What makes an effective Scrum Product Owner?

What makes an effective Scrum Product Owner?

Following the recent launch of PeopleCert’s new Scrum Product Owner certifications, Jason Dion, Lead Instructor at Dion Training, explores the critical role a Scrum Product Owner plays as part of a successful Scrum team and the essential skills they need.

It’s important to start with a clarification. The role of the Scrum Product Owner is often confused with that of the Scrum Master. Unlike a Scrum Master, however, the Product Owner won’t necessarily be there every day for every daily stand up. Instead, most of their focus is given to the beginning of a sprint, looking at where the team is going, prioritising the backlog, and ensuring the team understands the sprint goal.

The Scrum Master, on the other hand, will be there every single day. They’re the glue between the Product Owner and the development team, making sure everything’s running effectively from a process standpoint.

Pulling everyone together

Essentially, the Scrum Product Owner is the linchpin of a Scrum project. They’re responsible for talking with its many stakeholders – the developers, the technical people, the senior users, and those that are funding the project. It’s the Product Owner’s job to ensure everyone’s working to accomplish the best possible outcome. 
They act as a go-between, capturing all the necessary requirements and prioritising them to decide, at the highest level, what needs to be done and in what order. It’s then up to the development team to pick what they’re going to work on during each sprint. But, by following the Product Owner’s advice, they’ll understand the overall “why” behind the product and what matters most from an end-user’s perspective.

There is a set of core skills that every Product Owner needs. They must, for instance, understand the importance of value-driven product management, as well as having proven experience in problem solving, leadership, innovation, and successfully evaluating a project’s results. It's essential, too, for a Product Owner to possess good soft skills, particularly regarding teamwork. They must be able to communicate with others and get their point across in a confident manner, making sure everyone understands what they’re driving toward.

And while it doesn’t hurt to be a technical expert, it’s far more important to understand the business side of the process. After all, the Product Owner’s primary focus should always be on your business goals. Mindful of the strategy and vision for each product, and taking on board feedback collected from your customers, the Product Owner can better prioritise the backlog, from both a development and a refinement standpoint: for example, what ROI can you expect from a project? Why is so much time, money, and effort being invested in building a product? What value will it deliver?

Subject matter expert

A Product Owner should also be an expert in the part of the business or product area in which they work. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Because they’re seen as technical projects, organisations will often make the Chief Technical Officer the Product Owner. But, while they have the expertise to build a product, they won’t necessarily understand what’s best for its end-users.

Again, a Product Owner should serve the needs of the business by showing the “why” behind a product, and prioritising what needs to be done to achieve this.

Becoming a certified Scrum Product Owner

The value of PeopleCert’s new certifications – Scrum Product Owner I and II – is ensuring a Product Owner has the required, core skills and understands not only what the Scrum process is, but also how they fit into it. After all, they’re going to be filling several key parts of that process.

In many cases, designated Product Owners will try to take a hands-off approach, delegating everything to the development team. And that’s not a great way of doing things. It’s good for the development team to have some autonomy, but they need to understand the “why” behind the product they’re working on, and the value of each feature in that product. It’s the job of the Product Owner to define that “why” and help prioritise every item in the backlog to clarify what’s important and what isn’t.

Having the certification will also help the organisation itself decide who’s most qualified to be a Product Owner for different products. If there are five certified people within a company, then it’s possible to identify which of them has the right skillsets for a particular product based on where they work in that company and what business functions they understand; confident that they all have the basic knowledge needed to run the project effectively.

The advantage that PeopleCert’s new certification has over its peers is that, while there is certification available that does a good job of covering the basics, PeopleCert’s goes far more in depth, taking a much broader and more encompassing view over the entire process.

Many people believe the Scrum Master is the ultimate job inside Scrum. The truth is that the Product Owner actually holds more responsibility and has a more direct involvement in tying the project into the finished product. Indeed, in many cases, Product Owner will often be seen as the next step in a Scrum Master’s career. With PeopleCert’s certification, your organisation can be assured that, whoever you choose and whatever their area of skill and expertise, your Scrum Product Owner will have the basic knowledge needed to ensure your Scrum project is a success.

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