Product Owner: what it means to ‘own’ a product

Engagement + Availability = Trust

I am tempted to just post the above with nothing more, but of course there is more to being a successful Product Owner than this.  That said, engagement plus availability are certainly key!  Not only should the Product Owner be engaged and available to the customer or stakeholders, but also to the development team that is actually making this product possible.  Keep in mind, in this post I’m referring to the Product Owner (PO) being product management in the software development world.  I’m sure some of this applies to the marketing world or other, but I’m no expert in those areas.

Product Owner’s Priorities
Some would say the PO is the most important part of the team, I would say the team is the most important part of the team.  Silly, as it may sound, but you can’t just put all the power or support towards the PO.  You have to spread the love around to the whole Scrum Team (dev team plus scrum master plus product owner).

machineThe PO has to realize this and be their for the team to answer questions, provide thorough details up front early on and throughout the day-to-day interactions, and much more (much like a well oiled machine).

Many companies are starting to call teams Product teams to emphasize the team is focused on products priorities.  I don’t mind this and understand where they are coming from, but it’s very important to ensure everyone on that team is empowered to voice the needs of technical initiatives (tech debt or quality related) as well as focusing on the top priorities of the customer.  Yes, it is the PO who is responsible for the product and ultimately responsible for ensuring the Product Backlog is properly prioritized and ready to go (with the teams help of course).  Keeping that in mind, the PO also needs to include the technical debt and or quality initiatives to which will help ensure the ‘pipeline’ of work doesn’t just break all of a sudden (which would of course effect the ability to ship the customer’s priorities). Whats my point? My point is that the PO has to remember to take care of the team, be their for the team, and be held accountable just like anyone on that team.  It can be tempting to get power-hungry and or lazy and not do your part as a PO, but the PO must be disciplined enough to never give in to this temptation.

Product Owners role amongst other Product Owners

I myself have played the role of a PO for an offshore team.  I also had to play the role of Scrum Master at the same time which made me have to be even more disciplined not to over power the dev team or other product owners.  As a PO, when working with other Product Owners who are also prioritizing their customer priorities with the same team, it is very important to ensure you are in constant collaboration with the other product owner(s) to ensure you are not overstepping their needs or pulling the team in several directions in the effort to get your product out the door first.  Product should be on the same page here, or you will be all over the place stepping on each others toes and demoralizing the team.  No one likes someone undercutting their work behind their back, so make sure to be transparent with the whole team and any other product owners who are also working with that team.

The Technical Product Owner (TPM)

A lot of companies have been moving towards both the Product Manager and Technical Product Manager roles.  How they are structured may vary, as some will have the TPM play the Product Owner role who heavily engages with both the customer and scrum team, as well some will have the Product Manager mostly interact with the customer and less with the scrum team.  Whatever title or role the company has for the Product Owner, they still need to make sure someone is available to the team all while still ensuring to properly prioritize the customer’s needs.

Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell

In my previous post, Forecasting timelines for Stakeholders, I added a video created by Henrik Kniberg.  That video is also really great in summarizing what it means to be a Product Owner.  I’ve also added that same video here, because why not – it’s really that good and the corporate world needs this instilled in their heads:

Also can be viewed here

If you’re looking for the Scrum Guide’s description of a Product Owner, see the following or go here:

The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.

The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog. Product Backlog management includes:

  • Clearly expressing Product Backlog items;
  • Ordering the items in the Product Backlog to best achieve goals and missions;
  • Optimizing the value of the work the Development Team performs;
  • Ensuring that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all, and shows what the Scrum Team will work on next; and,
  • Ensuring the Development Team understands items in the Product Backlog to the level needed.

The Product Owner may do the above work, or have the Development Team do it. However, the Product Owner remains accountable.

The Product Owner is one person, not a committee. The Product Owner may represent the desires of a committee in the Product Backlog, but those wanting to change a Product Backlog item’s priority must address the Product Owner.

For the Product Owner to succeed, the entire organization must respect his or her decisions. The Product Owner’s decisions are visible in the content and ordering of the Product Backlog. No one is allowed to tell the Development Team to work from a different set of requirements, and the Development Team isn’t allowed to act on what anyone else says.

As I said before, I have played the role of Product Owner, but by no means do I consider myself an expert.   Although I’m currently a Scrum Master, I find it important to be understanding and knowledgeable of both the Product Owner and Dev Teams day-to-day work life.  This is why soon I will be going thru the Certified Scrum Product Owner course of Scrum Alliance via LitheSpeed to become a certified product owner (I’ve also attended training for agile software developers).  After this I am excited to soon share the knowledge (more in-depth user story writing techniques, etc.) that I’ll be given from true experts in the field.  This post is just a high level overview of the Product Owners role in agile software development.

If I could get everyone reading this post to at least take away one thing, it would be to remember that for the product owner to successfully be able to meet the customers needs he or she must take care of and listen to the needs of the whole scrum team as well.  We succeed as a team when we deliver as a team!

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