Based on my work on Beautiful Delivery with autonomous cross-functional teams (for more details, see Use Beautiful Delivery to Speed Up Your Digital Transformation), I have set out to define the different roles in a bit more detail. I will start with the Product Owner.
The main responsibility of the Product Owner is to be the voice of the customer and to represent the stakeholders. In short, to make sure both the customers and stakeholders are happy. It’s about the customer experience, i.e. taking the subjective view of the customer and her needs, while making sure that the business needs are also fulfilled, or as my colleagues from our sister company Fahrenheit 212 often express it: you have to consider both the money and the magic. Like most of the roles that I will describe in this blog post series, it’s a balancing act to satisfy both sides, and that’s how great things are achieved. An important tool here is effect mapping.
The Product Owner is also the one that defines the metrics to measure success, which means to select the relevant metrics that can be used to validate that any assumptions the team set out to prove are either proven true or false. She is therefore concerned with capturing as much as possible of the customer behavior, and uses various analytics tools to follow-up on the metrics.
Just like all the other roles in an autonomous team, the Product Owner has to be hands-on, so another task for her is to write user stories as a way to define the user (customer) requirements from their perspective. The important part here is to prioritize the stories based on value versus effort, so that the things that are most valuable and easiest to do, are done first. It’s very common that organizations solve things that they see internally as problems, and that might not be a very significant problem to the customer, instead of focusing on what the real problems are for customers. Therefore it’s important to start with the customer view, and then consider the consequences for the business.
The last thing that I want to mention, which might be the most important task of the Product Owner, is to do a lot of communication. Communication is the oil that makes an organization of interconnected autonomous teams work, and most of it is handled by this role. Examples include communication both outside and inside the team, like educating the stakeholders in the team process, negotiates priorities, scope, funding, and schedule, ensures that the backlog is visible, transparent, and clear, organizes milestone reviews, reporting of team status, definition and announcements of releases, and demonstrations to key stakeholders. The Product Owner is also responsible for the communication outside the organization, like posting on social media when new features are available or answering customers with problems. Which is actually the way that the team does marketing.
Like all the other roles in an autonomous team, the Product Owner has cross-functional skills that can take on several of the other roles in the team, and usually perform her tasks together with other team members.