Key responsibilities every Product Owner should take

8 December 2021

Maksim Atiutskii

Business Development Manager

More and more startup founders choose Agile as an approach to project management. The principle of flexibility implies constant communication with the product owner. Coordination and discussion take place not once before the start of the project, but continuously, on a sprint base. As a result, the Product Owner (client, for early-stage startups) becomes a full-fledged member of the SCRUM team.

For the development process not to be chaotic, the Product Owner (hereinafter PO) must take a part in it. PO determines how the product will look today, tomorrow, in a month, or in a year.

Who acts as a Product Owner?

It can be either the client himself or a hired specialist. The problem is that the one who pays for the product development has skin in the game. If you hire you should pay with trust

PO, in turn, should be aware of the worries and opinions of stakeholders. It is a kind of bridge between the board and the execution team.

The skills list of the PO should contain an understanding of the domain, the ability to lead marketing, product development, awareness of how to talk to customers, and much more. Now I will try to do my best to reveal at least the main responsibilities in detail.

Goals

It all starts with an idea. The founder must understand the purpose of the product, what kind of pain it solves. This becomes the basis of any decision you make. Therefore, the goal setting is up to the founder/PO as well. They need to understand the definition of the product's success, they need to set some metrics accordingly and follow them. Otherwise, the path to success will be endless and unrecognized.

Business model

Not many people do their job out of a sense of altruism. Even if you have a good budget for project development you can not fund it endlessly, so, the scalability gets hurt. That’s why the PO has to understand how the product will pay off. When you get revenue from the project it becomes easy to reinvest and scale the project rapidly. 

Defining the vision & business requirements

A competent PO is a guarantee that the team will implement what is expected of it. The Agile team does not interact with investors and users directly, they are engaged in the implementation, they bring ideas to life.

Therefore, the leading of the project road map is the responsibility of the PO. This document reveals how the project will look like at each of its stages. This is a short-term and long-term project plan.

But, it should be taken into account that the roadmap is not a panacea. It is not necessary to rely entirely on planning, especially when it comes to startups. People invented Agile to get away from evil, not to create a new one.

Therefore, PO has to be ready to change it, even completely. We live in a high-speed world, long-term planning does make sense, but it shouldn't take too much time at an early stage.

Backlog

Of course, the backlog is usually maintained by the whole team, but it's worth mentioning that epics and user stories are offered and created by PO. The owner decides whether the functionality will be implemented and when exactly. The team can only offer new ones, but the development must not take place without the awareness and approval of the PO.

Priorities

The resource allocated to the development is usually incredibly expensive. The PO should keep in mind that resources are constantly burning up. To achieve a release, we have to take this into account. Universal advice - start small and never develop less important functions before the most important.

This moment is always greatly underestimated. You can start your project developing with unnecessarily complicated registration functionality. Money burns, but you still have no value.

The flexible methodology assumes a useful increment in each sprint. The team can also increment without PO, but they are not responsible for the benefit of this increment for ultimate users. So, the product owner must be responsible and has exclusive power in making decisions regarding the scope of work (MVP for early-stage).

Value

This point follows from the previous one. The resource should be utilized profitably. To do this PO needs to validate the ideas, critically examine them, get an idea of what value they bring to the project. If there is none, skip it, if there are more useful ones focus on them.

Thus, to achieve the project's success, PO has to sync his vision with external circumstances. PO focuses on what the development team needs to accomplish for the next iteration.

There are many ways to measure, PO can bet either on theories and logic or on an empirical approach. This is their part of the bed, but it's better if you can prove your ideas, isn't it?

Identification of needs

To reduce the risks of useless expenses PO can focus on validating ideas before they are developed. To understand what is going to bring value and what isn't, the Owner has to do some research, competitor analysis, and customer development. No one behind him can make it better. Therefore, it's possible to delegate some minor tasks, but the overall process is better done by the owner. Of course, custdev is a pretty complicated thing, but it's a skill though. Mainly, PO should ask questions properly and should not try to find preferred answers. My colleague Alex (co-founder of Rocketech) has written a series of articles about proper customer development.

The Guide for Perfect Customer Development - How to Talk to Users

Budget

Basically, by the simple logic budgeting belongs to the Product Owner, since they are responsible for the scope. It's very important to inline the scope with money. For instance, if we assume that you have only 2 months and 20K dollars for realization, you should estimate the project and assess risks, and only after that make a data-driven decision what developers shall implement within the budget.

You can either increase it or reduce the scope if resources are limited to small. Be careful with the second way 'cause even if you estimated everything very carefully there are still some risks of exceeding the budget. A good PO should always take this into account, especially if they work with under-resourced startups.

An owner should be always aware of how much each functionality is going to take out of the pocket before taking them to work. PO always makes the final decision to fund this feature or not.

Therefore, an execution team and analysts, in particular, have to continuously estimate all tasks and improve the estimating process. Otherwise, PO will take an extra risk which might be skipped.

Prevent out-of-sync

In addition to developers, there are many others. Many positions are responsible for project success. We must not forget about marketing, customer support and other suits. The PO does not necessarily do it all on its own, but at least there should be no out-of-sync vision for different C-Suites.

They permanently provide feedback, look after adjoining parts of the business together and prevent misunderstandings.

Be in the boat

The Product Owner has to keep in mind that he is not just a client. He is, first of all, a teammate. In SCRUM, the team should respect and be respected. And the more PO communicates with the execution team, the more they understand PO's vision. It will most likely take longer for meetings, but it's much better than making costly changes in the future.

Agile is about proper communication, SCRUM is a framework for efficiency. So, it usually takes up to 50-60 percent of the budget but it's not a problem, it's just a smooth process of getting things defined.

In Rocketech, we collaborate with Product Owners from all over the world. Our main service is building full product dedicated teams according to certain business requirements. We have already helped to bring more than 150 ideas to life. This is how we do our job in ROCKETECH 

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