The role of the Product Owner in a digital transformation programme

In the modern project world, the Product Owner is a keystone member of the team. Acting as a bridge between strategy and execution, Product Owners are vital in a programme that holds a significant investment.

Knowing both the technical and practical aspects of a product, the Product Owner can champion product development throughout its lifecycle to maintain (and optimise) product efficiency for the customer. After all, the voice of the customer must echo across all business decisions, ensuring that a programme of continuous improvement is in execution; and not just a “one-off” delivery mindset.

Product Owners vs Product Managers

These two roles are often intertwined or mistaken altogether within a business. Essentially, the definitions of the two depend on how the product is structured within the organisation. However, a Product Manager oversees how particular resources are released in the business; and thus has a more business-oriented mindset.

A Product Owner, however, is more delivery focused. A Product Owner may have a smaller roadmap to adhere to and will ensure the product in mind makes sense as it is being deployed. Where a Product Manager may define what success means for the product, the Product Owner will help the team achieve product development success.

Product Managers would say: “Build the right product!”

Product Owners would say: “Build the product right!”

Ultimately, both Product Managers and owners have the customer in mind in everything they do.

In our experience, the best Product Owners share common attributes and traits that any business should search out to identify future Product Owners:

They are curious

Eagle-eyed; the Product Owner has an irresistible curiosity. They eschew the touchline, preferring to delve straight into the team’s core to determine what is going on. They want to know how everything works. The Product Owner is the child who, seemingly not content to play with a toy but must dismantle it to see how it works.

They challenge

Product Owners revel in the daring adventure of twisted brass tacks and the scaffold of the impossible. Where you see a mountain, they see a hill. Where you see a jungle, they see a path to victory. The best Product Owners challenge others almost as much as they challenge themselves.

Product Owners are no shrinking violets. Or wilting willows. Although confident in their vision, the Product Owner is also humble, recognising the vast experience and expertise of those around them; they know they cannot achieve the vision on their own. No Product Owner is an island.

They set the scene

The Product Owner has the vision and the stalwart resolve to articulate it, even when unwanted or inconvenient. An idea unexplained is as vacant as no idea at all. Too often, projects will seek the most straightforward path rather than one which will deliver what the customer needs or expects. Ultimately, whatever is to be delivered must be solidified, a vision must be made real. An unset jelly will not wobble.

They know customers

The best Product Owners know who the customer is as movable as the roundest cheese in the Everest cheese rolling contest. There are the end-users, your suppliers, stakeholders, compliance team (forget them at your peril), the senior management team, and so forth. The Product Owner is truly mutable, understanding who the customer is in any given situation, and, like the world’s greatest Tetris player, knows where their piece fits into the big picture.

They know what is good enough and when to stop

The road toward perfection rarely ends there. The Product Owner knows when something is good enough and moves on to the next thing. If a movie director seeks nothing but total flawlessness, the budget will run out well before the script’s final line. In the end, the project must be delivered. The Product Owner balances the desire for perfection with the drive for completion. Unfinished projects rarely provide the intended benefits, no matter how perfect the constituent parts might be.

The position of Product Owner is multi-faceted, fusing these components into a busy but pragmatic role. The alternative, segmenting the role, tends to deny accountability and sacrifices continuity.

Having the same person forge, define and realise the product has undeniable advantages, validating why so many projects have a Product Owner.