Why You Need a Product Owner

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The product owner holds a unique position in any software project and they are key to bringing your project to success. The product owner represents the stakeholders and the company for which we build software. They make sure that the success criteria are communicated to us so we can make sure your project stays on track. It’s essential to have one in place for your custom software project.

Hi everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Bixly Tech Tuesday. My name is Alexandra, and today you’re going to be joined by Cris and Andrew as they talk about product ownership. This was a unique role that maybe can be missed sometimes on your team, and it’s really important that you have one. Let’s hear what they have to say.

Andrew, what is a product owner?

The product owner is the point person on the client’s team that’s really responsible for understanding the stakeholder needs. They’re the person that’s going to define what the success criteria looks like. They’re going to have an in-depth understanding of what their customers are needing and why we’re building the software solution in the first place. They’re going to handle all the internal communication and then they’re also going to work with the project manager at Bixly to help make sure that all of their requirements have been relayed over so that we know exactly what to bill for you.

Cris, can a project manager also be the product owner?

I would say that it’s possible for the project manager to be the product owner, but it’s not very likely that those two roles are going to overlap with each other. As you talked about, the product owner is in charge of stakeholder, understanding larger picture ideas of what’s going on. And as a project manager, their job is to be really in the trenches with the teams working daily. You can find someone that covers both of those, but I think of it as the jack of all trades, master of none. It’s very important that you have someone that’s focused on shareholders, overall vision of the company as a product owner and have a separate person that can handle those in the trenches daily decision type situations that would be a project manager, so possible, just not likely.

And the product owner would also be someone who would have daily communication with us too, or regular communication, at least depending on the project needs, but it’s not like a throw it over the fence, set it and forget it sort of situation with your project. We do need regular feedback in order to make sure that we’re incorporating your feedback and ultimately it’s meeting your requirements.

Sure. And it’s important that the relationship of the project manager and the product owner is very tight. Again, stakeholders are talking about larger level business decisions. Project managers are working with the teams to make those actual decisions a reality in the real world and on the application and regular communications going between us, the product owner and the project manager all the time.

Cris, why is having a product owner so essential?

Having a product owner is essential because again, you have that ability to focus on shareholder investment type decisions, larger, big picture stuff. You are able to really hone in on what the CEO is trying to make happen. And as the product owner, you get to do that, but know the day-to-day in and out working with the team, technical type questions, things of that nature, you don’t have to worry about those because you have a project manager handling them.

And when you don’t have a product owner, it often turns out that the project just starts to go off track a little bit. You have these daily development decisions that get made that are kind of in a box or really in an isolated type environment, feel right to the larger product, but because there’s not the product owner that’s much farther outside of that development box giving you the daily checks or the monthly checks or weekly or whatever it is saying, “No, that’s kind of a little bit off. That’s not actually what our client feedback is telling us. That’s not actually what the CEO is feeling the vision for this product should be. The CFO is feeling that we shouldn’t actually be spending money on this feature right now.” Without that product owner interjecting those sort of feedback type loop scenarios, again, you can get very almost black box and focused, so, so detailed on some stuff that just doesn’t matter to the product.

Something I’ve seen fall apart too when the client doesn’t have a clear product owner is we at Bixly don’t have a real clear picture of what success looks like, which is super important. The project can be on time, on budget, exactly meets your requirements, but if it’s not clear what problem this is ultimately solving and what success looks like to your users, us building it to your exact spec does not achieve success. And the product owner should be someone that really understands the stakeholder requirements. And again, what does success look like? What does winning look like?

The project manager is going to be the person that’s going to be identifying how we should build the thing. They’re the person on the Bixly side that’s going to work with the developers and actually deliver your vision. The product owner is the person on the client side that’s actually saying, “Why should we build this? What problem is it solving? And ultimately, how is it going to make you and your customer’s lives better?”

When we’re talking about product owners, is that something that should be handled by Bixly or does it make more sense for the product owner to be someone that’s actually within the company that we’re building the product for?

Right. Like you touched on, having the product owner be part of the client’s team, that is typically going to make the most sense. And that’s just because the client is going to be the one that understands their customers and understands their business. Bixly’s not going to have an in-depth knowledge of your business. That’s why we always encourage the clients to … We educate them on what a product owner is, and then help them appoint the best person to be the product owner.

That seems reasonable, because we may have developed apps within, say, the medical space or within banking or within some other vertical, but we don’t know exactly how the shareholders feel in that particular company or exactly what the CEO’s decision is tomorrow. But the product owner that is in those board meetings regularly at the company is probably going to have a much clearer vision for that than we’re ever going to be able to get from a remote kind of position.

What do you think are some examples of success criteria that a product owner might put forth?

I think success criteria of course is being able to explain what success means. Does success mean that this application is going to get out to market within a set amount of time, within six months this has to be out and that’s successful for us, regardless of whether it’s bug-free or not? We just need to make the splash in that particular vertical, so it’s got to be out there and that’s success.

And success could look like something like we want to increase sales by 20%. We want to reduce lead times by 3%, whatever that could be, but it’s really clear, quantifiable metrics that are going to make the best success criteria. That way it’s not finger to the wind as far as whether you won or not. It’s something very measurable that we can make sure we’ve achieved.

Yeah. And as a product owner, you can articulate that to me and then again, the project manager on our team or maybe internal to your team, but that project manager says, “Okay, I get the vision. Now I understand it. Here’s how we actually do that. This is how tangibly with code we’re going to increase your sales by 20%.”

And by understanding that success criteria, it also gives us the option to suggest things that you as the client maybe haven’t even thought of. We can bring to the table additional solutions and just bring our brain trust to help you guys think of things in new ways.

You don’t have to worry as the product owner, “How are we going to make this happen?” That’s what the project manager works with the team to figure out. And as the project manager, you don’t even necessarily always have to figure out exactly why this needs to be this way. You just know that this is a success point for the team and if we achieve these things, we’re successful in the project. And so it’s really neat because you can figure out these scenarios to fix problems and have actual success on a regular basis with your teams.

People talk a lot about CTOs. What is a CTO in your opinion, and how does that fit into Bixly? Because we do offer something called CTO consulting. What does that look like?

CTO stands for chief technical officer and the idea is that it’s a very technical consult to help advise on things like system design, scalability, really just understanding what your needs for the future are. It’s someone who’s going to really just get in the weeds with you and help make sure that your vision is technically possible.

Oftentimes, too, we bring in the CTO level consult at the beginning when we’re doing some early planning, but that’s also someone that could be involved intermittently as the project goes along. Ultimately for you as the client, it just means that you don’t have to have that in-depth technical knowledge. We can provide a CTO level console to help with that.

Sure. And on a fixed bid project or whether it’s something that’s staff augmentation, time and materials based, we can bring that CTO, as you mentioned, bring them in in various stages, whether that’s a new change order happens and so we to go at a higher level and scope things out again, it’s probably useful to bring the CTO in, or on those larger weekly, monthly milestones that we might be doing on a staff augmentation model, it’s also extremely useful to pull them in and have a big picture idea thinker for the technical side of stuff.

Something we do a lot at Bixly too is we’ll bring in experts intermittently as they’re needed. We get to a particular phase. Now you need a sysadmin to deal with your deployments to your servers or to help design a database, things like that. It’s not someone that’s going to be involved for the entire duration of the project, but we have a very strong team with lots of specialties and allows us to pull the right people for the right job as needed and the CTO level consult is just one of those examples.

Hi everyone. Thank you so much for joining us for this conversation around the role of what is a product owner and why you need one on your app. If you’re ready to get started on building your custom application, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. You can find us at Bixly.com and hit that free consultation button. That’s the best way to get started planning your new app idea. Until next time, this has been an episode of Bixly Tech Tuesday.

Originally published at https://blog.bixly.com on December 16, 2020.

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