What Inspires the Product Owner in Software Development in 2022?
Google is a great inspiration: We ask Evgeny Kovrizhen what inspires the Product Owner in software development and what skills are important in 2022?
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The Product Owner is the person responsible for the development of the product, its "father," so to speak. Product Owner and Product Manager should not be confused — they are not equal positions. The Product Manager distributes the workload and tasks within the team, and is responsible for the management processes, while the Product Owner is responsible for the product itself. They see the end result and direct the team towards it.
All stages of product creation are under the control of the PO.
It's important for them to see the final result and communicate their vision to the team. If the team moves in a different direction, nothing will work.
Also, the PO must think about the value and usefulness of the product to the user.
I spoke with Movavi Picverse PO, Evgeny Kovrizhin. Evgeny has 13 years of experience in PO and PM, and he's willing to share his knowledge and expertise.
- What kind of soft and hard skills should a PO have?
- What is the difference between PO and PM?
- What is Eugene proud of in his work?
- What is important to learn before becoming a PO?
About all this in the interview below.
Interview With Evgeny Kovrizhin
Hi Eugene! I'm glad to communicate with you. To begin with, tell us who the product owner is? How is he different from the project manager?
Hi! It is worth noting that in some IT companies the PO and PM have almost no overlapping responsibilities. Rather, they complement each other. And there are still other places where one universal specialist does everything. There is no single correct approach. The only thing that matters is the outcome.
In my opinion, the product owner is more analytical. He answers the questions "What for?" and "Why is it that way?" The PO must first find all the available information from different sources and then collect new data, if necessary. And here experience is of tremendous importance. Just getting a lot of numbers is not enough. You also need to be able to see insights, identify patterns, and draw conclusions.
The project manager is your typical production line manager. He is responsible for the overall smooth development process and ensuring that releases have no problems. If the PO formulates the hypothesis, then the PM takes over after that. He writes up the terms of reference, prepares the design, handles the localization, carries out the synchronizations, etc. And the end output is reliable data for the PO.
How long have you worked in this position?
If you add up all of my experience in the roles of PO and PM, you get 13 years.
Wow, that's an impressive number! How did you come to this profession? Was it a deliberate choice, or did you happen upon it by chance?
All of this was not accidental. My major in college was "Innovation management," and I defended my thesis on this topic. I worked for 4 years in the field of instrumentation, prepared business plans, and carried out R&D. But I wanted quick results, and radio electronics is a slowly moving field. Therefore, in 2012, I made the decision to retrain and go into the IT field. I started working on B2B and B2C projects to improve my PO skills. It was hard to retrain, but in the end, I got what I wanted: a large stream of new knowledge, a fast-paced career, and freedom of action.
In your opinion, what skills should a product owner have? I mean soft or hard skills.
I prefer soft skills. First, as a PO, you act as a link between programmers, testers, marketers, analysts, designers, and founders. You need to have a good sense of people and be able to inspire them. Secondly, even if there are not enough hard skills, then over time you will pick them up. It would be desirable.
Hard skills are more important for middle and senior specialists. When it comes to exponentially growing metrics, it's not enough just to be a cool guy. You also need to be thinking in the right direction.
It is important to learn how to sell ideas to your team in a reasoned manner and without any negativity, even if they do not believe in them. If you know that the data is on your side, then stand your ground. Sooner or later, you will prove to everyone that you were right. Or wrong.
What do you like the most about your job? Is there a particular case that you're proud of?
What I like the most about my work are the challenges of growing metrics. All of these analytics split testing, and polls feel more like playing a game than some tedious work that burns you out. When you look at the numbers showing that your product has become much more popular with users and that these changes have increased income, then you feel useful.
There was an interesting case related to support for one project. After the new business model was released, the number of support calls increased dramatically. The support was not able to quickly process the tickets, and the percentage of refunds increased. I didn't want to roll back the model, because it showed good growth in LTV. I studied hundreds of other cases in detail and then classified them into groups. Then, together with the translators, I made a semantic dictionary in several languages. After that, we released a support bot that instantly classified user emails and provided desired answers. As a result, the load on the human support team and the number of refunds decreased severalfold.
What advice do you have for those who want to become product owners? Where should they begin?
You need to start by gaining some basic knowledge about the data-driven approach, split testing, pirate metrics, basic statistics, and methods for evaluating and prioritizing hypotheses. You can read articles and watch videos about these topics. With just this knowledge, you can get a job as an intern. You should look to join the team of a larger project with more tasks and prospects. You should not immediately focus on salary size, because the most valuable thing at this stage is gaining knowledge. In just a year of work, you can grow from being an intern to a junior or even a mid-level specialist.
Could you tell us about the most difficult situation that you had to face in this position?
There was one large B2C project where I ran a series of tests with a subscription where all of Visa's requirements were not totally met. One wonderful spring morning, the payment processor sent an email that they would no longer work with us on our risky project. Technically, we had a few more months to address the problem, but the processor simply wouldn't wait. We had to stop accepting payments from users. I had to look for a backup payment processing solution on an emergency basis, configure the necessary products there, and motivate the whole team in order to quickly release the project with a bunch of changes. Since then, I have been more careful about my actions.
How do you decide which features are best for a product?
A good example here is pair programming, when the product owner together with the marketer put on their thinking caps, look at product performance, competitor features, trends, and feedback. During the first stage, you make a complete list of what you want to see in the product without being too critical so that you don't miss anything. The second step is to evaluate and prioritize the list using the ICE method. That way you will arrive at the group of features with the highest score so that you know which one to study in more detail.
Where do you find inspiration and how do you differentiate yourself from competitors in the product development environment?
Google is a great inspiration. As the world's coolest analyst, it will provide you with clear evidence of how good a particular product is. You will usually find really cool solutions that provide the best solutions to user problems in one of the top search results. And you can trust that these results are prioritized not just because someone paid a lot for SEO optimization.
One popular tool to gain inspiration is custdev. You can use it to conduct a quantitative survey and collect thousands of reviews and recommendations. You can also conduct a qualitative survey of 30–50 people and collect a bunch of insights. It's best to do both, but make sure that you do it correctly.
It's helpful to think outside of the box. Many competitors simply copy ideas from each other, and these are far from being the best ones. The trendy practice of growth hacking helps you to avoid limiting yourself and increases the chances of finding something worthwhile.
What advice do you have for those who want to become POs?
Imagine that a product owner proposes testing a hypothesis, and he is told that it does not work, since they have already tested it before. An inexperienced product owner will simply stop there. The better response would be to then clarify who exactly tested the idea before and when. Also, were there errors in the analytics? If so, then the data should be revised. It could be the case that there was nothing wrong with the hypothesis, but that it was tested with erroneous analytics.
And you also need to believe in yourself and not be afraid of big and rich competitors. There are other POs who have run into the same problems during a project, perhaps even more. And you are quite capable of doing even better than them.
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