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The Important Role of the Product Owner: Leveling Up Our Clients

Daniel Ra

When Big Nerd Ranch starts an app development project, it’s much more than finishing a list of deliverables within time and budget without talking to the client. Nay! We work hard to complete exactly what the client wants to see, based upon our weekly, and sometimes daily interactions with them. Our clients are highly involved collaborators in our product team—in fact, they are our Product Owners!

One of the things that separates us from the competition is that our clients walk away with better ways of building products and managing the development, in addition to their finished application. And at the end of develpoment, our goal is that our clients have a better understanding of what effective product ownership is.

What Is a Product Owner?

Technically, the Product Owner role is a part of the Scrum team, as practiced in the Scrum methodology. He or she represents the business and the customer, and lays out the feature roadmap for the team (developers and designers) to build their product on. That said, the Product Owner does not manage the Scrum team.

However, for the purposes of this blog post, we’ll co-opt that product owner role to mean our client partner who collaborates with to us to build their product.

You may be wondering… How is a product owner different from a product manager? Great question! In real-world practice, there’s a lot of overlap between a product manager and a product owner, and the differences in implementation change from company to company. In some cases, product owners are restricted purely to the defined responsibilities within the Scrum team. In others, product managers have a lot of influence over the product’s roadmap at a high level. And at other companies, responsibilities fall somewhere in-between.

Why Is the Product Owner Important?

Product ownership plays a critical role in being the voice of the client, whether working on your own product or partnering with Big Nerd Ranch to build a product. The product owner understands the market, the competition and the users’ pain points. With those valuable pieces of information, the product owner can determine what features should be implemented, and in what order, with respect to time and importance.

When our clients play the role of product owner, they maximize on their investment by providing us the vision, information and roadmap so that we deliver a highly sustainable product at first pass. By having an increased level of involvement from the very beginning, products get built faster, with more precision, and with greater return on investment.

How Can You Be A Great Product Owner?

Know the why.

We aren’t in the business strategy business, so we’re not going to tell our client product owner a feature is a good or bad business decision. However, understanding why they want that feature built, and its impact on their business, helps us determine how best to build it. When we ask them, “what does this feature do?” or “why is this feature important?,” we’re assuming they’re ready with an answer. Big Nerd Ranch is in the business of consulting on product development best practices—from engineering to process. Mixing clear “whys” into that equation makes for a winning formula.

Know the when.

Some features have more pressing timelines than others, depending on market, stakeholder or user needs. We’ll look to our clients to guide us through what is most urgent from sprint to sprint. We’ll do that by going through the backlog together, and ordering features to be worked on by priority. There are rare occasions, however, where the client has to introduce a new feature while we’re in the middle of building something else. At that point, we’ll initiate a conversation to dig deeper and see how the change impacts development downstream. Changing requirements do incur a cost, whether in time or money, so we want to make sure that we’re supporting our client product owner in the most sustainable and cost-effective manner.

Be available.

When it comes to availability and collaboration, we have the same expectations of our clients that we do of our fellow engineers. When our client product owners are available throughout the project to field questions or collaborate on solutions, the chance of us delivering on time and budget dramatically increases. This crucial responsibility delivers on all four of the main principles in the Agile Manifesto.

Speak your heart and mind.

When we’re building a product with agililty, we expect our client product owners to be vocal about their ideas, expectations and concerns. When both parties keep mum, however, it severely increases the risk of building a product that does not meet expectations. While we promise to give clients our expert opinions about how best to design and develop requirements, we expect them to continually keep us informed of what makes them happy through our various project management and communication tools. It cannot be understated: continual clarity and transparency is taxing. But the investment in honest and proactive communication lead to much greater success down the line.

See For Yourself.

At Big Nerd Ranch, we don’t maintain strict adherence to one agile methodology. Rather, we borrow the best practices among a handful of them to maximize on the values of building with agility. The same thing applies to product ownership. We’re not a Scrum-only company. But we do value the responsibilities of the product owner, and we love to help our clients be the best product owners they can be. Check out what one of our client’s had to say about his experience to see how this is done in practice.

Want to learn more about our entire app development process? Get in touch with our team to see how Big Nerd Ranch can help you meet your business goals.

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