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Why your Product Owner should share ownership

By Eifion Kaine

03 Aug 2021

Let’s start by defining the role of a Product Owner; Essentially this person represents the client and their business needs. Having collected all the relevant information, they’re able to make decisions about features and functions and answer questions the development team may have. 

Once the Product Owner has communicated the requirements to the team, typically through customer centric user stories detailing the end goals of the user, the design and development teams can get to work.

With development underway the Product Owner will relay updates to the client and ensure they are happy. Here’s where things can go wrong. The Product Owner may spend more time and attention on the internal client, rather than the people that will actually be using the product.

Whilst ensuring the business objectives are being met, they may be overlooking a fundamental issue to the product's success - user validation. The approach of prioritising one person's opinion, or a business KPI just isn’t going to cut it in the long run. It’s quite a simple philosophy if you think about it - the more a user enjoys your product the more they are going to use it, re use it and even recommend it. An increase of use over a longer period of time, will always show a greater return than hitting those short term KPI’s. Once the user experience starts being sacrificed to fit in an extra feature, or display that partner's banner just one more time, there are going to be knock on effects in user satisfaction, and ultimately that translates to business performance.

By contrast, the designer’s focus should be the end user. Making calculated decisions that come in the form of interviews, customer personas, usability testing and good old fashioned research. In the same respect as a Product Owner, the Designers may find themselves putting too much emphasis in one area - sure it may look pretty but how does that convert into cold hard cash?

The takeaway here then I believe is to strike a balance between these two roles. Rather than seeing the design team as executors, they should be referred to early on and throughout the development process. By collaborating with UX designers during the planning stages - especially when the outcome affects emotion, interaction and ultimately customer value, we’re able to deliver better products. 

Product owners have plenty to do in terms of validating, prioritizing and verifying requirements. By sharing the responsibility of product ownership, the UX designer is able to support important decisions that relate to interface and usability. This shared ownership approach plays to the team members strengths and reduces usability issues down the line.

Tempting as it may be to keep your clients happy in the short run, it’s better to provide data driven and user centric feedback early, in order to create long lasting products users will love. Sharing ownership is the most direct route to this outcome.