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  • Writer's pictureSimon Rojas

Thriving as a Modern Product Owner: Expanded Responsibilities

A product owner has more responsibilities today than at any point in the last ten years as more companies are consolidating the responsibilities of the project manager and scrum master into the product owner role. Ten years ago, it was common for each development team to have a dedicated scrum master, project manager, and product owner as distinct team members. Today, however, it is more common for development teams to be staffed with just the product owner.

It would be interesting to discuss how and why we arrived at this point, but the more important question is: Are you, as a product owner, equipped to thrive in today’s environment? It is essential to stress that if you want to be a successful product owner today, whether at a startup or a top-tier investment bank, you need to be competent as a product owner, project manager, and scrum master. While we all can agree that each of these roles adds value to the team in different ways, what tends to go unnoticed is the stress and frustration that builds up within the team when there is an imbalance in these skill sets. Let’s explore this imbalance further.

First, let’s summarize the high-level responsibilities of each of these three roles:

  • The scrum master focuses on promoting continuous improvement around team dynamics and processes.

  • The project manager’s attention is on managing risks and delivery timelines.

  • The product owner stewards the priorities and product strategy.

Now, let’s take a quick look at a couple of real-world examples of what can occur when there is an imbalance in just one of these skill sets:

  1. I have seen senior product owners explain that the poor team dynamics were simply a reality of the working environment due to the personalities on the team. After stepping into the situation, I quickly observed that the resentment among certain team members was due to their lack of input on the proposed solutions. It never occurred to this product owner that the poor team dynamics were actually a result of how the agile ceremonies were being run and how team members were allowed to participate. Within a few weeks, we made some tweaks to the meetings to allow others to share their opinions, which increased team morale.

  2. I have seen a senior product owner be unaware that they were not going to hit their milestones based on how they were tracking project progress. This product owner failed to create a mitigation plan to get the project back on track until it was already apparent that the milestone would be missed, resulting in the project going over budget.

These are just a couple of my experiences, and I am sure you can think back on your experiences and find examples of this imbalance occurring within the development teams you have been a part of. Regardless of whether we think it is fair or not that a product owner needs to be competent across all these skills, we can agree that this skill set is now necessary to excel in this role. Even if you are among the product owners that gets support from individual scrum masters or project managers be aware that this may not always be the case. By sharpening our skills across these three pillars, we can ensure that we, ourselves, can provide our development teams with the appropriate support and, more importantly, give ourselves the confidence to excel in our day-to-day tasks while securing our ability to lead teams now and in the future. If you would like to learn more about how to improve your skill-set in these areas please reach out or you can also follow my page to continue to learn more things on this topic.

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