October 9, 2018

Attributes of Professional Product Owner

In Scrum, Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of product being developed by Development Team. This implies that a product’s success relies heavily on the Product Owner role. I have consolidated the attributes from Mike Cohn’s book “Succeeding with Agile” with few more must-have attributes for this role:

  • Visionary - Product Owner must have a solid vision on what (s)he would like to deliver to the customers. This would require the person to understand the business, market conditions and should be able to weigh in the risks and opportunities. Without this quality, Product Owner may struggle to envision the product which (s)he wants to build for the customer. In large organizations with lot of legacy systems, I recommend having Product Owner to envision product that delivers something of customer value. This product may touch upon multiple internal systems. Product Owner would need to work with Subject Matter Experts from each system to build Product Backlog which maximizes value delivered to customers.

  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) mindset - At times, Product Owners fall for the budgetary trap. They get tempted to build more features since there is still budget left for consumption. Studies have proven that on an average more than 65% of developed features are never used. This is a case of adding waste into the system. Instead of consuming the budget, focus on only delivering the most valuable features.

  • Understand the competition - We live in a highly disruptive market where new products are launched quite often. Product Owner needs to have his/ her eyes and ears on the ground to understand where opportunity arises and take swift decisions.

  • Communicative and Collaborative - As a Product Owner, the person will need to communicate with diverse set of stakeholders including Development Teams. The person should collaborate with everyone to bring them onboard with the product vision.

  • Negotiation skills - Collaborating with various stakeholders and Development Teams would need excellent negotiation skills. This will also help avoid delays in decision-making. When stakeholders skip Sprint Reviews, it is a classic sign of dis-engaged Product Owner.

  • Release frequently - Business value perceived by Product Owner is only a hypothesis unless it is released to the market. By not releasing frequently, you will just lengthen the feedback loop from the customers and miss the opportunity to take necessary tactical decisions about the product.

  • Empowered - If Product Owner is not having authority to take decisions related to the product, it may cause delays in actual work as Scrum Team will have to wait for decisions taken by the ‘right authority’. This will happen when Product Owner role is being performed by a person that serves as a “proxy” between the Product Manager and Development Team.

  • Available - A Product Owner must be available for Development Team. In general, person performing this role has other non-Scrum related tasks at hand and makes it difficult to find a right balance between those tasks and Product Owner’s accountabilities. This becomes more challenging when working with geographically distributed teams with limited time-zone overlap. Scaling this role when you have multiple Development Teams working on same product makes the matters worse. I usually recommend having Product Owner office hours to ensure that teams get necessary time with Product Owner to get their queries answered.

All-in-all Product Owner is a leadership role which requires the attributes mentioned above so Scrum Team has an edge to build a product that customers need.