Product owner plays a central role in agile product development philosophy and scrum development. The product owner (PO) workforce crossed 5,799 in 2020 and is still on the rise. It is a diverse role that requires a mix of several skills and experience for high performance. You can’t expect a PO to do a great job if he/she has no relevant skills and abilities.
So, what are the essential product owner skills in 2021 that enhance a PO’s effectiveness and ability to maximize product value?
Before you jump to the necessary skills a product owner must have, you need to understand the agile product owner role and major responsibilities.
Product Owner Role
A PO is responsible for product value maximization and backlog management. He/she owns the product and must ensure that all the technical aspects of the product and its features meet user requirements. Communication and collaboration with the agile team are a major part of the product owner’s routine.
You can check out the complete list of tasks that a product owner performs here that include everything ranging from product goal definition to stakeholder management to full product responsibility across all levels.
Product Owner Skills
A product owner requires a mix of technical and soft skills to be successful in the workplace. The skills a product owner needs to succeed change over time with changes in technology so it is essential to keep updating the skill set according to the latest trends and happenings.
Here is a list of the essential product owner skills in 2021:
1. Analytical Skills
It is the key skill that a product owner can’t survive without. It refers to the ability to collect and analyze information, solve complex problems rationally, and make decisions on time for enhanced productivity. Wikipedia defines analytical skill as:
“The ability to deconstruct information into smaller categories in order to draw conclusions.”
The product owner has to critically analyze problems and identify possible solutions quickly. Backlog management, for instance, requires analytical skills because the PO must prioritize items in the backlog. Identifying which items to prioritize based on their relevance, importance, and linkage with other items in the backlog is a task that can’t be done without analytical skills.
It consists of subcategories including critical thinking, logical reasoning, data analysis, creativity, and research. So, it is a mix of multiple skills that are all related to logical thinking that is used for solving complex problems:
It isn’t just limited to solving a problem after research and critical thinking but it involves the communication of the solution to the development team effectively.
According to World Economic Forum, analytical thinking is the most important skill that will be in high demand by 2025.
This shows how essential analytical skill is for a product owner as it is linked to problem-solving and critical thinking. You can’t become a great PO if you can’t critically analyze and solve complex problems on a daily basis.
According to the Scrum Guides, one of the tasks that a product owner is responsible for is creating and clearly communicating product backlog items and communicating product goals.
Communication is an absolute must-have skill for a scrum product owner. Period.
If he/she can’t communicate effectively, the product will eventually fail. It isn’t just about creating and prioritizing backlog items rather the PO must communicate the same to the scrum team, scrum master, and stakeholders. When working on a large project that involves multiple teams and departments, the need to communicate increases exponentially.
Communication skill is defined as the ability to use language to express and share information. It is the ability to communicate in one’s mother tongue and being able to express one’s feelings and ideas. It includes verbal and non-verbal communication across all channels and mediums.
It is a process that looks something like this:
Effective communication means that the product owner understands:
- How to encode the message using a language that the receiver can understand easily
- What channel to use (e.g. oral, email, video, etc.)
- How to craft the message to ensure clarity
- The feedback from the receiver and then re-craft the message again to address feedback and issues
- How to minimize noise during communication for effective message delivery.
A product owner must be exceptionally good at communication because it is what he/she is supposed to do daily.
3. Technical Skills
The product owner is a technical role. You can’t become a great PO if you don’t know the ins and outs of development, design, agile framework, software development, scrum approach, and IT infrastructure. Technical skill is defined as a specialized skill that is used to perform a specific task such as programming and software development.
According to Zippia, the user interface is the most common product owner skill that was requested in 19.1% of jobs posted on the platform:
The user interface skill, in this case, refers to an understanding of design standards and user interface testing, designing, and application. It is a purely technical skill that is related to the work a product owner has to perform.
There are several technical skills, besides user interface knowledge, that a product owner must possess:
- Scrum and agile software development methodologies
- Software development
- Coding and designing
- Product development architecture
- UX knowledge and principles
- Product backlog understanding and management
- User stories knowledge
- Ability to use tools and apps.
The agile product owner must be technically sound because backlog management and prioritization is a technical task. It can’t be done effectively if the PO doesn’t understand the development and design processes and has no knowledge of how software development works.
The product owner is in a decision-making role. Being responsible and accountable for the product, the PO has to make several decisions on a daily basis ranging from what items to include in the product backlog, how to prioritize them, and how to best communicate the same to the scrum team.
Decision-making skill is one of the most essential skills that has to be built-in in a PO. He/she must make decisions without much thinking and this comes from analytical thinking (as discussed above).
It is a process that consists of several steps where you select one of the many available alternatives. The steps usually include defining a problem, identifying different alternatives, selecting and implementing the best alternative, and evaluating results:
Decision-making is a subset of problem-solving skills. For every problem that a product owner faces, he/she must go through the decision-making steps from problem identification to its solution and implementation. This is something that Pos has to do on a daily basis.
A product owner must have exceptional decision-making and problem-solving skills and that too should be based on analytical and critical thinking. A PO must be logical and reasoned and his/her decisions must not be based on assumptions and/or judgment.
5. Project Management Skill
A product owner isn’t a project manager but he/she must have project management skills. Since a PO has to manage and lead the agile development team, therefore, having project management skill is essential.
Project management is the ability to apply knowledge, skills, techniques, and tools to achieve project goals and meet project requirements effectively.
It has five processes:
- Monitoring and controlling
A PO performs all of these tasks when working with the development team. He/she defines the product vision, orders backlog items, prioritizes them, monitors and controls the development process, and finally closes the project when finished. He/she has the product ownership which means he/she owns the project and is responsible for its success (or failure).
A product owner doesn’t work alone. He/she is part of the software development team, works with them, and is constantly in contact with the team. It is essential for the success of the product and its value optimization that the PO works closely with the development team.
The closer he/she is, the better.
And this requires collaboration skill that isn’t the same as communication skills. Collaboration is defined as working with others to achieve a common goal. In this case, the common goal is to maximize product value.
Collaboration and teamwork require several skills including communication and emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the key skill that a PO must possess to work effectively in the team. It is the ability to understand other people’s emotions and to have control over one’s emotions. It has several benefits such as:
- Increased leadership ability of the product owner
- Improved team performance
- Improve decision-making of the team
The product owner must be emotionally intelligent and know how to be part of a team. He/she needs to understand team members, their strengths and weaknesses, and ensure emotional connection. Product development isn’t all about getting work done by the scrum development team. They're humans and must be dealt with smartly to avoid hiccups.
The collaboration isn’t just limited to the development team. The PO needs to actively engage with the stakeholders too. This includes both internal and external stakeholders. So, a PO is part of several teams and he/she needs to sit in all the stakeholder meetings.
Having ability to collaborate, teamwork, and emotional intelligence skills makes the product owner an effective and influential part of the team. It helps him/her get the work done on time every time.
7. Other Skills
This doesn’t end here. The 6 skills discussed above are absolute must-have for any PO. There are, however, several other key product skills in 2021 that are needed for success. These include:
- Product development
- Product management
- Product vision
- Business analyst
- Leadership and management
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Time management
- Domain knowledge.
Enhance Your Skills to Become a Better Product Owner
If you are trying to become a product owner, these 6 skills are necessary to have. You can learn, develop, and polish these skills – all of them.
Technical skills are easier to develop such as software development and technology skills. You can take relevant courses and certifications to advance your technical skills. The product owner isn’t an entry-level position so you must have relevant experience in programming, software development, agile methodology, scrum framework, business development, project management, etc. If you have experience, you'll not struggle with technical skills.
Soft skills are hard to acquire. For example, developing emotional intelligence, improving communication and collaboration skills, and polishing your analytical skill requires a lot of hard work and practice. This is the hard part. You need to focus on improving your soft skills as these provide you a competitive edge.
If you are hiring a product owner, look for a complete package. Look for a candidate who possesses most of the soft skills (as mentioned above). Technical skills can be learned quickly but if your chosen candidate lacks a key soft skill, it will get very hard for him/her and you to develop that skill.
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