut out all but the core features. Especially when trying to deliver the first features. They can always be added later. Simplicity in the work will enable you to deliver faster.
A feature driven mindset is one where you add to the features incrementally. Grow the product by adding piece by piece, until its ready. Do so by simplifying the work. The work is evolutionary, not a big bang process.
Product Owner skills are about enabling the team
All of the above items have one thing in common. There are all about streamlining and better organizing the work. To help enable the team. If nothing else, remember that. The fact that your skills need to be complimentary to the team and enable them to do the work.
Boil it down to some Product Owner skills
Top Product Owner skills:
- Software development process understanding
- Agile and Scrum methodology
- Product development lifecycle
- User story creation, refinement, and analysis
- Requirement analysis
- User feedback tools and processes
- Success metric tools and processes
- UX principles
- Product strategy
- Conflict resolution
Utilize the idea of focus to finish on the items above and the items you want to improve as a team on. You can’t do it all. You don’t know it all. Pick the next thing to work on and go do that thing. After it, get the next thing. It’s about being adaptive and allowing what works to work and what you want to improve to be tackled for change. This is just good practice in Agile product management.
To boost your software Product Owner skills, focus on these tips for success. You will grow your Agile leadership. Adopting Agile processes and ideas here will give you very positive gains. Emphasize and practice an Agile mindset, and don’t stop improving! You don’t know what you don’t know, but you do know what you want to know. Practice slow and steady growth, with incremental gains. I’ll leave it with this below quote. Remember it, and keep moving forward.
Keep at it, and soon your team will be a well oiled machine!
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Additional Product Owner skills and other content
And if brushing up on those Product Owner skills, don’t forget the Agile Manifesto itself. Read up and boost those PO skills. Link available here.