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Role of the Product Owner in Agile Methodologies

As we see more and more companies abandon the waterfall methodology, as it has resulted in pitting business and technology counterparts against each other, we see ways in which companies are trying to fill the roles in an agile methodology.

Typically I’ve seen Product Managers or BAs get thrown into the role of the PO. What I’d like to do here is provide an overview of the role of the PO and the skills required. I’ve seen some collateral saying that the PO is part of the Product Manager (PdM) role. I agree with this view. That said, it may mean that more than one person is needed to fill that PdM role.

As for the PO role, I typically see this as one person for a scrum team, or as one person for a feature or set of features, depending on the size of the company and the size of the feature(s). However many product owners there could be for a given product, he/she/they should provide the qualities that are discussed below.

Overall the Product Owner provides team leadership. This also means that the PO has the time to dedicate to leadership: he/she makes time for the team. This is of utmost importance as it’s possible that the next level of person could be the business stakeholder, or a VP, or anyone who is now outside of the project. The PO mentors the BAs on the project, provides that requirements expertise and product knowledge and vision. The PO should have the ability to make important product, direction, and vision decisions. This assumes that the PO has additional qualities such as business insight. It’s important to understand why the project at hand has been funded, what objectives the project is expected to achieve, and what is the minimum viable product.

The Product Owner should also act as the arbitrator. If multiple requests come in that may be conflicting, the PO needs to understand the requests, understand the implications, and move forward with the best option. This means that the PO should be a communicator and collaborator.

At the end of the day, the PO should also be FUN: someone who you’d want to hang out with, someone from whom the team can learn but someone who can also be humble and learn from the team.

As we see here, this is a very dynamic role which is full of both hard skills (product knowledge) and soft skills such as leadership ability, communication ability, and person ability. The PO brings the team together and provides the support, knowledge, and vision to keep the team moving forward.

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