Attending a product owner training is only one of the steps you can take to help become an effective agile Product Owner. It is essential that the Product Owner (PO) has a good understanding of the company strategy, goals, market, your customers and their goals along with your development team capacity and skillset.
The role of the product owner is one of the three roles described in the Scrum Guide and in the Scrum Primer. The Product Owner has a significant role also in agile scaling frameworks. The PO holds and explains the vision, is responsible for maximising the value of the product and the work of the Development team. Product owner is also the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog. These factors make it a critical role to success of the project and organisation
In our career as agile consultants we have met experienced product owners and also product owners that were pushed to the position without proper training and we have helped them to become successful in their role but when we look back we can summarise 10 characteristics of all successful and effective product owners.
- Focus on delivering value – The main responsibility of product owner is not product delivery but value delivery for both the business and customers. Effective Product owners understand that they are not managing the product as much as they are managing the problem the product solves for their customers. With this in mind the PO knows that the value can only be delivered when the end user will clearly benefit in changing their habits and will also benefit the company.
An effective PO will focus on delivering only what is required to achieve the desired outcome.
- Promotion and Sharing product vision – PO can spend a lot of time to develop the greatest product vision and alignment with company strategy. Such a vision has to be shared not only with a company management but also with the development team to create common understanding and ensure transparency.
An effective product owner should help create user stories that support the vision how the product will make the life of the customers easier and align with the company strategy.
- Keep focus on the vision – Your product vision is a destination that you set and share. Every decision that an effective product owner makes should be in support of this vision.
The objective is not to unnecessarily change the vision as that would mean that entire development effort would have to be re-focused and aligned with new goals.
If for whatever reason development diverges from the original vision, it is the product owners job to bring it back on track.
- Trust in a product development team – It means to trust intelligence of many. Experienced Product Owners understand what role they play in the team. The PO doesn’t have to have the best idea on how to develop the product but they do have to understand what issue the customer has that needs to be addressed. They should trust the development team to find the best solution to fulfil that obligation to the customer.
- Not everything will go to plan – We are people and people make mistakes. So an experienced PO would not be surprised when this occurs. There is no shame in failure if you learn from it. Instead, PO should help the team to focus on speedy resolution and removing any possible roadblocks that may occur. However, one of the best ways to avoid unnecessary mistakes in the future is to learn from one that already happened. An effective PO knows that this is not a blame game rather an opportunity to improve overall team performance and improve quality of product development for now and for the future.
- Never forget to give credit where credit is due – As an experienced product owner it is very important to make sure that all people involved in the product development understand your appreciation for their hard work. With never ending requests, new features, and other additional product backlog management you can’t forget to praise people for their effort. We have to understand that our work force is voluntary and they can leave any time they want. Due to that fact it is really important they feel appreciated for the effort they put in a development of a product.
- Never rely on written user stories alone – An effective product owner understands that no product backlog is perfect right from beginning and it will change and it will be re-prioritised and updated. Even with this in mind, people will misinterpret stories. The purpose of the story is to engage people in a discussion around an issue we are addressing for our customer. Not every detail will be written down and the story will be updated as we discuss details of the issue and appropriate solution.
- Collaboration, trust and delegation – Effective PO understand that even if the responsibility for the product success lay on their shoulders, they are not alone and they can't know everything. They have an entire team to work with and consequently there may be somebody more suitable to address a particular issue. The PO works closely together with a Scrum Master to bring everybody together and facilitate discussion to address the issue in hand.
Both stakeholders and/or product owner is not the fountain of all knowledge. An experienced PO will recognise a gap in the team knowledge and will engage a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to help/augment knowledge of the team to resolve a particular issue they are facing. Ideally SME will be co-located with the team for duration of issue resolution, to assure timely response to any questions from the product development team.
- Encourage people to have fun – It is well known fact confirmed by scientists from MIT in their experiments about what motivates people. Surprisingly, it is not always money. It is more often challenge and the ability to problem solves an issue for the customer. We know that if people are really motivated they will create some of the most amazing products and share it with everybody else without any payments (e.g. Linux, MySQL etc.)
An effective PO understands that setting an intellectual challenge for people and letting them resolve it will not only help to deliver the desired outcome but they can also have a fun with it. A friendly and fun environment will motivate people and as a consequence they will be more committed to deliver value for customers and company.
- Seek frequent feedback – working in an agile environment means that a product will be developed in the iterative way. An effective PO should look for every opportunity to showcase every incremental iteration developed for customers and stakeholders with the aim of seeking feedback. This will assure not only your customer will be familiar with the product but also that the customer is involved all the way through the product development cycle. Your team is receiving feedback and adjusting during the development so the final product is exactly what customers needs.
One last thing that as an effective PO you should never forget is that you need to organise your day in a way that you are available to the team as much as possible. Your role is really important to the success of the team as it is you who should answer most of the business related questions, help the team to overcome “show stopers” and other issues that may slow them down in their development effort. We strongly recommend that you co-locate with the team to simplify communication.
We hope that above points will help you in your quest for become a very effective product owner.