The Amazingly Important Role of a Product Owner on Your Agile Team

Woman sitting in front of a computer monitor with a white board in the background.

Imagine a project without clear requirements or any prioritization of those requirements. Imagine starting a project for which there’s no clear vision of the final product and no one to make decisions.

Are your palms sweating? Does that give you anxiety? Did you read all of that in Mr. Movie Narrator’s voice? Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about one of, if not the most important, roles in agile development—that of the Product Owner.

What’s a Product Owner, anyway?

Hands down, the #1 question I get asked around the holidays is, “So what is it you do again?” or some permutation of the conversation with “the Bobs” from Office Space.

When I say, “Oh, I’m a Senior Account Manager / Product Owner,” I can see eyes glaze over. When you say Project Manager, Engineer, Designer, etc., people get it, but what is a Product Owner (PO)?

The PO is usually the project’s key stakeholder. It’s the PO’s responsibility to champion the vision for what the team (agency + client) are looking to create. We work closely with the main point of contact on the client’s side who, in a perfect world, is also a PO. We drive the project forward and answer important questions together, like, “What do we need to complete in the next sprint?” and, “Yes, that business requirement is a must!”

A Day in the Life of a Product Owner

Each day the PO proves their worth by streamlining approvals and decisions. Here’s a brief sampling of what a PO does in conjunction with the ScrumMaster/Project Manager to ensure success:

  • 8:30 - 9:00 am - Grooms and prioritizes the product backlog to prepare the team for smooth sailing.

  • 9:00 - 9:15 am - Listens to each team member with keen ears for progress and needs during daily scrum for Project Mobile App.

  • 9:15 - 9:30 am - Uses supersonic hearing during daily scrum for Project Web Services, ensuring all bits and pieces are covered.

  • 9:30 - 9:45 am - Connects with external stakeholder for Project Web Services to reach decisions on unresolved issues.

  • 9:45 - 10:15 am - Reads through multiple Slack messages from the team and whips out answers and requirements for Project Web Services with the agility of a mongoose.

  • 10:15 - 11:30 am - Reviews and approves/rejects project work with razor sharp eyes to make sure all “i”s are dotted and “t”s are crossed.

  • 11:30 am - 12:00 pm - A delicious lunch break, while grooming another backlog (the email inbox).

  • 12:00 - 12:25 pm - Gets ducks (quack) in a row for upcoming meetings.

  • 12:25 - 12:30 pm - With the speed of light, resolves a question brought up by a team member in the hallway on the way to the next meeting.

  • 12:30 - 2:30 pm - Brings wisdom of a sensei to Sprint Review and Retrospective for Project Mobile App.

  • 2:30 - 6:00 pm - Uses ninja-like skills to execute on Sprint Planning for Project Mobile App.

  • 6:15 pm - Drives home and reflects on a full day well done while pondering all the odds and ends for the next day to the soundtrack of Demi Lovato (shhh, it’s a guilty pleasure).

Jira computer software displaying a list of items in a backlog that need to be completed.Here is an example of a backlog in JIRA. I live and breathe this every day.

The Dangers of Being Sans Product Owner

Without a Product Owner, a committee forms the priorities. This can be harmful to the project’s success because the committee members have competing interests that, more often than not, contradict one another.

As a result, the project team spends valuable time chasing down answers or product requirements are prioritized by team members who don’t understand the logical order in which things need to be done (dependencies abound). The PO is a magical unicorn, blending business knowledge with technical understanding and user experience to make well-rounded product decisions.

A True Shepherd of Your Project

At the end of a project involving a PO, you should be able to look back and acknowledge that he or she was instrumental to its success. The PO should be the calm voice of reason amidst all the chaos, the knowledge bank for all project details, and an all-around awesome agile project advocate.

If you’re inspired by this role, and want to learn more about our agile development practices and services, feel free to give us a shout.