Building Digital Bridges: The Rise of the Product Owner in Construction

rise of the product owner in construction

Digital transformation and collaboration in the AEC industry are increasing at unprecedented levels. Our research at Autodesk found that cloud-based collaboration activity grew 2.5x between 2020 and 2022.  

Clearly, digital transformation isn’t just a buzzword. The data reveals that cloud tools and platforms don’t just enhance workflow efficiency; they also improve communication and problem-solving within construction.  

Forward-thinking construction businesses recognize this, and they’re doubling down on digital transformation. We’re seeing more and more firms hire software engineers to develop custom solutions in-house. 

That’s all well and good, but what happens next? 

By the nature of the job description, the average software engineer isn’t equipped to manage communication among product stakeholders and bridge the gap between functions.  

This is why companies that are finding the most success in digital transformation don’t rely solely on software developers to architect custom solutions for the future. Instead, they hire product owners. 

What is a Product Owner? 

Product owners are accountable for products which could include a wide-array of things including Revit add-ins, ERP bolt-ons, operational process automations, data repository integrations, and other custom software solutions. They manage the entire development process while keeping close ties with primary stakeholders. 

Think of a product owner as the perfect blend of people-person and a tech whiz. They’re well-versed in the technical side of product development while also possessing the ability to communicate and collaborate with various teams, ensuring that everyone understands the roadmap and executes accordingly. 

As such, product owners are responsible for championing the product vision and designing solutions to meet that vision. Beyond that, they break down barriers between stakeholders, interfacing with various teams and ensuring that they can put different technologies to good use. 

From designing custom bolt-ons for ERP solutions to managing client relationships, product owners reduce silos and create one point of contact for all development projects. 

The Role of the Product Owner 

If there’s one word that can describe the ideal product owner, it would be multi-faceted. They wear multiple hats to not only understand and translate the business requirements into a product vision but also liaise between various teams.  role of the product owner construction

Consider the following.  

The Client Connection 

The product owner knows your technology and clients inside and out. They serve as the point of contact for internal and external stakeholders, which means they have a unique understanding of everyone’s needs. This puts them in a great position to develop useful and high-value products.  

The Technologist 

Product owners are techies by nature. They participate in deeply technical conversations and can connect the technology to best serve users and business goals. Always on the lookout for new optimizations, they have a clear vision of the final product in action. 

The First Filter 

Changes cause disruption. A knowledgeable product owner serves as the first filter, finding these potentially disruptive changes and correcting (or discarding) them appropriately. Plus, a product owner anticipates the impact of changes and strategizes effective ways to mitigate them. That way, the company can maintain project momentum and keep teams aligned.  

The Forward Thinker 

A proficient product owner is always looking ahead. In addition to managing products and tasks at hand, they’re constantly considering the firm’s product roadmap and designing it so that the company stays agile and poised for growth.  

The Customer Consultant 

The person in this role understands the customer’s workflows and processes (sometimes better than them) to recommend the best solution. In other words, product owners are the voice of the customer. It’s not uncommon for them to engage with customers to gather feedback. 

How Product Owners Support Your Digital Transformation 

Digital transformation is an ongoing and fast-moving endeavor. You need someone who can own the process and navigate all its complexities—all while bringing stakeholders on board.  

This is where product owners come in.  

Product owners empower teams by relieving them of project management duties. Remember that even without going through a significant technology change, possessing ownership for continuous improvement provides value and eases tension among your team.  

Having a product owner role gives folks someone they can rely on who can manage the process from start to finish. As such, they can focus on the things they do best rather than worrying about the “techie” bits.  

In most cases, your organization must integrate new software with core processes and existing enterprise systems—almost always developing custom software solutions. A product owner can see to it that your initiatives don’t get derailed. 

Finally, product owners keep your organization innovative. You have someone who’s always curious, encouraging more learning as they continuously assess existing processes to identify areas of opportunity. 

A Closer Look at the Product Owner Role 

So far, we’ve discussed what a product owner is and the value they bring to AEC firms. Now let’s tackle what that role may look like in your organization. 

Let’s start with an all-too-real scenario: your company is embracing disruption by hiring software engineers and developers to create things like Revit add-ins and other automations. And while these teams understand technology quite well, there’s a disconnect between what’s requested and what’s delivered.  

Signals get crossed somewhere in the communication loop, leading to underwhelmed clients and overly stressed personnel. That’s because development teams are highly specialized resources. They’ve mastered computer science concepts like automation, data, and security but don’t know your industry or internal processes. 

So, who handles your Revit rollouts in-house? None other than your Revit product owner.   

The product owner makes sure the engineers have what they need to succeed. They also ensure all stakeholders have the support and resources required to get the product delivered within scope.  

They aim to promote agile approaches to solve problems while representing the internal client’s voice. It’s their responsibility to understand the needs and pain points that users experience by routinely gathering feedback and analyzing it for trends and insights. Then, they filter this information back into the development process. 

Steps to Get Started 

Here’s the good news: the product owner likely already exists in your organization. It’s just a matter of finding the right person.  

But before beginning your search, ensure you fully understand your organizational needs. What are your top priorities? What are the biggest hurdles you’re facing when it comes to digital transformation? Survey your team to get seamless responses that provide all the answers you seek. 

Beyond that, here are a few insights to remember when finding, hiring, or appointing your product owner.   

The product owner is a full-time role 

Product ownership isn’t something that a person can do on the side. The role requires a balancing act among departments and stakeholders, requiring the person in the position to always be in the know.  

So, resist the urge to simply add this responsibility onto someone’s plate. Instead, invest resources in creating a full-time position. It’s also beneficial to provide continuous learning opportunities. 

Recognize that a technical background isn’t always necessary 

An engineering degree and design or industry experience aren’t strictly required. Getting creative thinkers that fully embody the product owner role will require approaching your candidates with an open mind.  

This role is incredibly multi-faceted, so unique backgrounds are encouraged.  

Get a strategy in place before hire 

One person can be the product owner of many systems, but it can get out of control quickly and lead to burnout. Have a strategy to transfer ownership if demand simultaneously ramps up for multiple systems. You may need more than one product owner depending on your organization’s needs. 

Increase the value of your external teams 

Once you have product owners in place, empower them to collaborate with external teams and vendors.  

This is particularly important in organizations that frequently hire engineers and developers and control many platforms. The product owner must work with external consultants to ensure they have the support they need to provide the most value. 

Don’t Wait to Bring in a Product Owner 

If there’s one takeaway we can leave you when it comes to establishing the product owner role, it’s to be proactive.  

Hiring product owners help you alleviate future costs, uncertainty, and instability across the organization. They work with cross-functional leadership to support continuous improvement and efficiency in software development processes—building a culture ripe for innovation. 

To that end, the sooner you bring in a product owner, the sooner you can reap the rewards of digital transformation.  

Justin Lipsey