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How to Speak Product Owner - from Frustration to Collaboration

April 8, 2023

How to Speak Product Owner - from Frustration to Collaboration

I still remember the first time I pitched a great idea to a Product Owner. I thought I had all the technical aspects and benefits laid out clearly, but it just didn't resonate with her. It was like we were speaking two different languages. I was frustrated, and I was concerned about future problems with our product. However, with more experience, I've come to understand the Product Owner's role better and learned how to communicate with them effectively.

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Have you ever pitched an idea to the Product Owner that you were convinced was a winner, only to have it fall flat? I still remember when this happened to me on my first Scrum Team. I thought I had explained everything clearly, laying out all the technical aspects and how we’d develop it, but it just didn’t resonate with her. It felt like we were speaking completely different languages. Over time, I’ve learned some keys to “speaking Product Owner,” and I’d like to share them with you.[How to Speak PO - Infographic]

The first key is to understand the Product Owner's accountability. They are investment managers who make decisions on how to maximize the value of the product for customers. They need to make decisions on how to invest the team's efforts to achieve the greatest benefit for the customers. They are focused on the customer's benefit, and their investment vehicle is the team's efforts into the product. Therefore, they have to make tough decisions on how to invest the team’s time - what to do next, what not to do, and what is most important.

To help Product Owners make those decisions, you need to give them information that enables them to make informed decisions. I recommend focusing on three key elements: benefit, investment, and time frame. 

For the benefit, you want to understand and communicate how the customer will benefit, or the negative customer impact if the idea is not implemented. This will mean you’re considering who will benefit, more specifically than the generic “customer.” I also recommend considering how can you observe if they're getting the benefit, which brings it from the realm of theory into possibility.

Next, consider the investment. What size investment is needed in terms of time and money? What type of investment (time, money, etc.) would be needed, and from whom? Are there specific skills or tools needed?

Finally, think about the timeframe. What's the difference between doing it now or later? 

This brings us to a core perspective of Product Owners: trade-offs. It's crucial to come with alternatives and variations to help them consider and choose the best option for the customer's benefit. Presenting ideas like larger investments and timeline for larger benefits, or a smaller and faster investment for a faster benefit, helps the Product Owner weigh their options. Going deeper into this approach, you could propose the smallest investment that could prove or disprove the benefit in a small way, which would then help them make a decision about making a larger investment.

This approach opens up the possibility for a collaborative conversation where the Product Owner can consider how to make the best investment decision and product decisions to benefit the customers. It's essential to keep the focus on the customer and how the investment can benefit them.

I hope this post has been helpful for you, and I encourage you to continue learning how to speak Product Owner! And if you’re a Scrum Master or other Agile leader, you can model this to others and help them learn, too!

If you have any other tips or ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments or email me at

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