Why Do You Need a Product Owner? 5 Ways to Improve Your Software Development Project

10 min read

Business, Agile, QA
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Team composition is one of the key aspects you need to consider when launching a software development project.

The value of some roles is clear from the get-go. For example, developers and testers write and test the code, respectively. However, roles such as Product Owner or Scrum Master are a little less straightforward.

So why do you need a Product Owner?

That’s the question we’ll be answering in this article, from both your perspective and the perspective of your development team, highlighting the potential benefits.

Essentially, the Product Owner can improve your software development project in 5 ways:

  1. Facilitating communication between the stakeholders

  2. Boosting product creation

  3. Visualizing product complexity

  4. Supporting long- and short-term planning

  5. Using a well-defined backlog to increase development efficiency

The idea for this post resulted from the many observations I’ve made supporting various international clients, stakeholders, and teams in recent years.

I will focus on several aspects I find crucial for the success of either the product or the project (the “project” being the amount of time spent working on the product).

Here’s the most important thing from a business standpoint: having a Product Owner on your team helps spend your money better.

Why? Because the basic business functions the PO serves on your team include:

  1. prioritizing and keeping the focus of all team members where it belongs;

  2. suggesting product functionalities with the right ROI in mind;

  3. enhancing the process for quick market or user product validation.

Now that we know where we stand, let’s take a more in-depth look at the 5 ways having a Product Owner on your software development team improves your project.

1. The Product Owner facilitates communication between you and your team

The Product Owner’s chief responsibility is making sure all the stakeholders communicate with each other smoothly.

They act as a bridge that links the world of development with the world of the stakeholders. They provide both sides with necessary knowledge; either for you to make executive decisions, or for the team to understand and develop the product.

Proxy Product Owners work directly with the team on a daily basis. They are always available to you and your team and support you right away in answering any questions about the product.

My advice is to choose a Proxy PO, even if you already have a Product Owner at your company.

Your PO surely has the product knowledge, but operates in a limited capacity due to the distance between them and the teams they work with. Narrowing that distance by taking on a Proxy PO increases team motivation, especially in situations involving cultural or linguistic differences.

The benefits of having a Product Owner facilitate communication between all the stakeholders

  • Indirect benefits for you
    • Better communication
    • Higher efficiency
    • Making the right decisions
  • Direct benefits for your team
    • Increased motivation
    • Greater understanding of the work ahead

2. The Product Owner boosts the product creation process with brand new ideas

Looking at the product with a fresh pair of eyes, Product Owners can identify key areas of improvement in the processes of product idea creation or product review. They work closely with you to help determine the product creation process and offer suggestions for making good product decisions. This benefits you, and by extension your team, by achieving consistent product vision.

The Product Owner uses a variety of techniques to support you in discovering new product areas or functionalities, such as:

  • product vision,
  • data analysis,
  • target personas,
  • user journeys,
  • competitor analysis,
  • story mapping,
  • business model canvases.

When development gets hectic, it’s easy to get pulled in too many directions at once. In the process, you may lose sight of the most important thing: the end-user perspective. The PO is there to help you and your team get back on track and stay focused.

Above all else, though, the Product Owner makes sure your team understands the product well.

This means 2 things. First, explaining the business context and business needs to the team so that the implemented solutions meet the business acceptance criteria. Second, breaking down the work to a level clear enough for the team to apply the best-suited solutions.

Knowledge and understanding are crucial. The more your development team knows about the product they’re building, the higher the flexibility of the solutions they develop and the degree to which they meet all your requirements.

As an added bonus, POs help you collect and structure all the information you may already have in place, but unfocused and scattered—or possibly distributed over a number of teams.

The benefits of having a Product Owner inject fresh ideas into the process of creating your product

  • Direct benefits for you
    • Fresh product ideas or structure
    • Improved product approach
  • Direct benefits for your team
    • Having a clear vision of the project goals
    • Increased focus and morale

3. The Product Owner visualizes product complexity

In order to help the team properly understand the scope of the product development and work more efficiently with you, the Product Owner uses various techniques, such as story mapping, story splitting, and defining the acceptance criteria at the task level.

Having a solid grasp on product development scope and splitting that scope helps you in a number of ways, depending on the level of the split (high-level or detailed):

  • Roadmap planning
  • Release planning
  • Sprint planning
  • Understanding complexities and dependencies
  • Risk awareness in case of delivery delays

The greatest benefit of detailed task splitting is having control over the development process and avoiding unexpected problems. You should avoid being taken by surprise no matter what, since it’s bound to cost you time and money.

On the other hand, high-level task splitting allows for reliable and predictable planning as far as product releases or budget allocation are concerned. You stand to gain a great deal from both practices.

The benefits of having a Product Owner visualize the complexity of your product

  • Indirect benefits for you
    • High value for money
    • Complexity awareness
  • Direct benefits for your team
    • Eliminating confusion during development
    • Full focus on the “how,” instead of the “what”

4. The Product Owner supports you in prioritization and long- and short-term planning to save you money

The Product Owner ensures your money is being spent well and offers their input in savings decisions. In order to do that, keeping focus on what matters the most is pivotal in the role, which translates directly into long- and short-term planning.

Long-term planning

The PO can suggest various prioritization techniques to help you find the right balance between business value and implementation costs. Along with the development team, POs also provide ongoing estimates.

These can be used in roadmapping to visualize the high-level, big-picture timeline. An equally important function of these estimates is to help you make the smartest decisions where to allocate your resources first in order to best fit the Agile Release Train and deliver the most relevant product areas on schedule.

Short-term planning

During each sprint cycle, the PO focuses on short-term sprint planning (just for the next sprint or two). This essentially means detailing the business and technical requirements, as well as figuring out the user experience solutions for refinement meetings with you, your representatives or partners, or the development team.

The prime objective of sprint planning is for the Product Owner to establish spring objectives for the upcoming development cycle. This is done to help the team focus on the right work scope and decide on the sprint goals.

Additionally, POs aid development teams with prioritizing their work during a given sprint cycle, particularly when trade-offs are essential for planning what will and won’t get done in that sprint. Well-defined sprints give a credibility boost to velocity—the most commonly used planning metric.

The Product Owner also clarifies the business requirements and specifies the business aspect so that your team knows not only the scope of the work, but also the value of the work from a business standpoint. Thanks to frequent discussions and constant back-and-forth, the PO and your team together work out solutions that meet your business needs best.

Finally, short-term planning benefits you by providing a solid understanding of the requirements and preventing the implementation of the wrong features or functionalities.

The benefits of having a Product Owner support you in prioritization and long- and short-term planning

  • Direct benefits for you
    • Transparent requirements
    • Easier decision-making
    • Knowledge of the timeline
    • Reliable process and clear planning metrics
    • Avoiding misunderstandings
    • Not wasting time on developing the wrong features or functionalities
  • Indirect benefits for your team
    • Solid work organization
    • Dedication to key goals and priorities
    • Morale and motivation boost
    • Knowledge of the work scope and task relations
    • Limiting disruptions in the workflow

5. The Product Owner uses a well-defined backlog to increase the efficiency of your development process

There are many aspects of the Product Owner’s day-to-day responsibilities that impact the overall process efficiency. Chief among those is a clear, organized, and prioritized backlog.

This backlog is a long- and short-term planning tool, presenting the split scope on a whole different level of detail. It gives you and your team a precise and transparent idea of the work still to be done in the coming weeks, and a big-picture look into all the work that needs to be done in general.

Also, a properly arranged backlog makes it easier for the team to figure out the next steps and possible relations between the tasks. It offers an accurate implementation schedule and serves as a point of reference for you to easily grasp the project scope and acceptance criteria of the work.

As a result of the long- and short-term planning and refinements, the backlog becomes a series of subdivided stories, ready to be tackled in the development process. It facilitates and improves the process for you and your team.

The benefits of having a Product Owner increase your development process efficiency

  • Direct benefits for you
    • Working Agile
    • More accurate outcomes
    • Reducing risks and limiting risk factors
  • Indirect benefits for your team
    • High efficiency facilitates a smooth development process
    • Favorable working conditions increase motivation

Final thoughts

All of the above sounds great, but theory is one thing and practice is another.

So why not put a name to a face (or, you know, a Product Owner to a project) and read a whole case study just about that?

STX Next recently built a Progressive Web App for one of our clients, and I was the Product Owner on that project. It had been an absolute highlight of my professional career, so I decided to write a case study describing at length my Product Owner experience throughout the delivery of the project.

I encourage you to read the case study and see for yourself how strongly the role of the Product Owner informed the success of that cooperation.

Oh, and did I mention that the PWA was for a website collecting early Buddhist texts and their translations? Yeah! So I’d say that alone should make the read worth your while.


Meanwhile, thank you for reading my article on why you need a Product Owner on your software development team and how your project will benefit from it.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below—we’ll surely get back to you!

And if you wish to learn more about the role of the Product Owner, specifically their tasks and responsibilities, we have another article that will certainly interest you.

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Author

Małgorzata Maksimczyk

Product Owner

Author

Adam Stempniak

Content Writer

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