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March 16, 2017

A Product Owner Self-Assessment

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Barry Overeem

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Previous week I facilitated the first day of a Product Owner workshop. During that day we focused mostly on the usage of Scrum from the perspective of the Product Owner. The Team Radar was used as a Retrospective format and this provided useful input for todays second part of the workshop. If you want to know how we've used the Team Radar: check this blog post.

In this article I'll describe two topics that were part of todays schedule. One is about Roman Pichler's Product Management framework. The other concerns the acronym DRIVEN which is described in Geoff Watts new book "Product Mastery - From Good to Great Product Ownership".

Roman's Product Management Framework

Roman Pichler describes his Product Management Framework as a simple yet powerful tool that defines what product management is. It provides six core and six supporting knowledge areas. The former are particularly important to do a great job as a product manager or a product owner. The framework is optimised for the creation and the management of digital products using lean and agile techniques such as Lean Startup and Scrum.

You can use this framework to define your role and to see which skills you may be lacking. We used it as an enabler to share all kinds of tools and practices a Product Owner might use. The results were pretty overwhelming (in a positive way). As a group we came up with a vast amount of tools that a Product Owner can use in his/her daily job. The framework proved to be a nice trigger to share all kind of ideas.

The DRIVEN Acronym

In the afternoon we wanted to focus on the necessary soft skills of a Product Owner. Based on the recently published book "Product Mastery" by Geoff Watts, we decided to use the acronym DRIVEN. This acronym describes the traits of a great Product Owner:

  • Decisive: willing and able to make decisions with incomplete information, and to allow others to make decisions too;
  • Ruthless: maintaining a relentless drive to maximise value and minimise risk while staying focussed on the vision;
  • Informed: cultivating a voracious appetite to know the most possible about your product's domain while being prepared to act with incomplete information;
  • Versatile: being responsive to changing circumstances, both in terms of product development techniques and also leadership style;
  • Empowering: creating a sense of shared ownership amongst all stakeholders and bringing people along with you on the journey;
  • Negotiable: having faith in one's vision while also being open to feedback and change.

Please read the book "Product Mastery" for the full context. It's definitely worth reading!

Questions to Consider

After we briefly explained the acronym DRIVEN the group was divided in three smaller teams. Per team two traits were discussed. Every team got 10 minutes to answer the following questions:

  • What is meant with this specific trait?
  • What is an example of this trait being used in a good way within the organisation?
  • What is an example of this trait being used poorly within the organisation?
  • What rate would you give this trait on a scale from 1 - 10?

In this part we deliberately used an organisational perspective on how the Product Owner role is fulfilled.

Discussing the DRIVEN Acronym

The four questions started some good in-depth discussions. Especially the questions of how this trait was being used good or poorly proved to be valuable. We did learn that we should skip the question "what is meant with this specific trait?" People that don't have English as their native language might find the acronym DRIVEN a bit difficult to understand. Especially when you haven't read the book yet.

Although we did gave a brief explanation of every trait, it took some effort to really grasp the meaning of every word. A better way would be to take more time explaining the traits at the start of the exercise. Afterwards write down the keywords and definitions so everyone can check these while answering the other questions.

Sharing the Results

After 15 minutes all the traits were discussed within the teams. Time for a demo and joint review of every trait. Again the questions with the tangible examples of how every trait is currently used within the organisation triggered the best conversations.

The Individual Soft-Skills Assessment

Due the joint discussion of the DRIVEN acronym a shared understanding of every trait was created. As a next step we offered every participant some time to assess the traits on their own role. As an extra step we asked everyone to define one improvement for the upcoming period. After some of these improvements were shared with each other, we closed this part of the workshop.

Closing

The intention of todays workshop was to discuss concrete Product Owner tools & practices in the morning and define the soft skills in the afternoon. Although we did cover other topics, the Product Management Framework by Roman Pichler and the DRIVEN acronym by Geoff Watts were the main themes.

Overall I'm satisfied with the outcome. I can definitely recommend these ideas. There are two things I would do different:

  1. Discuss the most relevant items from Roman's Product Management Framework in more detail. Today we've collected lot's of great tools and practices and (or but) discussed them only superficial.
  2. Offer more clarity about the meaning of the DRIVEN acronym during the exercise. Everyone should have a "cheat sheet" with the definitions and keywords. This would have made answering the other questions easier.

Hopefully sharing these practical experiences is useful for you as well! If you've got any questions about this approach, feel free to ask them.