<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=443149619225659&ev=PageView&noscript=1"> How Technical Should Product Owners Be In Agile Software Development?

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How Technical Should Product Owners Be In Agile Software Development?

How Technical Should Product Owners Be In Agile Software Development?

Whether you’re hiring a new team member to fill your product owner role or trying to make the best selection among your existing software development team, you need to make an informed choice. After all, the product owner must make important strategic and tactical decisions once your software project is underway.

The Product Owner's Role

Your product owner is a critical member of your Agile Scrum team, the go-to person when the team has questions about prioritizing work items. They should participate in user centered research sessions, roadmap planning, customer testing and product or business strategy. A product owner should also be seen as an industry expert who understands their product and market.

Other responsibilities include announcing the release of your software applications, communicating your team status and organizing milestone reviews. Plus, your product owner should exhibit the following qualities:

  • Engaged and available to the team
  • Decisive
  • Inquisitive
  • Visionary
  • Creative with problem-solving abilities
  • Business-focused
The right product owner holds reasonable expectations of the team and understands the end user. They should be skilled at prioritizing. Finally, they should be good at identifying and assessing opportunities.

The Product Owner’s Technical Role

To accomplish all that needs to be done during an Agile software development project, a product owner who has some technical knowledge will be more effective; however, just how technical varies depending on the product, stage of the project and size and make-up of the team. To be more specific, they need to have a deep knowledge of how products in their industry (market and technology) are made.

The product owner should be able to speak with the technical team and understand concepts vital to moving a project forward. Most importantly, they must be knowledgeable on a product from the end user’s perspective.

While it’s not usually necessary for a product owner to have advanced technical knowledge, in-depth exposure to technical language and issues certainly helps. Product owners must ensure Agile software development teams deliver a product with value to customers. As such, they should understand a customer’s technical pains and how a product relieves those pains.

A product owner with some level of technical expertise also benefits your software development team in the following areas

  • Collaboration – Product owners must be able to understand your team’s questions and offer answers using the right language and terminology. If they can’t make sense of technical jargon, product owners will have trouble suggesting solutions.
  • Relationships – In a leadership position without any direct authority, product owners should lead using their influence and vision. Software development teams respect a product owner more if they have a technical understanding of the project. Teams should know they can turn to the product owner when they need direction.
  • Customer Communication – Customers need quick and precise answers to questions about their project. During meetings with customers, the product owner should have enough technical understanding of a product to answer questions directly, without having to bring in the development team for every issue that arises.

As you search for the right product owner for your team, keep in mind that technical expertise is not the only necessary criteria. You don’t want to limit your search by focusing too much on the technical role while ignoring other required skills, such as business analysis.

In some cases, another Agile software developer can bring your product owner up to speed if they don't understand a technical problem. That’s the benefit of working on a team. Ultimately, this team mentality will be most important to your project’s success.

This blog was originally posted on June 16, 2016, but has been updated with new insights for relevance.

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About the author

Michael is the Director of Agile Strategies with Small Footprint, where he leads Agile software development projects and Agile transformations. The goal of his projects is for businesses to deliver high value to customers and stakeholders through adopting Agile across the entire organization, not just the development teams. He has 15+ years of new product development experience, ranging from software engineering to product line management. Michael is a certified Product Manager, Product Owner, and Scrum Master.
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