Focus on: What does a product owner actually do?


Focus on: What does a product owner actually do?

Introducing Niclas Zimmermann.

"What I love about my job is the variety. Every day is different. I enjoy exchanging ideas with people, and it always makes me happy when we're able to find a digital solution for a problem," says product owner Niclas Zimmermann in describing his job. Zimmermann, 29, has been responsible since 2018 for "dLox", an online, cloud-based, DB-wide tool for vehicle and disruption management.

The tool's track record is impressive. In addition to DB Cargo, many other Deutsche Bahn AG companies also rely on dLox. By mid-2023, a tenth of the Deutsche Bahn workforce in Germany were already using the application. "That's a huge achievement, especially considering that we designed the product ourselves and developed it from scratch," Zimmermann says.

Holistic approach is key to success

dLox is part of the Digital Fleet Management project, which aims to digitally transform the entire maintenance management process chain, from identifying faults on trains in service to successfully returning vehicles to operation. "In the 21st century, it's essential to think of processes holistically. Developing stand-alone solutions for sub-processes usually leaves a lot of potential unused," Zimmermann says. 

The dLox app

Using graphical symbols to represent different vehicles, the platform-independent dLox app provides clear status information about any locomotive anywhere in Europe for intuitive reporting of new problems and malfunctions. Its product team has developed an efficient digital solution for handling fault management and vehicle handover, with partially automated processing of all relevant information in a cloud-based portal. The result is an ideal vehicle management system.

The dLox application is available in the Google and Apple app stores. It reports a wide range of problems, from "external graffiti" to complex vehicle defects, for example in the automatic train control system. As well as providing transparent information, the dLox app is fast, innovative and easy to use. Recording a problem takes less than a minute 

dLox: a product straight from the DB Cargo Lab

"Providing Deutsche Bahn with innovative digital products for a competitive advantage" is how Zimmermann describes the mission of DB Cargo Lab, which develops digitalised and automated processes for rail freight transport. He sees the defining feature of the DB Cargo Lab's products as "development with a strong focus on the user to ensure a good user experience".

The top three factors for a good user experience: content, usability, and look and feel

User experience (UX) plays a key role in users' acceptance of a product and is affected by each of their points of contact with it, which is why the experts put so much emphasis on the product's content, usability, and look and feel (design). In order to develop appealing, tailor-made solutions, product owners have to fully understand the needs of their users.

"I was already pretty good at the methodology, and I also enjoyed creating good content and making things easy to use. And in terms of the look and feel, I can jump in and take corrective action at any time because I know what's possible," says Zimmermann, who studied engineering and was responsible as UX and Transformation Manager for the design and implementation of complex digital products at DB Cargo AG.

Profile: Niclas Zimmermann
Niclas Zimmermann

What appeals to me most about my job:
The risk. It's exciting when you don't always know at the beginning whether something will really work. Over time, you gain confidence that you can use your experience to better and better control the risk. But of course things don't always work out. That's just part of my job.

How I came to DB Cargo:
That was really a combination of pure coincidence and very good recruiting by Deutsche Bahn AG. I was interested in spending time in a company as part of my degree because it was very important to me to understand right from the start how things really work in business. I didn't want to become someone who's great at theory but doesn't understand practice. My strengths in the natural sciences ultimately led to a dual work-study degree in engineering, during which I went through a variety of technical and administrative positions at Deutsche Bahn in Germany and abroad. Once I got to know the rail sector, I found it so interesting that I stayed with it, and I haven't regretted the decision. 

The biggest challenges in my job:
As a product owner, I try every day to maximise value for all stakeholders across our diverse customers. That means I want the greatest possible overall benefit for all customers. That's the only way products can be successful across companies. Meeting this standard is always a big challenge.

What I do in my spare time:
One of my favourite hobbies is music. I'm the drummer in a band, and we also perform in public. One of our biggest gigs was at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, with more than 5,000 spectators. Other activities in my free time include archery and cross-country running. I love the outdoor life, as my many travels show. Last year I crossed the Alps on foot. That was a real adventurer. 

Creativity and a pinch of perfectionism

"The basic requirement for my job is a willingness to learn something new every day, because we're in a fast-moving environment that changes constantly. What was new yesterday will already be old tomorrow," says Zimmermann about his job's core skill. "And you also need creativity. A feel for design language and a pinch of perfectionism don't hurt either, because a high standard of quality is essential right from the start," he adds. 

He points out that it's also important for product owners to reject some requests in order to achieve the goal that has been set. "We get a lot of requests every day from customers, management or others with ideas for things to add to the product. Some of these suggestions go against our product vision or aren't completely in line with it," Zimmermann says. "If we simply added every idea, users who expect an easy-to-use product would no longer find what they need and would be unhappy with the result." That's why, according to Zimmermann, it's important to align a digital product with a strong and easily understood vision in order to achieve the maximum ultimate benefit.