How to improve collaboration between developers and product owners

Technical teams sometimes have difficulties getting along, as the scope of work across a project can be so diverse. In any profession, if a team member doesn’t understand the value of what their colleague brings to the group, this can cause conflict, so close and frequent communication is key.

Research from Harvard Business Review supports this philosophy, with high-performing teams reaching out to each other ten times per day, compared to an average of six. This shows how regular check-ins strengthen bonds within the group, which subsequently reduces errors and disagreements as everyone has a clear idea about each person’s role in the team.

Promoting a strategy of regular communication is particularly important for the dynamic between product owners and developers working on technical projects, such as building websites. A product owner is tasked with maximizing the value of the offering produced by the development team. This means ensuring the needs of all stakeholders are met, and even involves intervening in the development phase to tailor the product to its target audience.

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Being a product owner is a big responsibility, with the success or failure of a project often hinging on how well this person manages the process. However, friction with developers can sometimes occur, largely when developers believe that the red tape and bureaucracy that product owners enforce impacts their ability to get important coding work done.

Product owners must take the time to communicate with developers and help them understand that they are not there to hinder, but to help them. Forging this bond between both teams holds the key to success.

Allow developers to do what they do best

Sometimes developers want more freedom, and feel like too much time is spent in meetings and not enough on programming. In this sense, having a product owner can feel like the bulk of a developer’s day is spent talking instead of working.

In reality, these meetings are the product owner’s way of shielding the developer from external pressures. Lots of different teams -- be it marketing, sales, audit or investors -- have their own vision for the project. That’s where the product owner comes in and works with all these stakeholders to meet their requirements.

If left to their own devices without the product owner’s protection, developers would get pulled in a hundred different directions, making it impossible for them to do their job. It is through meetings and catch-ups that the product owner can explain stakeholder ideas to developers, preventing a deluge of phone calls and emails taking up all their time. This gives developers more time to complete vital coding tasks.

It is important that product owners and business leaders do a good job of communicating this dynamic to development teams, as this will lead to more harmonious relationships in the long run.

Working towards shared goals

It is important for the product owner to create a cohesive unit, where the collective belief is that all members are doing their best and contributing to the team’s success. When roles on a project have a high level of separation, developers may adopt a single-minded approach to working and forget that they are a part of a wider team.

The product owner must prevent this mentality from spreading throughout the group, as producing a consistent product will be impossible if no one is listening to each other. So, when a product owner encourages a developer to communicate with colleagues, this is a reminder that they are a part of a wider team.

Organizing these check-ins stops the group becoming disjointed and ensures everyone is pulling in the same direction. At a big organization, teams are constantly changing and roles are agile, so regular communication is also important for helping colleagues adjust to changes and understand new objectives.

Managing workflows

A good product owner should take time to understand the work that is taking place, so that they can make a developer’s job more comfortable. If they are knowledgeable and have a strong grasp of the developmental process, product owners can reject tasks they know will damage the flow of work, preventing developers from taking on jobs that don’t make sense.

Product owners are more tuned into company politics than developers and should be able to spot red flags that will disrupt the project’s progress, intervening so that these never even cross the developer’s desk. For this reason, it is crucial that product owners invest hours in learning procedural details, equipping them to take action if they spot a potential disturbance to the flow of work.

Ultimately, developers need to understand that the product owner is there to help and support them, so they should try to strengthen this relationship for the good of the team. However, respect must be earned, which is why product owners should educate themselves on the work that is taking place, enabling them to make the lives of the team simpler and keep the project running smoothly.

Photo Credit: Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

Dorota Szuszkiewicz is Product Owner at STX Next, and Michał Wiśniewski is Python Developer at STX Next. The company is the largest software house in Europe specializing in designing and creating digital solutions in the Python programming language. The company has been operating since 2005 and cooperates with over 500 people through eight offices in Poland.

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