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product owner

The role of a product owner in agile development

Agile Development
1. Agile development for custom web and mobile applications
2. Why agile development makes sense for your business
3. Why scoping is pointless for agile development projects
4. What does an agile development project look like?
5. The role of a product owner in agile development

Over the agile development series, I have covered a lot of the benefits and processes that make agile development a great way for you to build your web and/or mobile application. In this post, I’d like to cover a very important role when it comes to any sort of agile or lean methodology – the product owner.

Now, before I go over the specifics, a product owner may not always be the owner of a company, a shareholder or the entrepreneur that came up with an idea. It’s a human that is given the responsibility of making the product a success – this is very important and I’ll cover that at a later stage.

A product owner is vital to the success of a project and plays an important role in making decisions on the priority of user stories in the backlog. When you’re working on a project that has multiple stakeholders such as clients, managers, administrators and business owners, this role becomes even more important. Let’s take a look at some key responsibilities of a product owner.

Key responsibilities of a product owner

Making important project decisions

The direction the project takes is the main priority of the product owners (or product managers). The role requires looking at what opportunities lie in data to make scientific decisions in moving a project to a place where it’s solving problems that the users didn’t even know needed to be solved.

A product owner can’t make emotional decisions (“my mother doesn’t like that feature” isn’t a good reason to change a product) and shouldn’t allow for external parties to demand a feature without it aligning with what the current vision for the product is and, more importantly, what data is saying would not be worthwhile.

Keeping the development backlog full and up to date

Most developers are naturally task-driven. We have the uncanny ability to put headphones on, get stuck in and get through tasks at a rapid rate. This is why the product owner needs to make sure that there is a constant flow of tasks going into the backlog and that they are maintained in an order of current priority.

It’s important to note, however, that priorities of user stories shouldn’t be changed without checking in with the project manager. It’s less important on items that haven’t been assigned a unit of measure (hours, effort, points), but very important on items that have already had a bit of time invested into how long they will take. So moving items around might affect other user stories, which assumed that user stories above would be completed first.

Communicate effectively with stakeholders

This is key for complete project sanity and this is especially true for stakeholders that have a vested interest in a project. There is often a lot of communication between a product owner and project manager (Kanban Sensei at Flicker Leap) and this doesn’t always trickle out to various stakeholders.

Things like stats, project updates and communication on new features being worked on and dealing with expectations over timelines (read: break the mindset of “that should be quick to make”).

Have an undying passion for the product you’re building

Remove money and return on investment (ROI) for a moment (it’s important, but value will always trump it. When you’re building a project that is literally making a difference and adding value to the people that are using it, you’re part of something that is very exciting and generally solves that money and ROI requirement.

This is a major factor of agile. Building a value-driven product is key and should define how decisions are made at every point of the project. You want to see consumers of the product becoming entrenched in your product because they wouldn’t be able to see that value with any other product.

Agile development relies on a strong product owner that is able to assist project managers in making projects move at a rapid pace. They look at opportunities within the system and ecosystem of the project that can unearth greater value, whilst maintaining sanity within the development space.

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