The Journey to Product Ownership

Jarmila Kaiser 16 Mar, 2023 50 - 6 min read

Here at Picnic, we have more than 30 teams that are building the cool products that we love. But while the product teams build the future — who empowers them to have the right tools and standards for development?

For our Java developers, that’s the job of the Java Platform team! Let’s check in with Jarmila Kaiser, the Product Owner of Java Platform team, and get to know a bit more of what she does together with her team.

My name is Jarmila Kaiser, and I am a Technical Product Owner at Picnic. I come from Slovakia, where I studied Computer Science and started my IT career as a Java developer. I grew to become a Lead developer in a Dutch FinTech company. Curious about the business side of the equation I transferred to a Technical Business Analyst within the same company and later became a Product Manager for a fashion B2B company in Amsterdam.

What was missing for me, however, was an extensive focus on data and the possibilities and decisions we can make with them. That made me excited for the opportunity that Picnic brings, as data is the backbone of every decision we make.

What are you currently working on at Picnic? And what would happen at Picnic if your product did not exist?

I am part of the Java Platform team, meaning, we support all of Picnic’s Java teams by making sure that they are empowered to deliver business value with ease. Currently, we are focusing on optimizing our CI/CD processes. Our goal is to enable Continuous Deployment, if teams choose to do so. The setup nowadays is separate between development and production environments which is error prone and time consuming.

Furthermore, we strongly believe in Infrastructure as Code, which means that our tooling must be easy to learn, making it trivial to review and apply changes. It’s even better when teams can apply infrastructure changes independently, without a central team as a bottleneck. This is a game changer for product teams, since they will save precious time they can now use to build cool stuff.

The impact of my team ceasing to exist wouldn’t be noticeable immediately, since the processes and tools are in place. However, as time progresses, tools would not get updated, our internal libraries would need new logic and all the different teams would have to reinvent the wheel over and over again. This would lead not only to a waste of developers’ time, but version incompatibilities leading to incidents in production. Lastly, our programming standards would get outdated (as new Java versions are being released), making it harder to onboard new joiners and share common knowledge with best practices.

What motivated you to switch from development to a Product Owner role?

Being a software developer is fun — it is quite a creative role, where you must constantly keep learning. Technology evolves rapidly and business goals change often. However, a developer is rarely in control of what they will work on. For me, this got more painful the longer I stayed in the role. You see how things can be done better, where it makes more sense to invest time, what part of the application is working only in the best star constellation etc. It has to be communicated to the business and prioritized.

This is quite difficult if the Product Owner does not understand the value that the technical changes would bring and only prioritizes the business goals.

I want to help development teams to create an environment where business value goes hand in hand with technical improvements. It does not mean that I will always favor the technical point of view, but we discuss the options together, challenge each other and find the best solution as partners rather than two opposite sides. Simply put, the dialogue gets less frustrating and more productive.

Lastly, my mentor taught me that being a Product Owner is like being a CEO for a specific part of the company. Getting this responsibility and opportunity is truly rewarding. And, let’s face it, similarly painful when things go wrong. You grow and learn with every delivery, incident, success, misunderstood feature, performance issue, and so on.

What does a Product Owner’s day really look like? 🙂

I get this question a lot, and to me there’s not a single answer. Every day is different, which can be both enjoyable and energy-draining. The most important goal of any Product Owner is to ensure the teams spend their effort adding the right value to the product. Daily activities must revolve around this from any angle imaginable. To add more value, you must understand the needs of existing customers, or how to attract potential customers. To optimize costs, you must understand what is redundant, outdated, or inefficient.

Getting these answers requires talking to people. A significant amount of my days are meetings for that reason. No one is an expert in every area, so there have to be discussions with customers, the tech teams, management, suppliers, designers, and other stakeholders.

After gathering all the input, you need to start planning and organizing what should be worked on next. Ideas will differ in size and impact — some take days, most of them weeks or months. Time is also needed for writing down and splitting ideas into smaller deliverables. Tickets have to be filed in the backlog with the necessary information, logically grouped, and ordered with the respective teams and priorities in mind.

Usually, questions pop up during the implementation — this is where a product decision is needed on how to proceed. The Product Owner must be able to decide based on the information they have gathered and based on the product knowledge and future direction.

How is working as a product owner at Picnic different from your previous product experience?

Before Picnic, I was a Product Manager within a B2B fashion e-commerce platform. The challenge was to combine multiple brands’ wishes with our own innovation vision into a product that can increase the self-service revenue stream. Each change my team delivered had an impact on thousands of shops worldwide and we got feedback weekly. The tech team was significantly smaller, making decision-making and knowledge-sharing less involved.

My team is a platform team, not a product team, which is in its nature very different. Our goal is to make sure that all Java teams in Picnic are equipped with the best tools and processes to make them more focused on business goals rather than the technical process of how to get a new version to production. The impact we create is not visible right away and quite complicated to measure. In the long term, however, we see all product teams succeed without having difficult tools or long processes standing in their way thanks to our efforts.

This role is challenging because the areas that we cover are broad and technical beyond the area of my own expertise. We must empower other teams to be able to deliver high-quality software from idea to production easily, quickly, and safely. What does that actually mean? Here are a few areas we take care of:

– Introducing automated bug checks to prevent developers from making the most common mistakes.

– Providing common libraries so that each team can re-use one solution.

– Promoting a unified way of solving problems, resulting in uniform codebases across Picnic.

– Keeping our dependencies updated.

– Automatically detecting security risks and blocking them from reaching production.

– Providing tools and guidelines for building and deploying software.

Because of the wide scope, I cannot really make proper trade-offs without my team’s deep knowledge of all these areas. Such a dependency on wide expertise is not common in most product teams. There, the Product Owner usually is (or strives to become) the domain expert to make the right decisions. I am adjusting my views about the added value we can bring as a platform team, learning more and more about how other teams work and what their pain points are.

To sum up, providing our developers with the right tools for the job is crucial, and Jarmila faces the challenge to bring the standards up every day!

Are you also looking for a new challenge with a product team? Check out our vacancies and let’s talk 🙂 We’re also organizing a Career Growth in Product webinar where you will have more insight on the Picnic PO journey and what challenges we are solving with the teams!

Want to join Jarmila Kaiser in finding solutions to interesting problems?