Agile development has become increasingly popular since 2001, but the roles and terminology can be confusing to those new to the methodology. In addition to terms like blockers and story points, there is often a lot of confusion surrounding Agile roles. Product owners, product managers and scrum masters all have somewhat similar roles on the team.
Let’s take a closer look at product owners, their role on Agile development teams and some tools and best practices to maximize effectiveness.Agile roles can be confusing to those new to the methodology—such as the difference between product owners, product managers and scrum masters. Click To Tweet
What is a Product Owner?
Product owners, or POs, are typically responsible for defining user stories and prioritizing the backlog on Agile development teams. In essence, they translate higher level strategy from stakeholders into actionable tasks for the development team while managing the release cycle in conjunction with business owners, marketers and other stakeholders.
Product owner roles and responsibilities include:
- Clearly defining user stories and other product backlog items.
- Organizing the product backlog based on a variety of factors.
- Ensuring that the team always knows what to work on next.
- Communicating to stakeholders when releases will be ready.
Depending on the organization, product owners may also be responsible for customer-facing tasks, such as conducting user interviews and managing a public roadmap. They would then translate the insights from these activities into tasks for the development team while staying within the scope of the product manager’s overall strategy.
The best product owners also have an in-depth knowledge of Agile processes and principles, outstanding communication skills and experience in various product development roles, such as development, design, user experience and quality assurance. A background in business or finance can also help with understanding the business value around technical features.
Product Owner vs. Product Manager
The terms product owner and product manager are often used interchangeably, and in some cases, the roles may be combined into one. While there is some overlap, larger organizations will recognize the need for two distinct roles where a product manager has a strategic focus on a vision and the product owner has a tactical focus on execution.
Product manager tasks typically include:
- Developing a business case for a product.
- Maintaining a product roadmap.
- Positioning the product in the market.
- Managing the project’s budget over time.
Product Owners vs. Scrum Master
Product owners are also confused with scrum masters. While these roles may also be combined, larger organizations will find a need for two distinct roles. Scrum masters support the product owner and serve in a coaching and facilitation role by keeping everything on track and within the guidelines of Agile development and Scrum principles.
Scrum masters tend to focus on tasks like:
- Leading sprint planning and daily Scrum meetings.
- Helping the team estimate and increase velocity.
- Assisting the product owner with reporting.
- Coaching and motivating the team to improve.
Tools of the Trade
Most product owners use Agile development tools, such as Atlassian’s JIRA, to achieve their objectives. For example, they might create and prioritize user stories on a JIRA board, visualize release schedules in JIRA releases and generate stakeholder reports in JIRA reports. Workflow automation and other built-in tools simplify and streamline these processes.
In addition to these development tools, product owners might use customer feedback tools like HubSpot, Qualaroo, GetFeedback or SurveyMonkey to collect and analyze customer feedback to prioritize backlogs, or business-facing tools like Tableau or SmartSheet to present and share data with product managers and other stakeholders.
Amoeboids Roadmap Portal – Source: Amoeboids
If you’re looking for a little more functionality, Amoeboids has built a suite of Atlassian-based tools that can help with other common product owner tasks and challenges:
- Roadmap Portal: Gather feedback, votes and comments to make informed decisions about what to build next while engaging customers with a public roadmap portal from your Jira Service Desk project.
- Automated Release Notes: Stop wasting time writing release notes by hand, and instead, automate the process by generating release notes in multiple formats directly from Jira and broadcasting them across different channels.
- Enriched Profiles: Know more about your customers when they report a ticket on Jira Service Desk. Based on their email address, pull up information about the individual and their organization that can help with prioritizing the backlog.
Product Owner Best Practices
There are several best practices that can help product owners streamline their workflows and ensure that they’re meeting the expectations of both stakeholders and the development team. These efforts are especially important if the product owner is tasked with additional business or customer-facing jobs within the organization that put pressure on their time.
Some of the most common best practices include:
- Story Mapping: Story mapping can help with prioritizing product backlog items by ordering user stories along two independent dimensions—priority and the sophistication of implementation.
- Story Workshops: Story writing workshops are a great way to bring together stakeholders and ensure that the backlog contains the right elements. Aim for holding these workshops once per quarter to ensure everyone’s vision is aligned.
- User Roles: Clear user roles are often a first step in the Agile development process, but in some cases, product owners inherit projects where they have been neglected. In that case, it makes sense to revisit them to ensure accuracy.
The Bottom Line
Product owners are responsible for ensuring that development teams execute the vision of the product manager or other stakeholders. Oftentimes, they work alongside the product manager, business analysts, scrum masters and the development team to ensure that all of the pieces of the puzzle are working together efficiently toward the same goal.
If you’re interested in custom apps within Jira, Confluence or Service Management, Amoeboids can help you further streamline your operations and provide specific features.