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Product Owner as Superhero

November 4, 2014

I am sitting in in a café in Singapore enjoying a well-deserved drink and dinner after teaching day 1 of the Professional Scrum Product Owner course.

We have students from Indonesia, Singapore and Cambodia on the course.  We have spent much of the first day chasing the idea of value in product development.  Where does the value reside in our product backlog.  How do we identify it, prioritise it and maximise it.  Identifying value is hard.  Is it our value, our customers value or both?  Is it profit generated, satisfaction earned or costs saved?  These are some of the many challenges of Product Ownership today.

We ask a lot of our Product Owners.  We ask that they be entrepreneurs, experimenters, and like product explorers.  We ask that they provide a clear compelling vision to our teams and are able to accurately represent many conflicting stakeholders.

This is hard.  Are we asking too much?  Can you really bring a start up mind set to a bank or an insurance company?  Can a validated learning approach really exist in corporate IT?  Are they able to actually interpret and respond to Scrum’s feedback loops?

Many companies ‘assign’ product owners from the ‘business’ (don’t you love that word.)  If you talk about anyone outside of IT as ‘the business’ then I worry for you.  If you see them as the business, what do they see you as?  Probably a monopoly provider of questionable service.  What do you think would happen if ‘the business’ could choose a different service provider?  Would they still choose you?  If they didn’t could you attract new clients?  I thought not.  You care about the success of the organisation.  So do they.  You are on the same team.  You are not ‘trusted partners of the business’, you are the business.

An assigned Product Owner who already has a full time job will not work – yes I did say that.  Let’s turn this round.  Are you a full time developer / tester / ba / other – great.  Let’s pretend we have an exciting new project and it’s so important that it gets funded.  We show how important it is by having you be the Product Owner.  As well as your day job of course.  What could possibly go wrong?  These are often multi-million dollar programs / projects.  I don’t want to devalue your day job, but really?

We ask a lot of our Product Owners.  Maybe too much.  But don’t make it impossible.

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