These are probably the two most unhelpful statements ever. A much more accurate description is that the Product Owner (PO) works with the customer(s) to understand the problems they face. They use their understanding of the problems, combined with the business constraints (for example, are they building a web browser based application; perhaps educational material videos, supporting text, quizzes and games?), to help imagine a product.
The PO owns the Product Vision and Strategy. However, the best Product Owners involve their teams and customers in creating/discovering the product vision together. By co-creating the vision with the people who will be building it, the PO helps them more deeply understand what problem the customer needs solved. In addition, by getting the team members and the customer talking at the beginning, we build up empathy on both sides. The developers learn to see the problems the customer is seeing, and the customer sees that the developers are normal people and that their work is challenging.
In addition to creating the vision and strategy with the team, the PO works with the team to build the Product Backlog. Since they created the Product Backlog with the team, they also own keeping it in priority order, with an attempt to maximize the value for the money spent.
Since we know from experience that the features we build into Products often don’t match the customer’s needs, great PO’s run experiments (hint: look to Lean Startup and Lean UX for ideas) to validate whether their planned features solve real customer problems well. Even though this will cost time and money, it saves the organization a great deal more by not building and maintaining features that will never be used. So, in fact, running experiments is about maximizing value by learning which things to build and which things no one wants.
Qualities of a great Product Owner:
- Able to empathize with the customer and in tune with their needs
- Understands business priorities
- Good communications skills
- Knows that their relationship with their team is more collaborative than directive
- Gives time to both the team and customer
- Understands User Experience and its application in the customer’s business
- Focuses primarily on the Vision, Strategy and Prioritization
- They do need to pay some attention to the details (e.g. User Stories, etc), however, if they put most of their effort on the details, no one will take care of the Vision and Strategy. Whereas a good Product Owner can coach the team to take ownership of smaller product details.
Mistakes organizations make:
- Not empowering a PO to make business decisions
- Treating the PO as proxy for stakeholders or senior management – the PO isn’t an errand runner
- Assuming that a good product is just the sum of stakeholder/customer requests
- Assuming that the PO is a Business Analyst with a better job title
- Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell (video)
- A Day in the Life of a Product Owner – 3back
- A Day in the Life of a Product Owner – Adam Manchester
- How to Run Your Product Department Like a Coach
- The Product Owner’s Guide to the Sprint Retrospective
- Product Owner Responsibilities
- What Makes A Good Product Owner?
Product Owner Role Books:
- Escape Velocity: Free Your Company’s Future from the Pull of the Past – Geoffrey A. Moore
- Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love – Marty Cagan
- Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love – Roman Pichler
- Scrum Product Ownership – Balancing Value From the Inside Out – Robert Galen
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