Product Owner Vehicle Data Service

Project facts:
Company: Carfax Europe GmbH
Company Size: ~100 employees
Domain: Data analytics and software development
Team composition: 3x Business data analyst, 3x software developer
Techstack: AWS, MongoDB, Kubernetes, Spring, Java, Kotlin
Method of collaboration: Scrum

Key learning:
Focusing on one thing at a time and having end to end responsibility leads to great results.
Main challenges:
Serving different markets with different requirements and prioritization of those in a rapidly growing business.
Main successes:
Successfully scaling the service basically from nothing to 7 figures in yearly revenue.

The Story:
Since summer of 2019 until the end of 2022 I worked as a product owner responsible for a B2B solution called Vehicle Data Service. The product is an API that gives back all kinds of different vehicle data for a given license plate or Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Customers all over Europe integrate this service to optimize their processes.

The service was built and maintained by a cross functional team of business data analysts and software developers, 6 people in total. The team was working according to the Scrum framework, with the caveat that we have never had a Scrum Master. This meant that I was continuously switching between the roles depending on the circumstance. I was at all times very conscious of the role I was representing in a given moment and it worked out very well (even though the set-up is not ideal). Luckily, the team I was working with was very independent and self-motivated, obviously making all aspects of my work much easier.

We were responsible for the development and maintenance of several microservices, including the customer facing API and the full data pipeline. This meant we had full responsibility (almost) without dependencies to other teams from data extraction, transformation, and loading through data interpretation and enhancement, all the way to data delivery to our customers. Particularly in comparison to other teams that were very interdependent on each other I realized how beneficial this end-to-end responsibility was for us. Without the constant need for alignment, we were able to react to changes in requirements much quicker and iterate to solutions for complex problems with higher frequency (To be very clear, there was still alignment happening with other teams but significantly less than those teams among themselves).

Without a doubt the biggest challenge working as product owner for the Vehicle Data Service was balancing the needs and requirements of all the different markets the service is active in. Since the service is integrated with many different industries that have significantly differing requirements in a multitude of countries all over Europe with very different levels of data transparency there was never a shortage of things to develop. Any meeting with a customer usually ended with at least one idea of something we could build.

The key was to really understand the problems of customers and to be able to correctly estimate the impact and value of potential features in solving these problems. Then, all one needs to do is prioritize the ones with the highest value. Written out this seems very simple. In practice, however, this is not easy. There are several frameworks, methods, and tools to use. In my view, those all help but nothing beats talking directly to customers as much as possible. If I am totally honest, I probably didn’t do this enough.

One other issue with prioritization I struggled with in the beginning, is that it means saying “no” to stakeholders, a lot! I quickly learned that being very transparent in communication, conveying how the features we prioritized fit into the bigger picture, and being able to quantify the impact greatly helped gain acceptance.

Even with those challenges in the last years, we have built this service from having not much more than basic functionality with almost nonexistent traffic and revenue to an extremely robust service sold all over Europe and serving tens of millions of requests. It makes me extremely proud to know that at the time when I left Carfax it was a 7-figure contributor to the company´s revenue and significantly boosted the bottom line.