How a Great Product Owner can Turbocharge your Engineering Team

Your development team needs a Product Owner
Reading Time: 5 minutes

In this article:

  • The importance of having a Product Owner on an engineering team
  • Why a PO is critical in an Agile delivery model
  • How a PO is different from a project manager and why it matters

By now we all know about the Agile revolution in software development and its effects on team structure and role descriptions. Or do we? There are still people who have never heard of a product owner, and others who assume that “Product Owner” is just Agile speak for project managers. So today I wanted to share my own experience with this role, and explore why it’s so important to have a Product Owner if you want to build a truly Agile development team, or hire a truly Agile development partner. 

When I started my software career in 2000, it was the heyday of waterfall deals. Projects had, for the most part, only developers and people in PM-Sales-Management roles. In those days clients were not sure about what they wanted, managers were not sure of the time to market or how much something would cost, and us developers were only sure about our willingness to give it our best shot. With the advent of the internet, however, everything started evolving rapidly, and methodologies to better manage software development started bubbling up to permeate the industry. The days when a deal was struck with a high level of uncertainty were over, which was a welcome change for clients and developers alike.

2011 was the year that I was first introduced to the Product Owner role. At that time I had been an agnostic developer for a decade, and I was burned to a crisp. Managers selling the impossible at the expense of my work/life balance had taken a toll on me. I was on the verge of throwing in the towel when an American eCommerce site established itself in my home country of Costa Rica and hired me as a full stack developer.

Part of the novelty this company showcased to us during the hiring process was Agile, and back then it was a real novelty, at least in Latin America. Out of all the wonders of Agile, what really made an impact on my professional life was the Product Owner! For the first time I got to experience the value of this role first hand. This Product Owner – let’s call him Jeff – was the team’s resident subject matter expert on the product we were building; he was an ally, an advocate, and a real member of the engineering team, on par with devs and QAs.

Jeff knew the business and the technology. He had a vision, he had a north, he had the answers to most of our questions, or could at least look for them with the right people. He was always one step ahead of our issues and concerns, always designing the next sprint, optimizing the team’s workflow, and making sure we were not only developing maximum value but doing it in such an efficient way that the whole process became nearly frictionless, as frictionless as humanly possible. For the first time in my development career, my team and I had one source of truth and direction: Jeff, the product owner.

We were enjoying development again. I was solving puzzles and building a great product, not dealing with changing client requests, time management, QA, or any other thing I was not versed or interested in. We were happy, productive, and became so proficient as a team that we could all feel our relationship with our client achieve higher levels of trust and satisfaction than we had ever seen before.

This episode made such an impact on me that when I got the chance to move into a Product Owner role, I took it, not because I was tired of being a developer, but because I wanted to have the same impact that Jeff had on me, and offer my experience to the new generation of developers. My newfound passion for getting to know a client, their business, their product, their customers, their values, their pain points, and figuring out how our company can best help them, permeated me and made me change my career path. And though it has taken me in several directions since, I have never lost sight of that passion for becoming a client’s business expert, crafting a vision for the project and the product, guiding developers to reach their maximum potential as high performance teams, and becoming the ultimate ally to clients and developers alike.

If you are not very familiar with a PO, or haven’t worked with one before, you’re probably wondering what exactly is the difference between a PO and a Project Manager. Let me start to answer that with a phrase from a Brainhub article called “Product Owner vs Project Manager: Key Differences”. The writers state that a PM “was born out of military control mentality in the age of waterfall projects, while its younger sibling the PO was created out of need in a time of agile projects, where things constantly shift in complex ways.” 

In short,

“Project Managers thrive in pre-planned, organized systems, while Product Owners work best in constantly changing environments.”

Unlike a Project Manager, who is primarily responsible for the operational side of a project (managing workflows, developing communication plans, resolving bottlenecks), a Product Owner manages the product and what features go into it, its overall direction and vision, its present and future stakeholders and users. In an Agile delivery scenario, a Product Owner is absolutely critical to ensure cohesiveness and eventual success of your project. Here are some specific things a Product Owner will offer to your team:

  • A product owner will share, understand and build your vision, not just focus on its execution.
  • A product owner will understand the insight that comes from business analysis, not just technicals, to make the right decisions.
  • A product owner has the communication skills needed to get your project firing on all Agile cylinders, not just the organizational skills a PM brings to the table.

At Growth Acceleration Partners we have embraced Agile. We thrive in constantly shifting and complex environments, and we are committed to offering our clients the power and benefits of a Product Owner to supercharge their engineering team. 

The question I’d like to leave you with is: are you getting the most out of your investment? Are you just outsourcing your engineering, or are you looking for a strategic partner that’s sophisticated and mature enough to help your business reach its full potential?

If your company needs to create efficiencies, if you want to enhance your turn to market times, improve your return on investment, and be in the loop every step of the way, think of the power of a PO – and choose the right partner that will share your vision, and help you build the foundation for long term success. 

If you have questions or comments about this article or would like to speak with one of our experts directly about building a full-stack Agile team, please fill out the form and we will respond.

About Daniel Golcher Quirós

 

 

Daniel is a Product Owner with GAP’s Costa Rica office. He has a Bachelor in Computer Science, and 20 years of software development experience. Prior to GAP, Daniel worked with Accenture, Hewlett-Packard, Bodybuilding.com, Backcountry.com, and multiple startups, in a variety of roles including developer, customer liaison, technical product manager, App architect, and Solution architect. His varied background, well rounded skill set, and a passion for client success, has led him to serve as Product Owner from the development partner side. Daniel’s interests and personal projects are focused on AI, machine learning, cryptocurrency and information inference.