What makes a good Product Owner?

Amsterdam has a broad range of creative agencies and freelancers, and a high standard for professionalism. But no matter how skilled the agency or freelancer, building an app or a website is always a collaboration between the client and the builders. That's why it's essential your organization invests in a highly experienced Product Owner. This person does more than prioritize features and ensure good process. They facilitate efficient collaboration across all stages: inventorization, design, realization, marketing, and after-care.

A product owner shares an agency's vision and carries it forward.

So you've decided you want a new website or digital product, and you've reached out to a few agencies. The client managers listen to your wishlist and present their pitch. This is an exciting phase of any project and an incredible opportunity to mobilize your organization down a new path. It's dreamy, inspiring, the horizon starts to come into focus... and then it's time for you to step up to the plate.

An agency can design and develop your product, but the heart of the product comes from your organization. You need to know what you want, what's realistic, what's risky, when to push, and when to concede. Creation is a collaboration. Do not hire a Product Owner that can only talk about scrum and agile. Technical knowledge and design acumen are just as important as process. Make sure your Product Owner actually knows how websites are made and why you are producing content.

Once a budget is agreed upon and the project structure is determined, what happens next is what I call the "sales to PM dump". The client manager begins to fade out and functions more as a strategic advisor or creative director. That isn't per se a bad thing, but it's tricky to navigate because the relationship built with one person needs to start anew with a PM. If you have someone within your own team who is already familiar with the agency process, it can make this transition a lot smoother, especially if they already have a prior relationship with the agency you've selected.

The PO should own the creative director's vision, be fully onboard, and know what needs to happen at every stage to fully realize the project to completion. If the agency has a hiccup, the PO can help compensate. The PO is also the person who keeps your team aligned around the pitch, and adjusts it along the way to your organization's operational and budgetary constraints.

A Product Owner can help avoid common pitfalls

I've worked for agencies for ten years. The best ones function as a factory. From sales to design to development to support, if you work with a well-integrated team, things can move quickly from one discipline to the next. But this chain approach requires consistent oversight. If not, a lot can go wrong.

The designer isn't aware of the developers' existing toolkit, leading to expensive bespoke components.
A Product Owner with a technical background can better facilitate communication across design, development and stakeholder groups.
Sales transfers operational responsibility to a PM who isn't senior enough to adjust the project to fit the client's budget or needs.
A Product Owner should keep the cost and scope of development fair, rather than antagonise the relationship based on unrealistic promises.
The content team is treated as an after-thought.
Designed templates are rarely tested against suffient real content, leading to problems later in the production process. The Product Owner should start content production early and encourage a feedback loop between content and design teams.
Aftercare is a hosting contract with a few hours reserved for security updates. There's no budget remaining for iteration or continuous development.
A good PO will advocate for continued development from the beginning of the project, and reduce the scope of the project if necessary.