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Locking Down Product Ownership

As the lockdown begins to ease in the UK and worldwide, I thought it’s a good time to share my insights on the effects of the lockdown on the product owner role in the technology landscape and look at what lies ahead as we adjust to the “new normal”.

I’ve spent over 9 years in the insurance market and currently a Product Owner implementing new technologies in the insurance market. I’ve also completed the Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) certification. I’m writing this as a discussion piece, to share my insights as a Product Owner and keen to hear the view and experience of others.

What’s product ownership all about?

Product Ownership is focused on working closely with your end users to shape their product, and with the design and development teams to bring the product to life. This role works best when there is a shared sense of investment and accountability for the outcome from all the key players in the ecosystem which include the end user community and the development team.

Three things you’ll need to master in a product owner role:

· A product roadmap is your tool to bring everyone in your ecosystem into the world of your product in a managed and controlled way. Think of the roadmap as the google map of your product. As a team/ product ecosystem we need to know where we’re going, how we plan to get there and what we can expect on the journey. Not glamorous, I know - but think of yourself as a tour bus conductor. You must know the journey and pitfalls thoroughly and prepare for them. In the same way, your product roadmap is a live working document that helps you capture and communicate the past, current and future needs of your product to all relevant stakeholders.

Pre lockdown I would typically have a large print out of the roadmap on display near my desk, both as an aide for informal chats with my development team and to improve buy in with my ecosystem of users. During lockdown use of roadmap tools such as Roadmunk was effective in messaging all elements of the roadmap. Aiding even more difficult conversations such as resourcing. Post lockdown myself and my stakeholders have been looking forward to going back to the office and having the large visual up, this being on a screen displaying the Roadmunk roadmap, and doing away with the paper versions, which so quickly become out of date.

· User personas to profile each of your user types. Sounds obvious but actually taking the time to complete this exercise regularly helps you to understand and anticipate the users needs. When done thoroughly and regularly, this helps to gain and maintain stakeholder buy-in. Where possible, complete this exercise with your development team or scrum master. Elicitation with users on feature requirements does not qualify as profiling your users. Pre lockdown this was more commonly done either formally or informally in a workshop setting using a flipchart. During lockdown use of virtual collaboration/brainstorming tools such as Mural helped to make this activity collaborative. Post lockdown I would recommend a blend of both, many teams are global and using online virtual tools allows everyone to be carried along in the discussion.

· Always distinguish between your core Product Owner tasks, and any additional fill in tasks you are doing such as Scrum Master and Product Manager tasks. Within insurance, and other industries - clients or projects usually require a hybrid, and not pure Product Owner role. Your ability to distinguish this will help you to clearly manage and prioritise your time and communicate when you can no longer ‘fill in’ for roles which have now grown enough to justify additional headcount. Pre lockdown this was more commonly done either formally or informally as a tracked discussion with decision makers. During lockdown, I have leaned towards tracking the various tasks and their duration in an excel or word document. Post lockdown I would recommend a blend of both, as required. A document/tracker represents the finer details of the issue even in conversations where you are not present.

These are just some areas that product owners must think about and adjust to in the “new normal”.

I’d be keen to hear thoughts from others product owners on some themes shared above.

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