Product Owner…..What it takes to be great?

I recently attended a Product Owner training from Scrum.org conducted by Nagesh Sharma. The training was no doubt awesome and provided a lot insights into the role of Product Owner and Product Ownership; but one important thing that Nagesh said and caught my attention was

Whether to be a good Product Owner or great Product Owner; the choice is ours.

In my earlier post I already discussed about some of the Product Owner anti-patterns. Here I am trying to explore what characteristics might help a good Product Owner to become great.

A Product Owner has to wear multiple hats throughout the product life-cycle; the PO not only envisions the product but is responsible for making decisions that would lead the product to success or failure. The PO not only manages the stakeholder expectations but also has to continuously has the collaborate with the development team to clarify their doubts. The Product Owner has to be aware of the changing market trends to pivot or persevere and at the same time also need to look into the quality of the product being created.

To become a great Product Owner, I believe the PO should have following characteristics:

  1. Respected
  2. Vision
  3. Achiever
  4. Entrepreneurship
  5. Negotiation
  6. Empowered
  7. Collaborative
  8. Inspiring
  9. Proficient
  10. Available

Respected:

Scrum guide says, “for the Product Owner to succeed, the entire organization must respect his or her decisions.” A Product Owner needs to be respected within the team and in the organization. The PO should be valued for his/her contribution towards the product. If the PO could not earn the respect from the team and organization then (S)he might not be in a position to create an impact over the product.

Vision:

The Product Owner needs to have clear vision about the product that is being created by the Scrum Team. The Product Owner needs to be a visionary who can envision the future of the product with his/her wisdom and can come up with ideas that would give the product a competitive advantage.

Achiever:

The Product Owner, along with being a visionary also needs to be an achiever, who should be willing to go the distance to get the ideas converted into actual implementations. The Product Owner needs to see that Product Backlog is not getting piled up with ideas; the development is also working to create valuable working software out of it. If that is not happening, PO needs to identify better ways to collaborate with the development team and drive the things to done.

Entrepreneurship:

A great Product Owner is an entrepreneur. Product Management includes many things like identifying customers, customer needs, making product strategy, maximizing revenue and ROI, coming up with business cases and so on. The Product Owner has to take care of all these different aspects of product management. Being an entrepreneur, PO can make decisions on such strategies without being influenced by others.

Negotiation:

One of key responsibilities of the Product Owner is to manage the expectations of the stakeholders. A Product Owner needs to know what requests of stakeholders should go to Product Backlog and when it is the time to say “No” to the stakeholders. The Product Owner also needs to know, how & when to involve stakeholders and when to keep them at a bay.

Empowered:

A Product Owner needs to be empowered. As Scrum Guide says, “the Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team”. In order to carry out this accountability, PO needs to be empowered.

Collaborative:

To create a successful product “collaboration” is the key. The Product Owner needs to collaborate with the stakeholders, end-customers to understand their needs and at the same time Product Owner also collaborates with the Development team to provide them any clarifications about the product functionality that the Development team is seeking. The Product Owner has to strike a balance so that he/she can assure that a right product is created in a right way.

Geoff Watt in one of his tweets mentioned

Great product owners are humble enough to realise that they don’t have all the facts and that there are multiple ways to interpret an event.

Great Product Owners know and believe that when multiple brains are put to work together they would outshine intelligence of one creative mind.

Inspiring:

A Product Owner is the Product Leader. As a leader the Product Owner needs to be inspiring.The Product Owner needs to stimulate passion, creativity and innovation in the team. The Product Owner should be capable of inspiring and creating a belief in the team that they are about to create an awesome product. The Product Owner should be able provoke a desire within the team to solve the business challenges.

Proficient:

A great Product Owner needs to be proficient in the art of Product Management. The Product Owner should have a keen understanding of the market trends, changing customer needs, usability of the product. The Product Owner needs to understand that software development happens in the complex environment and should be able to take advantage of empirical process to base decisions related to product.

The PO should know, how to clearly express the requirements, refine and order them. A proficient Product Owner also keeps a check on time, quality and budget of the product. The PO understands the value of early and often releases of the product and encourages the same in the team.

The Product Owner also needs to be proficient to identify common pitfalls at all levels, like knowing that velocity is not a productivity metric; quality is more important than getting more features implemented which do not function as intended; pressurizing the team to work at an unsustainable pace and so on…

Available:

An unavailable Product Owner is of no use to the Development team. The availability of the Product Owner impacts the value delivery of the team directly. The Product Owner should ensure that he/she is available for the team whenever needed. One of the values from manifesto for agile software development is customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Also one of the principles behind the manifesto for agile software development is “business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project”. Both the value and principle foster the idea that to create a valuable product the Product Owner and Development team need to work closely. If the Product Owner is not available then Development team may have to spend lot of time waiting to get any clarifications and waiting is biggest “waste” that we can create.

The best scenario is when Product Owner is co-located with the Development team; if that is not possible PO should take advantage of technology available to ensure that PO can collaborate with the Development Team without hassles.

 

Conclusion:

To summarize the characteristics of a Product Owner, I use the term “CAPE RAVEN I“. Pay attention to collaboration, be available for team, proficient in what you do, be empowered, gain respect, be achiever,  have a vision for the product, take decisions showcase entrepreneurship, have good negotiation skills and be inspiring.

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