Where Business Meets Technology

Assen Kapitanov on His Journey as a Product Owner at Fourth

There are many interpretations and different materials about the responsibilities of Product Owners in software companies. As described in the Scrum Guide – ‘a Scrum Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team’. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, scrum teams, and individuals. Today, we are sharing with you the story and lessons learnt of our colleague Assen Kapitanov, who is based in the Sofia office of Fourth and is one of the amazing Product owners that work at the company.

Assen has been a Product Owner at Fourth for the past two years. He started in the company as a Software Developer, so he understands the commonalities as well as the differences between these two roles. For only a short span of time, he now has the experience and the expertise to point out his personal learnings along the way of progressing as a Product Owner.

As in his own words:

“As a programmer, I used to develop new things that helped the business which was a great feeling, however as a product owner I get to implement my ideas and see actual results. Being a product owner does not simply involve designing a product and solving business problems, but communicating and collaborating with people from various teams across the business. I’ve found this to be very motivational and a driver for innovation. Most importantly, as a product owner I am involved in various decision making and it’s great to be able to make a difference and have a direct impact on the business growth.”

Assen gets frequently asked how and why he decided to pursue a career as a Product Owner; and as he shares his career journey he always tries to inspire and encourage others “to take the opportunities you come across and just do it”.

“Grab opportunities and take advantage of career development possibilities, even if it means going out of your comfort zone. This is a piece of advice that I always share with my colleagues and friends – when you see an opportunity that interests you, do not hesitate about it and do your best to act on it. Stepping up will only be a benefit for you – for your professional as well as personal development. Even better, if you can switch roles within the same company and leverage your knowledge of the company’s culture and people.”

“Fourth Bulgaria is a great place to pursue a career development in the Software industry especially because of the support and mentorship one can get. I remember my first days as a Product Owner – it took me some time to build credibility in the new role and for my peers to accept my new responsibilities. I had to ‘walk the talk’ – just saying things was not enough; I had to give solid examples and justify the decisions I have to make as a Product Owner.”

But after a while his colleagues felt they could trust his judgement. “My mentor Chris Webb (Product Manager) advised me to do things the way I believe it is best. Adapting the processes the way I am comfortable with, regardless of the challenges and impediments, was the only way I could have made it work. With time I started feeling more confident in my new role. I improved my soft skills, negotiating abilities and the way I could influence business critical situations – all my colleagues were able to sense that.”

Assen shared with us details about his day-to-day work: “It is really rewarding when at the end of a dynamic day, after all the challenges – debugging, fixing, talking with happy and not so happy customers, liaising with colleagues and maneuvering tasks – you realize you’ve managed to keep it all flowing. In the right way.” According to Assen, the key responsibility of a Product Owner role is to constantly seek the synergy between actual business needs and technology solutions, and to translate this to the engineering teams.

Another responsibility of the Product Owner is to ensure that the development tasks meet customer requirements. And furthermore, the role of a PO is to constantly think what would make the overall product better. How it could be optimized – to achieve more with fewer resources involved and in a shorter time frame.

Assen recalls one of the many challenging projects that he has worked on: “You need to not only understand what the client wants but what they really need and how it would affect the overall product. One of our clients had a specific change request, however it wouldn’t have worked well within the already built system. So, I had to figure out how to best implement the changes to not simply satisfy the needs of that initial client, but also our overall client base. Consulting with the development team and brainstorming different scenarios for different clients paid off. We managed to solve the problem of that one client and to also improve the solution as a whole, to benefit all.”

“I am passionate about what I do. There is nothing better than having a job that genuinely interests you and you easily devote yourself to; because you see the positive outcomes and clients’ appreciation every day. Being a Product Owner is extremely rewarding but it is also demanding of time and devotion to your team and the product itself. Being proactive & organized pays off – that is the biggest lesson I learnt as a PO so far. Even when you’re ready to take a break and distance yourself from work (balance is a must!) – You ought to prepare in advance. Closing tasks, agreeing who will cover the role during your vacations and ensuring the processes keep flowing is key.” Assen adds: “At Fourth, colleagues are very supportive and always eager to help when needed. We cherish work-life balance, have a variety of wellness programs, and we are all encouraged to dedicate time to personal development and to use the enhanced vacation policy.”

We asked Assen to share one piece of advice to people interested in a PO role: “My sister actually gave me a present when I got promoted to a Product Owner – a book, which I strongly recommend to both present and future POs. It’s called: ‘Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love’ by Marty Cagan, full of real life case studies and useful business tips, and tricks which I personally put into practice every day. But let me share something from my first-hand experience – try to surround yourself with professionals that are the best in their field. Listen to them, learn from them, and ask for their advice when you’re in the typhoon of decision making. A Product Owner is not simply ‘an owner’ of a team and a product; it’s ‘a bridge’ – connecting all departments (Product, Sales, Support, UX, Development, Projects) within the company together.“

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