As Agile teams evolve, a new role is borne to dig deep into the technical requirements of a product. A technical product owner is one such role that blends the product and technical side of product development. In today’s post, we detail what this position is about and why they are important to a software team’s success.
If you’re already familiar with the Scrum framework, then you’ll know that product owners are critical in Agile product development. A product owner’s role includes clarifying product goals, roadmaps and overseeing backlogs. In other words, they are experts in the product they develop.
However, there are times when things get too technical beyond their abilities. In this case, they need an expert who specializes in the technical aspect of the process. This demand brings a new role to the surface—technical product owners. It’s not your typical run-of-the-mill role because it requires a unique skill set to provide optimum product value to Agile teams.
What is a Technical Product Owner?
A technical product owner is a subject-matter expert who uses their technical background to bridge the gap between the product and technical side of product development. They breathe life into a product by enacting the vision and direction defined in the product roadmap.
Additionally, they have an exhaustive understanding of the company’s technology. This allows them to guide the product strategy and communicate it to the development team. It’s safe to say that technical product owners hold together the technical and business sides of an organization.
So, what separates them from product owners? Let’s find out.
Product Owner vs. Technical Product Owner: What’s the difference?
The differences between the two are often minimal; this is why people refer to them interchangeably. But these are the things that distinguish one from the other:
1. Not all product owners need to have technical skills to do their job.
Product owners are primarily responsible for defining a product’s vision and grooming the product’s backlog. They design a product roadmap to steer the development in the right direction and keep the vision intact. In reality, one doesn’t need to have a solid technical background to be effective in this role.
However, fine-tuning the roadmap over time may need someone with solid technical capabilities to allow for more efficient operations. It’s common for product owners to tap another resource (i.e., technical product owners) to explain the technical dependencies on specific areas.
2. Technical product owners handle the technical elements of product development.
Well, this one is quite obvious. Think of technical product owners as middlemen who reconcile customers’ desires with the technological capabilities of an organization. They don’t handle backlogs nor augment the entire product value. Instead, their job is to act as a technical resource to product owners or the Scrum team.
In contrast, product owners focus mainly on backlog management and setting goals and strategies with stakeholders. A product owner may not be equipped with the technical know-how that the development process requires. Thus, a technical product owner fills such a gap.
3. The role of a technical product owner is straightforward.
While a Scrum product owner wears multiple hats, technical product owners don’t. Their role is very simple and technical in scope. If the team doesn’t need tech advice on product development, then a technical product owner may be unnecessary.
4. Teams may need to create a new role for large client projects.
Sometimes, large-scale projects may call for certain technical requirements that product owners do not know. That’s when a technical product owner steps in to answer such needs. Otherwise, if things were working normally, product owners would suffice.
Roles of a Technical Product Owner
The role of a technical product owner is not as well-defined in Scrum methodology. In fact, it only emerges when the need arises. Hence, it’s an on-demand role where responsibilities are confirmed once the position is established. Here’s a rundown of the roles of a technical product owner:
1. Technical Assistant
Building a product requires long-term preparation and mapping. Also, it needs a specialist who thoroughly understands its technical capabilities. Having a specialist around will be valuable, especially when developing correct technical decisions for the team.
Again, a product owner may not be knowledgeable about the technical side of development. Hence, it’s the technical product owner’s job to act as a resource to the product owner.
As a technical resource, they interpret technical requirements and integrate them into the product backlog. They also make sure to add user stories and align product strategies with customer needs.
If the technical product owner is unavailable, someone from the team should take the lead in planning and product mapping. But, note that this may affect the team’s ability to deliver output in the short term.
2. Customer Liaison
While some customers may be tech-savvy, most are not. One thing is sure—all of them want their products to work. Aside from the product owner, someone on the team should act as a customer advocate.
A customer advocate is responsible for communicating with customers—to thoroughly understand their needs, explain jargon, and provide solutions to tech problems. Moreover, they provide realistic information so customers are aware of what a product can and can’t do.
That said, the technical product owner serves as the bridge between the Agile team and customers. They take part in the sprint regular inspection, fix issues, and inform its progress to customers.
3. Technical Consultant
Generally, technical product owners work alongside product owners. But their role is not limited to that. They, too, act as technical consultants to stakeholders like business owners, product managers, Scrum Masters, and members from other teams.
As technical consultants, they provide assistance in the following areas:
- support the team on important technical decisions
- Offer advice on Sprint planning (pinpointing areas that should go in and not)
- help product owners set and manage stories concerning technical debt.
Qualifications of a Technical Product Owner
The role of a technical product owner requires a special blend of soft and technical skills. We will break down each one of them.
Their skills need to evolve along with the latest changes and trends in technology. To be successful in this career, one has to have these technical skills:
- Software Development (programming languages, architecture, SDLC, etc.)
- User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) Design
- Scrum and Agile development methodologies
- User stories (creation and management)
- Coding and Web Designing
- Product Development
- Proficiency with using applications and tools
While this role is generally technical, a technical product owner needs to balance it with the right soft skills. Here are some to take note of:
Communication skill is definitely a must-have for all technical product owners. Without it, they can’t bring the product’s vision to fruition. That said, effective communication is the key for them to collaborate with Agile teams and customers seamlessly.
Top-tier technical product owners capitalize on their verbal, written, and listening prowess to effectively deliver the message across different channels. Moreover, they are experts when it comes to presenting ideas, tapping the right resources, and listening to feedback or comments.
2. Analytical Skills
It is another essential skill that technical product owners shouldn’t go without. Their ability to gather and analyze data and solve complex problems allows them to make the best decisions quickly. Analytical skills, in essence, encompass areas such as:
- data analysis
- logical reasoning
- critical thinking
All of or a mix of these subcategories aid technical product owners in thinking critically, especially when facing problems. It is a highly analytical role that mainly involves identifying issues and implementing solutions on a daily basis.
Hire Tech Experts for your Company
To summarize, the technical product owner position emerges when an organization needs someone with in-depth product and technical knowledge. It’s a role that’s long been elusive, often mistaken for that of a regular product owner.
Their notable differences lie in the very nature for which they were intended. While the role of a technical product owner is entirely technical, the product owner’s role doesn’t have to be. In addition, not all Scrum teams require a technical product owner. It’s a need-based role whose responsibilities are pretty much simple and straightforward.
If you’re on the fence if you should hire a technical product owner, don’t be! Here at Full Scale, we’ll handle the selection and recruitment of tech experts for you. All you need to do is focus on building your business empire.
Message us today so we can start assembling your team of software experts.