You know that feeling when you’ve completely lost every ounce of bandwidth you have? You become known for being the person who has meetings on the way to their meetings. This feeling is the epitome of being the lone Product Owner who desperately needs their CEO to realize that it’s time to scale. Product Owners who experience this don’t work efficiently, as they are extremely burned out, making scaling up the product department unavoidable. It’s best to realize that your team needs to scale before there is a complete breakdown. Read on to get tips for recognizing when it’s time to scale.
Product Owners often fall into one of two situations. The first happens when there is only one Product Owner (PO)for the whole company. This PO wears many hats, which is often the case in startup environments. Because an employee in this role is expected to have a broad skillset, it is common for them to oversee both technical and managerial duties. These POs may do anything from market research to code reviews managing engineers. When this is the case, the lone PO can become burned out when their workload needs to ramp up. While many CEOs feel that hiring another PO is costly, it can, in fact, be more cost effective than overloading a single PO. Hiring another PO presents the opportunity for them to specialize in a particular area of expertise.
The second situation arises when the company has decided to expand its product offering. Whether it’s the first time or the fifth, it's a massive undertaking for almost everyone involved. From validating the market to writing brand new lines of code overseeing feature development, the current Product Owner(s) have their work cut out for them. Owners may find themselves excited about new products and let the old trusty product(s) fall to the wayside. Luckily, it is the PO’s job not to let this happen and to maintain the existing products. Sustaining quality products is extremely hard to do when new expectations arise, requiring management of new products as well. Now is the time to scale.
When to Hire Another Product Owner - From the PM’s Standpoint:
While their own capabilities more or less determine each PO's bandwidth, the intricacies of each product also play into determining each team member’s capacity. Don’t think of a new team member as a threat. Instead, understand that adding more human power will either give you the possibility of a promotion (got management skills?) or get you back to attainable work goals (*takes a deep breath*).
How to Know When It's Time to Scale Up:
- You can’t give enough time and effort to what each task requires
- You’re unable to maintain Agile methods
- You’ve already overextended yourself
- If your company is adding a new product, your time is split 50/50 or more on the new product.
When to Hire Another Product Owner - From the Company’s Standpoint:
If your team is only one PO. they’ve got an expansive to-do list; MDR’s, wireframes, plans for testing, and training the sales team, etc. Scaling your product management team may be more efficient as it gets each team member back to working in their wheelhouse. Bringing more skillsets into the company can also bring clarity, more coverage, and better ideas. What would have been overlooked by one PO may be seen as an opportunity to integrate products to another.
How to Know When It's Time to Scale Up:
- There is a greater timespan between deliverables from your PO team
- Work product is becoming sloppy or buggy
- Code is going untested and pushed straight into production
- Your PM hasn’t smiled in weeks…
How to Break Up the Workload
When you and your team think about developing, think about daily and weekly goals. A huge project can seem ambiguous if it’s not thought about and talked about as smaller pieces. While this may seem obvious, if you’re team knows how their weekly goals relate to the overall project, it will seem less ambiguous.
While having a plan is no doubt, a good plan, the plan cannot be entirely rigid. That just wouldn’t be Agile! The most efficient of teams can react to new information without having to scrap hours or days worth of work. Software engineers are wired this way.
If you are adding a new product, there may need to be a specific PO for each product. If you’ve got one product that is going through a major overhaul, requiring your team to scale, breaking the workload up by feature may be the best option.
POs can have vastly different skill sets. While some sales-minded PO’s will find comfort in supporting the sales team with training courses and collateral, developer-minded PO’s will spend much of their time overseeing features being built and doing code reviews and talking architecture with engineers. Ideally, POs for a new product should be separated into Product Managers and Product Marketers. Product Managers will work closely with the development team to meet requirements while Product Marketers will develop a go-to-market strategy by working with the sales team. By utilizing the skill sets of both of these people, product planning can be strategic for more than one department. As always, have a plan for accountability for every team member.
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