How does having a remote PO work?

By Yauheniya Prakhina, Product Owner at Godel Technologies, and Darya Voitava, Senior Agile Delivery Co-ordinator, Godel Technologies.

The Product Owner role is one which evolves with a client engagement. Godel currently has around seven people fulfilling the role, six of which are remote. It is the responsibility of the PO to keep communication at the forefront of the development journey with the client, whilst understanding new ways and means to deliver value to them. This post looks at the role of a PO and their day-to-day responsibilities.

Yauheniya Prakhina, a Godel PO currently working as an integrated member of the Karhoo team, is a shining example of an employee who has evolved from her previous role as an Agile Delivery Coordinator when it was deemed appropriate for the client, and when they were ready and willing to incorporate a Godel PO with their engagement. Yauheniya will also lead the Product Ownership Centre of Excellence, soon to be launched by Godel to help its employees develop the knowledge and expertise necessary to assess a piece of work and judge whether Godel can further maximise value for their clients.

One key element of the PO role is its remote nature, so the client must be open to adopting new technology in their day-to-day ways of working in order to work effectively with somebody who is not in their immediate proximity. To assist the clients in introducing a remote team member, the PO will run regular synchronisation sessions to ensure that everything is aligned, including the knowledge, atmosphere and culture of both Godel and the client. It’s important that both teams have a chance to communicate their thoughts on the current stream of work as this allows for a common understanding of the product, the business domain and ways of working. On top of this, it gives the Godel team an opportunity to understand the structure of the client’s team. Additionally, the sessions help the collaborative team to establish exactly who owns the decisions and who owns which area of the product.

Often a client will have several products being developed by Godel at one time, each of them requiring their own PO, who will establish their own internal ways of working, which they will instil within the team that is working on the product development. Another essential part of the engagement involves the Godel team being introduced to the clients “product community”, which must then also be integrated into the relationship. So, it is a culmination of the mindsets of each team which allows both partners to gain value from the product in question. Alongside this, there must be someone on the client side who will be responsible for introducing the Godel PO into their community and their culture. Think of it like a first day at school – lots of new people to meet, who they will work alongside and gain valuable knowledge from. In order for the role of the PO to maximise the results of the engagement, they themselves must be willing to communicate even more than they would if they were working face-to-face with their new team. This involves exchanging messages constantly, and the willingness to be completely open to sharing experiences and knowledge. This is all in an effort to get the external team to the same level of understanding, which can take time as there are more people to adapt to new ways of working.

The ongoing global pandemic has caused businesses worldwide to introduce remote working, which hasn’t been without difficulties. ‘Does this change the role of an already-remote PO?’ you might wonder. Thankfully, due to their practice, PO’s are already highly communicative and able to break their teams’ work down into manageable pieces, before delegating it clearly and precisely. However, Darya Voitava, Senior Agile Delivery Co-ordinator at Godel explains that the effects of Covid-19 depends on the ‘newness’ of the teams. Due to travel restrictions, the teams from newer engagements have not yet had the chance to travel to the Godel offices in Minsk, so although communication is at the forefront of the PO role, the relationships are potentially not as strong as they could be at this stage in the development. The Godel team largely puts this down to the lack in face-to-face interaction. So, although the role of the PO ultimately stays the same, the challenges they face have arguably changed due to the adverse effects of Covid-19.

Of course, in the current working environment, remote working is less alien to clients as it was at the beginning of this year. As a result, Godel have found that clients have gained a deeper understanding of our issues and behaviours, but it goes without saying that the negative impact which Covid-19 has had on business has been a challenge. Ultimately, the effects of Covid-19 depends on the client, and their familiarity with remote working. If they were already familiar with remote working, the client is likely to have already ironed out any issues in communication, which quickens the delivery process in turn. Those clients which weren’t familiar with remote working prior to the pandemic have had to learn how to manage a workforce remotely, enhancing their communication skills above all else, and so it could be argued that lockdown has in fact had a positive effect on them – win win!

Godel teams have been working collaboratively with Karhoo to build their global marketplace. Yauheniya is the PO currently working as part of the Godel team on one of the products which is underpinned by Karhoo marketplace. In this instance, is the responsibility of the Godel PO to work on a product roadmap, which defines which features should be developed at each stage of development. On top of this, the incremental stages shown on a roadmap are fully aligns with the goals and overall direction of the product, as well as that of the entire business.

Once the roadmap has been shared and agreed with stakeholders within the business, the PO must then ensure visibility of each product plan to the team, which is essentially what drives the team and helps them deliver value to the client. Additionally, the PO runs refinement sessions, where the work order is planned, and tasks are delegated throughout the team, broken down into manageable pieces for them to tackle. During each session, the PO will remind their team of the requirements from the stakeholders and what should be achieved from each piece of work. To enable maximum value, the PO will also work closely with designers to discuss the design and flow of different product features.

All people involved in the development process – the teams from both client and Godel sides, the stakeholders and the PO will have regular demo sessions, where they are able to go through and show off the new features which they have been working on. Ultimately, these sessions provide time for the team to show how features can be utilises to their full potential and get feedback from the stakeholders about how they can improve them further. It’s important to understand that each team member is treated as equal, and are all considered to be an integral, interdependent part of the team. Each employee, whether they sit on the Godel or client side, have shared responsibilities. These responsibilities will also be rotated from time to time, so that developers can understand one another’s role and the importance of each of them. Team members are also encouraged to share ideas and suggestions on how product features or team processes can be improved, in order to add value for both sides of the engagement.

Clearly, the day-to-day schedule of a PO can be hectic, with a heavy focus on communication between the many stakeholders involved in the development of the product. Consequently, a PO’s day can consist of back to back meetings, meaning their trust in the team to be able to make strategic decisions is vital to the success of the product. Primarily, it is because of the high-level communication within the team that the team can be trusted to advise on the right decision, based on their understanding of what needs to be achieved, as well as their wider knowledge and expertise. Being able to trust the team is just one characteristic of a suitable PO. On top of this, the individual must be a good ‘people person’; able to respect people and be happy to travel frequently, whilst also being 100% invested in the product they’re developing. The PO is also recognised as an integral member of the team, who can provide direction, as well as being a real team member. If the PO doesn’t sit within the Godel team, the client-side PO will regularly travel to meet the team in Minsk, which ultimately sets them up for success due to the relationships that are built with the leverage of face-to-face interaction.

Despite there being clear differences between a client having an offsite or onsite PO, the underlying similarity is that the PO’s communication and personal characteristics are crucial in the success of the product and the value it delivers. On top of this, it is the high-level of dedication and focus on the product which is what really matters, whether the PO sits on the Godel or client side.