If you order a digital service, you are a product owner

The person responsible for the project of developing digital systems is also a product owner and responsible for the vision of a project. Ordering a digital service can be a challenge, and it is therefore important that the cooperation between product owners and suppliers works smoothly.

Maria Ström

Title: Team leader for UX, Design & Analysis

The person responsible for the project of developing digital systems may be a project manager, webmaster, web editor or web manager. The role involves a more or less defined mission to develop a new digital service. But what are you expected to do, more in detail? This often becomes vague and makes the project difficult to maneuver. I know because I've been in this situation myself.

In IT development, the person responsible for the vision of the project is usually called a product owner. A product owner is explicitly responsible for the vision of the project. He or she should know what to develop, why and how the system should work to meet visions and provide customer benefits. Therefore, it is of course also the product owner's role to be responsible for the accessibility work.

To order a digital service

Ordering a digital service is challenging in itself. In addition, ensuring accessibility is even more complex but not impossible. There are many parameters to keep track of and many different roles involved. Often even with different suppliers. Everyone that will be included in this work needs to understand where the level of ambition should be. So next time a system is to be developed and you are expected to lead the work - see yourself as a product owner.

Your internal project team should be included from the start. Create consensus on what you would like to achieve. It is hopeless to drive the issue of accessibility alone. Even if you are ultimately responsible, you need allies. As you approach the compilation of your requirements, this becomes more and more important, and it is you as a product owner who makes decisions in consultation with your project team on how to do that work. When you set the requirements, you define the expectations of the system. The requirements will also help you when it's time to start testing the code. In the requirements you will ensure that you got a plan for how to work with accessibility. When the requirements are set, more people need to be inaugurated in your accessibility plan. The next step is involving the project manager in drawing up a time table. He or she must understand that user tests are an an essential element that is necessary for accessibility and therefore should be planned for. Later on, when you have a workshop and talk about who will use the service - you have the next chance to keep the flag flying and direct the conversation into a norm critical discussion. Is everyone really called John? Is everyone aged 35 and live in the inner city? Well, probably not. Discuss about who will use your system! If you got everyone to be supportive so far – good on you!

Including or Excluding?

What happens now? Hopefully you will develop a concept that is well thought through. Perhaps you are now considering winning time and skipping the user tests. They are sometimes considered to be time consuming. But dear product owner - you have to make sure they will happen. Now it is time to be stubborn! You are responsible for the final characteristics of the product. Do you want to create an inclusive or exclusive system? User tests are simply a concrete tool to ensure accessibility and can not be overlooked if you want to work in a sustainable and inclusive manner. When the concept is understandable, it is time for the design work. What could possibly go wrong here, your team mates might think? The designer has sketched on some nice page templates with the colors of your organisation, with good contrasts and clear links. But yet again you should not accept subjective decisions based on opinions. Instead, you need to make sure the draft version is tested with users, to be absolutely sure that they understand how the design is meant to work.

What else does the product owner need to keep in mind? When developers start programming it can be difficult to see how you can participate. But you can! It is still you who formally hold the baton and make sure that the accessibility aspect is included even at this stage. Please ask your developers what knowledge they have about accessibility. The functions must be tested as they are programmed so that the code is compatible with assistive technology. Discuss how the tests should be performed. Raise questions and be present. If needed, do get help from Funka for tips and advice.

Finally. In my opinion, a dedicated product owner who truly believes in his or her system is absolutely necessary. During my years in the industry, I have seen countless projects launched with uncanny flaws. As a UX Designer, I have tried to make sure that accessibility is a key part of the set goals. But without a responsive product owner, there will be no good results. The key to success and good user experiences, of course, rests not only on one person's shoulders. However, if the product owner lacks the dedication for the digital service to be developed, it will be more difficult for the development team to feel motivated to put down energy to do a good job. It is not more difficult than that.