Dissecting the Product Owner role


customers and a Product Manager external ones.

Today, more and more corporate IT departments are tasked with deploying customer facing applications. BAs need to acquire some of the skills and tools of the Product Manager. Similarly, as more software companies offer software as a service applications Product Managers need to understand the insides of corporations.

The Subject Matter Expert

The key skills for both Product Manager and Business Analyst is analysis. The best Product Managers can use this skill in different domains: they may work on office automation software this year and CAD design tools next. Similarly good BAs can move form an insurance company to a car rental companies. A fresh mind can result in fresh analysis and new insights.

However, sometimes analysis skills and fresh thinking is not what is required. Sometimes companies want their software needs to be considered by an expert in the field. In these cases the Product Owner role is best filled by a Subject Matter Expert (SME) – also called a Domain Expert.

Such experts rely on their own knowledge to know what needs doing rather than analysis. Just to confuse matters SMEs frequently have the title Product Manager or Business Analyst.

Development teams should not rely on SMEs alone to fill the Product Owner role. There needs to be some analysis and future gazing to avoid creating software which is just a shopping list of features.


Some other holders


Almost as soon as I explain the three roles hiding behind the Product Owner title people ask: “Can an architect fill the role?” Or, “can a salesman fill the role?” As a general rule the answer is No.

Although some organizations use the title Architect to refer to Product Managers in most organizations the role is concerned with software design. It is difficult to ask one individual to empathize with the customers’ needs for the software and the software’s own needs.

Sometimes an Architect can fill the role. I recently helped a team who implemented exchange connectivity for a financial trading house. The team’s work was mainly concerned with the technical protocols, connectivity and availability of different exchanges. The work was driven by the technical changes and demands of the exchange. In such a case it made sense for the Product Owner to be someone who had a deep understanding of connectivity and APIs.

Sales people often see themselves as the perfect Product Owner. After all they are the ones who talk to the customers, they are the ones who bring in the work. However sales people make bad Product Owners for exactly these reasons.

Sales staff are selected for their ability to get sales made. They focus on a single customer and remove any blocks that stop a sale from happening. For a salesman the most important thing is the next sale – and the commission that goes with it. By definition they lack the broader view and analytical approach that Product Managers and Business Analysis bring.

Heavy workload

Doing the Product Owner role justice requires a lot of time. Product Owners need to be meeting with customers and users, they need time to think and analyse, they need to work with development teams both at the start of iterations and during the iteration.

Agile, and Scrum specifically, adds to the workload of the Product Manager or BA because some tasks move from the traditional Project Manager role to the Product Owner.

In addition Product Owners also need to work more closely with Testers. Whether the Product Owner is writing acceptance tests themselves or simply briefing Testers it all takes


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