A Pragmatic View of a Great Product Owner
A Pragmatic View of a Great Product Owner
As the Scrum Guide clearly states, the product owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the development team. However, this statement represents an extensive list of duties and responsibilities—even an entire mindset that drives different dimensions: technical, business and design.
We often find a good variety of articles that cover the differences between a product manager and a product owner, but does it really have such distinction? In a Scrum team, there are only three roles: product owner, Scrum Master and the development team. Hence, there shouldn’t be any difference at all.
On the other hand, why do we try to make two separate roles? Well, perhaps the product owner is not great enough and a gap exists.
A team and a product owner has the right autonomy to decide upon each feature prioritized to the product. A product owner has a clear and unique message of the strategy and tactics around the product. He/she is not only envisioning the product, but also strategizing it within the company and making decisions collaboratively with the team.
Pragmatically, a great product owner is different from a good product owner in certain varieties of attributes, from a vision and strategic perspectives to a more tactical level:
- Agile leader
- Product oriented
Do you want to become a great product owner instead of just a good product owner? Let’s dissect these attributes.
The product owner is primarily accountable for the product the development team is building and leveraging the most valuable backlog with user stories ready for the team.
A great product owner envisions the product in order to be in alignment with the mission and goals of the company. He/she develops an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), gathers the feedback with the customer, reflects and learns from it, then revaluates and adds more valuable features each time.
A great product owner attends (or at least, tries) the daily standups 100 percent of the time; he/she also answers the three basic questions and is available to clarify any question from the team because he/she knows that a question is an impediment that needs to be addressed.
In sprint planning, the product owner shows an ordered set of user stories to be delivered by the team, declaring a real purpose for that particular sprint and answers as many questions as the team would like to ask.
The sprint review is when the product owner confirms and accepts the user stories accomplished in the sprint. The product owner may also take this opportunity to find gaps or take insights to leverage the product continuously. During the retrospectives, he/she listens to the team, contributes and then makes an action plan.
A great product owner doesn’t push the team beyond their limits, he/she makes a room for the team to innovate and collaborate with the growth of the product. He/she makes the Scrum Master and development team awesome. His/her attitude makes the team feeling engaged with the product and part of it.
In addition to this, he/she clearly defines a purpose for any new resolution, feature, etc. An action without a purpose doesn’t mean anything. He/she fosters the continuous improvement, finds ways for each individual to learn new things, new technologies, new frameworks, new practices and coaxes them to master their knowledge.
Maybe, this is the most complex topic for some product owners. A great product owner is capable of capturing terminologies, concepts, operations, and so forth, regarding the type of industry he/she is involved in.
Companies in the retail and payments space, just to give an example, have different business systems, hence the product owner should get the knowledge of these systems, rules, regulations, compliance and so on.
He/she drives and guides to deliver business value continuously to the customers based on a business model plan. It depends on each product, a business value can be related to the number of customers retention, new customers, the number of registered users, revenue generated, costs reduction, public/free services available, etc.
A great design delights the eyes of the customers, thereby a great product owner keeps the eyes open in any small piece that requires enhancements or adjustments. He/she is a perfectionist, satisfaction is something that remains all the time on his/her head.
A great product owner works with the SEO, UX & UI specialists to drive a friendly user experience in order to attract and retain the users. It’s an ongoing process that requires experimentation, receiving feedback and collecting metrics to analyze the data, learn quickly and validate the hypothesis.
A great product owner thinks differently, “out of the box,” imagines a world that doesn’t exist, experiments with new ideas and insights with the team, accepts failures, envisions the impossible, and gathers feedback from the customers, Scrum Master and development team.
A great product owner has to be available to the team, communicate openly with each team member, understand their concerns, listen to them and guide them day by day according to the product vision and goals.
A product owner is easily accessible. The product owner job is all about communication, he/she ensures the team understands the vision and the “real” expectations are aligned with the team and stakeholders.
A great product owner inherits a certain amount of characteristics from the project manager role. In fact, his/her responsibilities also include controlling the budget and being organized with the roadmaps, set of features / epics, prioritized list of user stories, presentations, customer questionnaires, wireframes, designs and so on.
A backlog is built by the product owner and it consists of a set of elements:
- Who are the personas and target audience? Who are the market segments?
- What sort of features and benefits will the audience above pay for?
- When am I releasing each feature? Is there any event will drive it?
- How will the software architecture evolve?
- Are there any external dependencies to resolve?
A great product owner understands that the word PRIORITY in practical terms doesn’t have plural, because if you have, there isn’t any priority. One of the most important words for the product owner is “no.” Saying “yes” to a new feature request is easy.
The most important job for the product owner is deciding what not to build and own the consequences for that decision. A great product owner prioritizes what needs to be done by evaluating the business value and the amount of time required for building a feature.
A good product owner knows how to gather requirements and translate into epics and user stories. Most of the time, he/she is on the tactical side.
A great product owner knows exactly how the business works, has open and frequent communication with the VPs, directors, managers, stakeholders and maybe even with the CEO. He/she strategizes the product with the sales managers, marketing people, legal department, security, compliance and so on.
He/she circulates the building to gather not only the requirements, but also the strategy and goals of the company to translate into a feasible roadmap that clearly identifies the targeted customer, primary goal and works with the team to set an expected delivery date.
A great product owner differentiates from a good product owner in terms of a very good technical knowledge in the field he/she is acting on. Is it feasible to have a product owner who is driving a cloud-based product without a deeper understanding of how a cloud architecture works and how to implement and release in a cloud environment?
Probably yes; however, a great one knows that every aspect of the product can benefit from different configurations from the cloud space.
Would you like to grow and succeed as a product owner, and take it to the next level? The key is to learn more and more and get in-depth knowledge on different topics. There are a lot of great resources available on the internet; I want to bring a few of them that I find really useful:
Podcasts are a good alternative for those who are always busy (at least, you can listen while driving or working out).
- Agile Amped Podcast
- Agile Toolkit Podcast
- Global Product Management Talk
- Steve Blank Podcast
- This is Product Management
Below is a list of books to start your journey as a great product owner:
- “Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love” by Roman Pichler
- “Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers” by Alexander Osterwalder
- “Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation” by Jez Humble & David Farley
- “Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play” by Luke Hohmann
- “Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love” by Marty Cagan
- “Managing for Happiness: Games, Tools, and Practices to Motivate Any Team” by Jurgen Appelo
- “Strategize: Product Strategy and Product Roadmap Practices for the Digital Age” by Roman Pichler
- “User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development” by Mike Cohn
Additionally, be involved in the Scrum community, participate in Scrum Gatherings, agile conferences, meet-ups close to you, free webinars or perhaps establish a community of practices at your workplace.
I really want to know your thoughts on being a great product owner. Let me know in the comments below and we can start the conversation!
Paulo Rebelo helps companies to improve using agile and lean principles and methods like Scrum, XP and Kanban. He currently works at Blackhawk Network in the U.S.Learn More