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What's a Product Owner?

by Sensix Team

We sat down with Diana Prisacar, Product Owner at Sensix, to talk about what’s & what’s not a Product Owner, what does it mean to be one for a hardware & software platform like Sensix, and more. Here’s what came out.

Larisa: What is a product owner?

Diana: The product owner is a member of the Agile Team who serves as the customer proxy. The PO is the bridge between the business (stakeholders) and the development team. (S)He’s the one who (as the name itself suggests) owns the product: from the product design stage up to the marketing of the product. His/her main responsibilities are: defining the iterations and user stories for the development team to implement, owning the team backlog, contributing to the vision, roadmap, and ROI of the product.

Larisa: What isn’t a product owner?

Diana: A Project Manager or a Manager of any kind. 

Larisa: How is it/what does it mean to be a product owner for a hardware & software platform?

Diana: I find it particularly challenging: on one hand, we have the hardware part, which is not usually something that a PO is used to work with. But, it’s very important to have a very good skilled team that you can trust with the technical aspects of the hardware. There needs to be good communication between the PO and the hardware team, in order to understand the technical challenges of hardware and to find ways to adjust to them, while also delivering the maximum value to the users. There are also challenges on the software side because you need to find ways to deliver a friendly, valuable, and easy to use platform for the user, while using huge amounts of data and not so friendly sensor names, types, and other very technical details that are very important, but most of the users are not particularly familiar with.

Larisa: Can a product manager be a product owner? If it can, it should be or rather not?

Diana: We use the Scrum framework and in Scrum, there is no such thing as a Product Manager. Since the Agile teams are self-organizing teams, there is no need for management. From my experience, any type of management in Agile is disruptive. High-skilled people need to be trusted and to have space to self-manage.

Larisa: How is a day in the life of a product owner like? A busy day and a not-so-busy day. 

Diana: It’s a very busy day. One of the most important things you need to do as a PO is to be available to the team. You also need to make sure that everything is in place for the ongoing sprint, while also grooming and planning the future sprints and the backlog. You need to keep up with the market and the changes that occur to the market so that your product is competitive. And, you need to be in close touch with the users, their needs and feedback, so that you can adjust the product so that it can fulfill their expectations.

Larisa: Name three characteristics/skills that make a good product owner, from your point of view, of course.

Diana: The most important one, I would say, is passion. It’s a challenging role, requires a lot of hard work and commitment, and the passion makes it satisfying and worth the effort.

The second one is communication. As a PO you need to constantly communicate with various people: the stakeholders, the scrum master, the development team, the marketing team, the users, etc. A good PO must also be a good communicator, there is no other way.

The third one(s) I would say is creativity and empathy. You constantly have to think about the end-users, but also the stakeholders, and the development team. There is where empathy plays an important role. Without it, you cannot do it, or you cannot properly do it.

You need creativity to combine the business needs with the technical constraints and the users’ expectations. Most of the time, you need to find creative ways to combine those three aspects and to find a mid-way that satisfies all of them, and that’s the product. It is never a final product, you always have to improve it, to make it better.

Larisa: It’s technical background a must for a product owner? What about a nice to have? 

Diana: I don’t consider it a must, but a nice to have. When you have a technical background, you can better understand the development team, you are aware of their needs (technical debt, refactoring, time to learn new technologies) and can provide support for them. 

Larisa: How does a product owner work and collaborate with the other team members/coworkers? 

Diana: A PO must work with people from different areas: stakeholders, developers, testers, designers, hardware engineers, PR and marketing, HR, users, etc.  

Larisa: How do you remotely work with the distributed team Sensix?

Diana: We use tools like Slack for fast and short communication, and Google Meets for the Scrum ceremonies, and for longer discussions. For us, it’s very easy to work remotely because it allows us to have some alone time for deep focus sessions, while also having available channels for teamwork and communication.

Larisa: What do you want people on the Internet and, especially, people in this domain to be left with from this material regarding product owner? 

Diana: For people who are interested in becoming a PO: It’s a challenging and hard work, but also a very rewarding one. 

For companies and stakeholders: Never underestimate the importance of a PO in your team(s), it might be the difference between a successful project or a mediocre one (at best).

For PO: Take care of your fire! You are a superhero, even if not everyone sees you like one…yet. 

***

That’s all, people on the Internet! Hope you enjoyed our pretty little talk and you found some stuff of interest for you. Until next time!

P.S. Diana’s been on team Sensix for about three months now 🎆, so, Diana, let me say it on behalf of all: we’re glad you joined us & may this be the beginning of a beautiful partnership.

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