Exploring the Role of a SAFe Product Owner

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StarAgile

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Apr 30, 2024

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70% of the Fortune companies are hiring SAFe professionals. Not only I am saying this but Scaled Agile has stated this in their recent study.  The multifacet benefit of SAFe makes it a compelling choice for companies who seek organizational success and operational agility. 

In my years of working experience, I have seen companies not only reducing impediments through SAFe but booming their profits with this framework. It is perceived as one of the most trusted tools for business agility. To summarise, it is a set of organizational and workflow patterns which help implement scrum methodologies in an organization. Beyond merely facilitating scrum implementation, SAfe also helps to define the job roles, and responsibilities, plans and manages the work and most importantly what values to uphold. 

To successfully implement SAFe in any organization, the Product Owner acts as the backbone of the project. With this blog, I will take you through a comprehensive journey comprised of SAFe product owner responsibilities and everything you need to get started with this role. 

What do you mean by SAFe Product Owner? 

  • Being a Product Owner myself with 20+ years of experience in the field, I have realised that a Product Owner is a people person. He/she is a prominent part of the Scrum Team who represents the consumers. They work with the Product Managers and other stakeholders to define the product backlog and prioritise tasks based on the company’s goals and requirements. 
  • The PO can handle two Agile teams at maximum to ensure the productivity is maintained. But in my experience, a product owner should handle 1 agile team at a time to reduce delays and implement the planned strategies. 

Role of a Product Owner in SAFe

But What does a safe product owner do? The responsibilities of a PO go beyond mere adherence to the defined duties outlined by any governing body. As a product owner, you are required to go beyond the assigned tasks to impress stakeholders and fulfil their requirements. So If I say being a PO is following a definite pathway of pre-defined rules that would be wrong. However, fulfilling the established guidelines for a PO is crucial. Let us understand those responsibilities set by Agile: 

1. Iteration Planning: As the PO is more on the business side and customer dealing, he knows what the market conditions are which helps in setting more realistic goals and working towards them. Moreover, they are required to work on solution alternatives based on the insights given by the customers. The PO is also responsible for adding acceptance criteria, and acceptance tests and working on the behavioural-development process. 

2. Managing and prioritizing the team backlog: It is the responsibility of product owners, to maintain a well-organized team backlog. The team backlog comprises user stories, enablers and defects and it should align with the market and business requirements. Here are the major tasks you need to do: 

  • Mentor the team in splitting user stories 
  • Assist the team in creating smaller user stories that are workable in a single sprint. 
  • Timely refinement of team backlog items.
  • Conduct backlog refinement meetings 

3. Seamless Execution: During the execution, the PO ensures a smooth process. Customer preference and business requirements change constantly and it is important to modify the product strategy, design and implementation as per the changed requirements. The PO’s main focus is to collaborate with the customer and project management team to give an outcome that matches the product requirements.

4. Facilitating the team to deliver value: The value delivered is based on what tasks to prioritise from the backlog. The Product owner plays an important part in guiding the teams towards delivering high-value outputs. Moreover, he/she needs to support the team to move towards a better definition of done and participate in all the events to have a clear understanding of product vision and customer needs. 

5. Inspection and adaptation: The Inspection and adaptation workshop is held to ensure any large impediments are not there during the development process. The team should produce high-value output and this responsibility is primarily of a Product Owner.

6. PI Planning: This event is crucial in the product development journey and a Product Owner is expected to be a part of it. Though the responsibilities involved in the PI Planning are covered by others it is the responsibility of PO to make the PI Planning happen effectively. 

Skills and Qualities of an Effective Product Owner

As per my experience of working with scrum teams, these are the SAFe product owner skills I would say are important to become an effective Product Owner: 

1. Customer relationship: As a product owner, you are not only expected to bring the requirements and add to the product backlog. But, to make the customer realise the needs they didn’t know they had. 

2. Product vision: Another very important quality of a product owner is envisioning the product after the development is done. Every input that the Product Owner has to give should be according to the client's requirements and towards the enhancement of the product. 

3. Product Knowledge: The product owner must have a thorough knowledge of the product being developed. This will help understand the feedback and popularity of the product after marketing. Therefore, you can market and position your product better after launch. 

4. Story Teller: A product Owner needs to be an amazing storyteller. To get the desired outcome, the product owner should communicate the client's stories into features. The Product Owner should be able to clearly define the customer’s requirements to the developers and get the best outcome out of their work.

5. Communicative: A product owner should be approachable to the stakeholders, customers and internal team. He/she has to be excellent in communication, and by communication, I do not mean verbal skills solely but putting your point in a way that is understandable by all. 

Understanding Safety in the Context of Product Ownership

Safety in the context of Product ownership means the ability to use the product to be safe for the intended use. It is a priority for the manufacturers and sellers as damage to the product could even lead to legal action. A product owner is responsible for maintaining the safety of the product as well by communicating the requirements properly to the team. Here are the primary responsibilities: 

  • Prioritization of team backlog: The feature which is related to safety should move to development first is the responsibility of the product owner. 
  • Maintaining the conceptual and technical integrity of the product is also the responsibility of the product owner. 
  • PO should maintain transparency with the customers to ensure their requirements do not suggest anything that doesn’t comply with the safety practices. 

Challenges Faced by Product Owners in Ensuring Safety

In my experience of handling agile teams and implementing SAFe to boost business agility, I made a few mistakes. If you are an aspiring SAFe Product owner, I aim to prevent you from repeating the errors I made: 

1. Undefined goals: One mistake I made in the initial years of my practice was not defining the goals appropriately. This happened because of a lack of communication and less involvement of stakeholders. 

2. Poorly managed backlog: Poorly managed backlog can lead the team to work on features with low priority. This usually happens due to a lack of agile knowledge, less involvement of stakeholders and poor communication. As your team will work on low-priority features it can impact the quality of the product served. 

3. Overlooking team collaboration: Being an effective product owner will only have meaning when your team works in collaboration and this took me some time to understand. Poor team collaboration can lead to knowledge gaps and a lack of productivity and innovation. 

4. Inadequate user story mapping: User stories are quintessential to track user needs. If this is not in place it can misguide your team to work in an undefined direction without achieving anything.  It will create a misalignment between product and user requirements which will eventually lead to poor product value. 

Measuring Success as a Safe Product Owner

Measuring the success of a Product Owner is not only beneficial for the companies but for the POs as well. If you’re looking forward to stepping up your game as a Product owner, I highly recommend keeping some personal benchmarks.  It will not only help you boost productivity but also pinpoint the areas where you need to improve.  Here is what I will suggest that works in most of the workplaces: 

1. Product vision execution: You should consider the extent of product vision execution. This KPI helps to understand how product development is aligned with the initial vision. As a product owner, you should make sure that every sprint, design and feature aligns with the product goals and results in the accurate execution of the product vision. 

2. Product Strategy Alignment: This KPI ensures that the product development is aligned with the business goals, market positioning and competitive strategy. There are different parameters by which you can judge this KPI like customer acquisition, achieving targets, or driving growth. It is the responsibility of the Product Owner to change the strategy as per the dynamic business requirements. 

3. Business value delivery: This KPI reflects the value the product delivers to the business. It can be measured in many ways like reduced customer churn rate, increased retention, increased revenue or saved costs from improved internal processes. 

5. Stakeholder satisfaction: As the product owner is in direct contact with the stakeholders, it is important to maintain the reputation of the firm with them. You can measure how satisfied the customer is with the product with the help of surveys or forms. Moreover, you can add a column if they are satisfied with the support they are getting from your team. 

6. Cross-team collaboration: Collaboration is a non-detachable part of Agile and it is vital to have have team-collaboration for any project's success. You can measure it through the milestones kept and how many of them are achieved by the team. 

7. Sprint Planning Execution: Sprint planning execution is also one of the KPIs that will measure the effectiveness of product development execution. This KPI includes setting clear goals for each sprint, the number of tasks planned in a sprint vs several tasks completed. 

 

Best Certification for SAFe Product Owners

If you’re a Product Owner and want to upskill in the same field then here are the certifications that I would suggest you do. I have done most of these certifications and know the value it imposes for an individual in the market: 

1. SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager Certification 

Governing Body: Scaled Agile 

Who can do this: Product Owners, Product Managers, Business Analysts, Scrum Masters, Project Managers and Entrepreneurs. 

Pre-requisites: 

  • Prior work experience is required especially in a safe environment 
  • Must be certified in Agile, Lean or any other relevant certifications. 

2. SAFe Practioner Consultant (SPC) Certification 

Governing body: Scaled Agile 

Who can do: Agile coaches, scrum masters, Agile transformation Leaders, Consultants, Program Managers and Project Managers. 

Pre-requisites: 

  • At least 5 years of experience in software development, testing, business analysis, project or product management is required. 
  • 3 years of work experience in Agile 
  • 1 or more than 1 Agile Certification 
  • Pass the SPC exam with a minimum of 75% marks 
  • Certified SAFe Lean Portfolio Manager 

Governing body: Scaled Agile 

Who can do: Portfolio Managers, Enterprise Architects, Product Managers, Product Owners, Business Leaders and Lean Agile Leaders. 

Pre-requisites: 

  •  No formal eligibility criteria 
  • Understanding of Agile concepts and principles 
  • Need Leading SAFe or SAFe POPM Certification 
  • Experienced in working in SAFe Environments

3. SAFe Advanced Scrum Master(SASM) Certification 

People who wish to transition their careers from SAFe PO to Scrum Master can adopt this course. 

Governing body: Scaled Agile 

Who can do: Experienced scrum masters, Agile Coaches, Release Train Engineers, Scrum Master Team Leads, Project Managers, Program Managers and Agile Practitioners. 

Pre-requisites: 

  • There are no formal pre-requisites to attend this course
  • You must know Agile concepts and principles 
  • You must have an understanding of scrum, kanban and XP 
  • You must have experience as a Scrum Master, Agile Coach, Team Leader, Project Manager, Engineering and Development Manager or Agile Program Manager. 

4. Release Train Engineer(RTE) Certification 

Governing Body: Scaled Agile

Who can do: Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, Program Managers, Release Managers, System Architects, Product Managers or Product Owners. 

Pre-requisites: 

  • You must have at least 1 SAFe Certification 
  • You must have participated in at least 1 Agile Release Train or Program Increment 
  • You must be able to coach SAFe 
  • Attend the RTE course and pass the exam 

Conclusion

SAFe Product Owner plays a huge role in setting up the SAFe strategy, getting deep into customer requirements and prioritizing the features of the product as per requirement. 

If you want to become a SAFe Product Owner, start by building fundamental knowledge about agile and scrum. A strong foundation will help you get hold of complex topics. I would suggest taking the help of a certification course like StarAgile’s SAFe POPM Certification. The SAFe Product Owner Certification will equip you with all the necessary details required to succeed as a SAFe Product Owner and scale your current organizational processes with SAFe. 

FAQ

1. How hard is the SAFe Product Owner exam?

The SAFe Product Owner exam is considered a moderate-level exam. I would suggest you start by clearing your basic concepts around Agile and move forward to understand the complex situations that may arise in a workplace and how to resolve them. 

 

2. Which activity is the Product Owner involved in SAFe?

  • Setting Product Strategy 
  • Understanding Customer Requirements 
  • Refining product backlog 

3. What is the Product Owner authority of SAFe?

In SAFe, the Product Owner has the content authority which means he/she is responsible for every feature in the product. 

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