The ability to outsource tech gives startups a huge advantage: You don’t need to be some genius coder to get your million-dollar app idea into the hands of the people. But not having a person who understands technology on the team has also shortchanged countless startups. We’ve seen it time and time again—there’s an incredible difference in how much faster a company grows when they have someone with clear technical understanding leading their product growth.
The Biggest Misconception About Your Tech Chief
So, why aren’t more startups hiring a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to fill their tech void? Mostly because startups are typically strapped for cash. That’s why they outsource tech in the first place—to save money (and time). It’s counter-intuitive to then turn around and bring a specialist onto the team (who will probably require either an insane salary or a large chunk of equity at a time when your focus should be on growth).
What is a Technical Product Owner?
A Technical Product Owner (TPO) is the bridge between the tech operations and the rest of the world. The role first emerged from the sphere of Agile, where team members’ responsibilities morph together due to overlap and speed from Kanban or Scrum.
So what does a TPO do? All of the tech research and work necessary to lead—they listen to their developers and translate what that means for the long-term goals of the product. Keep the software developers in sync with the marketing rollout. Anticipate future problems from the tech side of operations and create solutions ready to plug and play. Anything tech, they put the fires out. A TPO does all of these things—and then some:
- Manage the overarching architecture
- Scope the complexity of a story to forecast bugs
- Leverage data to track performance or illuminate opportunities
- Develop Minimal Viable Technology (MVT) through proper testing and feedback
- Create, change, implement and guide the team backlog.
- Define and drive iterations that speak to the greater vision of the company
Qualities to Look for When Hiring a Technical Product Owner
Startups can hamstring themselves without a TPO, especially if not hiring one is because you’re afraid of spending money on an MIT grad looking for Silicon Valley money. Truth be told, you may already have a TPO-in waiting on your team. That’s because TPOs don’t have to start off as tech-minded—they just need to be a person with excellent product management skills. Someone familiar with Agile. They can learn whatever else they need to know about tech from talking with the developers and doing research—however much or little it takes to get the job done.
In fact, product management—rather than tech development—is the number one skill for a TPO. Deft product managers know just how deep they have to dive into the tech—and when they can lean on their team instead—to streamline the process and eliminate any possible hiccups down the road. They know how to plan sprints and bring technological aspects into strategic planning.
They understand what the customer wants and are able to guide developers into the best delivery system from both a backend and customer-facing aspect. They know enough about tech to challenge the developers as to whether they’re taking the most efficient course possible—are they relying on legacy programming language that will cause scaling, timing and money problems down the road? A good TPO will spot that from a mile away and steer your ship away from the rocks, and that gives you an advantage that no amount of outsourcing could ever provide: Foresight.