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Building software is extremely difficult. It requires teams of people with diverse roles, backgrounds, and skill sets to unite under a common goal. Founders, executives, developers, and users all have unique – and often conflicting – opinions on software. Creating unity in team direction for a software development project should always be a deliberate, thoughtful action. Otherwise, something that is already extremely difficult can quickly become impossible.

When building software, it is critical to make a single person accountable for the success of the product, no matter how success is defined. There must be someone directly responsible for balancing user needs with business needs and translating the result into direction for the development team. That person is the product owner.

Creating unity in team direction for a software development
project should always be a deliberate, thoughtful action.

The importance of having a product owner on a software project cannot be overstated. Product owners are essential for companies wanting to build software, regardless of whether the software is B2B, B2C, or line-of-business. They synthesize the vision of the founders, the needs of internal stakeholders, and the pain points of the target user base to produce clear direction for the development team. Founders and executives can look to product owners to ensure development dollars are being spent intelligently, freeing them up to concentrate on higher-level concerns.

Surprisingly, many software companies don’t know that they need a product owner, instead passively allowing other roles (like developers, project managers, or worse – executives) to take on these responsibilities. This can greatly set back or even doom a project, as there is no dedicated, central point of synthesis for the direction of the product.

Startup founders in particular should be considering avenues for fostering their product department as early as possible. While the startup idea can often be “the baby” of the new CEO, he or she must acknowledge their time is better served doing things no one else can for the company. CEOs should be open with the product owner about their vision and allow the product owner to offload the critical tasks involved in thoughtful product management. A good relationship with the CEO or executive sponsor for the project can provide the product owner the vision to direct the software project with confidence.

The most important relationships the product owner can build is with the proposed users of the software. The best product owners are able to immerse themselves in the persona of the target user base and truly experience their joys and frustrations firsthand. This insight into the user base is the most valuable asset the product owner can bring to the project, as they can take their knowledge and detail new opportunity for the business.

If you are a decision maker for an active or upcoming software project, and don’t have the product owner role on the team, consider the immense business benefits for recruiting one.