Aston Cockayne

Aston Cockayne

Senior Consultant – Product Owner

More and more organisations are embracing ways of working that promote a step change increase in business agility to deliver new products and services that deliver value quicker. Companies are moving away from delivering projects and more towards delivering products driven by customer centric business owners, rather than IT departments.

Such changes are not easy.  To ensure success, they require an assessment of agility maturity, and a focus on developing the experience and skills of people in teams and key roles.  One such role is the Product Owner (PO).

The PO role is focused on building the right product, ensuring development teams are prioritised on developing what’s needed and when, and that specified quality standards are met.  This carries with it significant responsibility.

However, in many cases, the decision on who becomes PO is made with a lack of appreciation for what the role requires. In our experience, failing to fill this role with adequate experience and capability considerably increases the risk of successful delivery in agile product development.
Product development can fail to meet expectations because POs do not have:

  • Sufficient capability and experience required to operate in the role.

  • Capacity to deliver the role and the responsibilities that come with it. Often POs come with a second job, causing delays and putting delivery at risk

  • Authority to direct the team to prioritise what needs to be developed when, and make the quick decisions required to prevent bottlenecks and loss of momentum. 

  • Respect as the “go-to” Subject Matter Expert (SME) in the relevant area of the business.

As a result, product features are often delayed, delivered to the wrong specification or in the wrong order, which can lead to increased costs and missed business benefits.

By contrast, a team with a good PO has one voice and one decision maker. This increased clarity and efficiency prevents the team from working on unnecessary items.  A successful Product Owner needs:

  • Capability and experience - relevant expert (SME) domain knowledge. As well as being proficient in writing user stories and acceptance criteria, POs must understand business needs and priorities, as well as stakeholders’ expectations and, most importantly, what their customers want.

  • Capacity and authority - they have the capacity to define product requirements and quality criteria and accept working features.  They own the product vision, evaluate what the team is delivering, and determine when items are delivered.  Decisions they make are respected and accepted by the team.

Successful POs are experienced across several relevant disciplines, each applied more or less depending on the product and business environment. When considering your next PO appointment, check for experience in:

  • Product Management – they can create product requirements by evaluating external inputs:

  1. What does the market need? 

  2. What do customers need and expect?

  3. What and who is the competition?

  • Subject Matter Expertise – they have business domain experience, understand customers, and can provide deep relevant sector knowledge into the product’s development.

  • Business Analysis – they have experience in business transformation.  They can source requirements from internal stakeholders and analyse the impact of change on the business and IT operations.

How the Product Owner role is defined and who the person filling it is will have a significant impact and influence on the success of your product development. Recognising and considering the elements above will, we believe, help guide your teams to ensure the best possible chance of meeting your product goals, delivering valuable products and services to your customers.

Here at CGI, our Agile Digital Services power digital transformations. We offer an Agile Coaching service which can help you select the right PO, while our UK based experts can augment, supplement and coach your in-house teams via our experienced Agile squads, empowering you to increase the pace of transformation and reduce the time to market. 

To find out more visit our Agile Digital Services webpage or download our Product Ownership brochure.

About this author

Aston Cockayne

Aston Cockayne

Senior Consultant – Product Owner

Aston is a Product Owner within our Agile Digital Services practice in the UK, where he encourages and supports a Behaviour-Driven Development approach. He is currently responsible ...