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Exploring Product Ownership and its Evolving Role in Today's World

March 21, 2024

In this episode of the Community Podcast, Dave West is joined by Professional Scrum Trainers Fredrik Wendt and Paul Kuijten along with Sabrina Love, Product Owner of Courseware at for an exciting discussion about Product Ownership, product management, challenges in product development, the accountability of the Product Owner and what's next for Product Ownership! 




Lindsay Velecina: 0:03
Welcome to the community podcast, a podcast from the home of Scrum. In this podcast we feature professional scrum trainers and other scrum practitioners sharing their stories and experiences to help learn from the experience of others. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Dave West: 0:20
Hello, and welcome to the scrum door community podcast. I'm your host, Dave West CEO Today's podcast is focused on product ownership and product and the role of the product owner a topic that's very close to my heart. Something that I spent a lot of time thinking about talking about and confusing everybody with a So I'm very lucky that we're not going to be confused today because we have three people joining me today, and that is Frederick went professional scrum trainer based in Sweden, which is even colder I think than Boston at the moment. Hello, welcome to the podcast. Frederick.

Fredrik Wendt: 1:04
Thank you. I guess it's a little bit chillier. But still, you can see spring starting to come around and bushes and trees and stuff. So it's getting there eventually at least. But

Dave West: 1:15
that's awesome. Welcome. Thank you for joining us. And then Paul Caiden professional scrum trainer based in the Netherlands in Holland. Welcome to the podcast, Paul.

Paul Kuijten: 1:27
Thank you that and I guess the weather is somewhere between Boston and Sweden over years.

Dave West: 1:36
The story of HoloLens life, right. Thank you. And then finally, you know left the best to last Sabrina love a real product owner not not that Frederick and Paul haven't been in their time, but they spend more time helping others do product ownership now but Sabrina love is our product owner responsible for scrum dogs, instructor led training. So if you don't like a trading cloth course, that is Sabrina's fault, just for the record, if you wanna welcome to the podcast. Welcome to the broadcast. Sabrina, thank you for joining us.

Sabrina Love: 2:16
Thank you for having me.

Dave West: 2:19
Okay, we got a really tricky question to start this way. Because you know, I'm asked this all the time. What is a product owner? How would you describe it to a layperson, somebody that's not necessarily in the Agile world community? Frederick, this is something that you often talk about, can you share your thoughts?

Fredrik Wendt: 2:41
Absolutely. So the product owner essentially has, it's a kind of a job description, typically handled by one person, and their job is very simple. All you need to do is maximize the value that your product is generating. That's it. Wow. So essentially, it's that simple on paper. And that's the thing, right? You know, what, what do we mean, when you talk about value, that could be a value to a user or a customer, and that could be value to your company. So figuring out what value you're going for is kind of the central point for a product owner when they try to maximize the value. And, of course, the second thing is making it even harder, you know, products don't just fall down from trees or appear out of thin air products are made by people. So your second job is to enable people to create these awesome products that create value together. So that in a nutshell, I think, is it, set the vision set the you know, direction and then create a space for people to just be awesome. Create that value. Sounds make sense?

Dave West: 3:53
Yeah, it makes total sense. But there is a question that that I see a lot in the forums that I frequent around product ownership, and that is, what is the difference between this product owner accountability, role job title that you just did you just described? And product manager, Paul, that's something that you you know, talk about, because obviously you work a lot with product managers.

Paul Kuijten: 4:22
Yeah. So all the organizations I've been in, have a somewhat different view on and what a product manager and the product owner so that makes it really, really interesting. And it's confusing for a lot of these people. But if you look at the product owner, of course, that term stems from Scrum. And what scrum basically says is that is an accountability that is taken up by a person that is best suitable to take up that accountability. Some organizations they make official job descriptions they make functions out of it, job titles. But that's not what scrum describes. So, product manager usually is more of a job title slash job description. There is no like a definitive description of what the product manager is. And that makes it difficult because the job product manager is played in so many different ways in so many different companies. So, basically, if you talk about what the difference is, sometimes there is no difference. So and then the product manager is the one best equipped to take on that accountability of product owner. But sometimes, there is a difference. And what the company considers a product manager does something completely different from what you would expect of a product owner in scrum to do so. So that's what makes it difficult. So sometimes, it's the same. Yeah, because the product manager in a company does all the things that the product owner, according to Scrum, would ideally be doing. But sometimes it's different. And then, of course, you know, there's some patterns that companies use at work. But it's some patterns that companies use don't work as well. And they're often related to, we really like for the person that owns the product to be close to the customers and the users. So if there's if you have product managers and other people being product owners, then that can become a bit of an issue. So yeah, that's

Dave West: 6:42
sorry, yeah. So let's see if I've got this in a nutshell. And so ultimately, the product owner, accountability, just focus on that word for a minute, as we think about it is, as Frederick said, is basically a person that is responsible for ensuring that the most value possible is being delivered. Now, value is obviously very subjective and objective, it's very complicated. But ultimately, they are that. Now when we say delivered, that means ensuring that they work with stakeholders to ensure they know what value really means. Because ultimately, you know that we don't define it, it's the people that consume us and pay for the thing that define value, and then work with the team or teams to deliver that. Right. And the job title could be anything, it could be product management, in some organizations, it is it could be program manager, it could be business analyst, it could be anything that makes sense, as long as they are accountable for delivering that value, Frederick.

Fredrik Wendt: 7:50
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's worth mentioning something called product ownership. Because in all of those scenarios that you outlined, you still have, you know, regardless of what you call your roles are your peoples how you divide it up, your organization essentially delivers products and services, we bundle those up and call it just products, but so your products and services that if you don't produce that, if you don't create something that's valuable to anyone, eventually you'll go bust your your company won't exist. So how you get to producing those products and delivering them and maintaining them, etc, that is what we call product ownership. And that is always present, regardless of how you call your roles, etc. And that is, of course, you know, if you're good at product ownership, you are excelling at creating great value for your customers use isunshare hurdles, etc.

Dave West: 8:43
And that's ultimately, how you measure the success, or product ownership is that value metric that value that's being delivered long and short and long term, I guess, to the, to the stakeholders, to the users to the team, in terms of you know, delivering real value to the organization. So, all right, so product, I think we've got a handle on now, many organizations, though, they, they're sort of in this in between hybrid II World between products, and something called projects. So is there a, you know, a difference where the projects fits in Project versus product? Sabrina? You know, before, obviously, you worked in one of those very traditional organizations and you've, you've had some experience of this. So talk a little bit about that distinction between project and product. Sure.

Sabrina Love: 9:44
Um, so I actually I have projects that I work on as product part of product ownership, but its product ownership is takes a very different lens. I think there's there's more focus on how the user is getting value or benefiting from a product A project has a at least in my experience has a very definitive you can, you can tell when there's a start and when there's an end. And there's typically, there's a lot of tasks involved, it may start out with some some value that you've identified. But in general product ownership as long lived, it's not. At least, I haven't experienced that there's an end to it. And I think it's, it's maybe one of the challenges of product ownership is, you know, being able to say no, and delegating, etc. But product or product ownership versus projects, I mean, I do projects now, it's not my whole life, right, I'm still focused on on the value for the customer of the product, we might have projects within, you know, doing something specific for that product. In my past life, I did work at a multinational bank, it's in the back office, it was not customer facing, a lot of our projects were very task oriented very much like, we need our reports to say this, they need to all be green, it was more focused on making our manager look good, as opposed to actually providing any value to anybody. I'm not sure if that if that answers your question, Dave. But that's a little bit of how I've experienced that.

Paul Kuijten: 11:23
I think it's really interesting. As I hear you talk, like, it's the other way around, you're owning the product and doing projects on the knee. Whereas a lot of organizations do it the other way around. They're doing projects, and they add these product owners on these teams that are there owning the product underneath the project. Yeah, and that's a that's a really interesting, it's a very different. Yeah,

Sabrina Love: 11:49
yeah, that's how you approach your work and how you approach who you're talking to every day. And, and what's most important, how you remind people about what's important to what you're doing every single day, it's very different.

Dave West: 12:02
I think that the word you used was really nice lens. You know, I mean, at the end of the day, as much as we may paint some magic mystery and magic around what we do, but it's about the, you know, doing stuff, it's about doing work that stuff, it's about, you know, working on things that are the most value, oh, hang on a minute, it's not just about the work, it's about the value, it's about the outcomes, it's about the context, it's about the customer, their stakeholders, ultimately, the p&l as it were the the balance of the things that you're doing, and the lens that you you look at this work in this product lens ultimately shifts how you think about that work. And hopefully, you look at the most, you know, the easiest, you do the easiest thing that gives you the most the most value. And that's the kind of approach or lens that changes everything for you. You were looking like you wanted to say something there.

Paul Kuijten: 13:10
Yeah, I think I think that's the, that's the key, you know, the context. And the and the way of thinking is different. And, of course, there's a lot of capabilities that that need the support that you need to have. So, so yeah, you might be doing logics in the context of owning a product. But you still need to keep in mind that these probably don't need to take too long before you go to market because you want to validate those assumptions. So that's, that's, that's capabilities that you need. In owning a product. That may not necessarily be if you own a project. Okay, if you run price.

Dave West: 13:53
And I think that that is the the crux of the matter, the reason why product ownership, I think is becoming so relevant today. I was at a consumer packaged goods organization, and talking to them about product ownership. And the reason why they're so interested in it now, is exactly what you said, Paul, it's this, they appreciate that the world is very different. Obviously, digital is the enabler to that difference are one of the primary enablers. And they're driving a different conversation on what value means. And it's changing the frequency of the release their relationship with their customers, their relationship with their supply chain. And it means that historically, the very long decision cycles of projects have to be replaced with something and they look into product ownership for that, which is which is really, really interesting. So I do want to focus a little bit on you the challenges because, yes, you know, as Sabrina said, it went does it I hadn't very much Interesting point of view, but but there are lots of challenges now, Project pool you work with organizations doing there. So maybe Reggie, you want to talk a little bit about the challenges for product ownership that you see in most organizations today.

Fredrik Wendt: 15:17
Right. So I think the challenges are not new, per se, they've already existed, you know, the main product question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we providing the right it? You know, two decades ago, we were trying to figure out how to do it right how to get the right quality. But that was in a day and age where we didn't have the abundance and the quick time to market that see these days. So yeah, sure, we need read quality. But most importantly, we need to build the right thing, you know, the thing that is actually being appreciated by users. And doing so requires a lot of faster feedback. And acting on that feedback. And getting that feedback. And then decision making loop to speed up, that is a challenge in most organizations, most organizations, they were not brought up in the, in this age, where you have a mechanism in your company to make quick decision making. So that is a real struggle. Another one, of course, is the defining value, long term value balancing total cost of ownership, instead of just looking at a project short term, outcome, sorry, an output.

Dave West: 16:29
So hang on for you. Two big, big challenges this organizations ultimately are built around efficiency around scarcity. And around the industrial mindset, right? I think what I heard there, which means that delivering stuff is actually the exception, not the norm. Because the impact of that stuff is one, the expense is the delivery, the risk is the delivery, you know, you whereas what you're saying is, that's not the case delivering this not a risk, it's easier to do now, but also the fact ultimately, you know, to mitigate that risk, you just deliver smaller packets of value, and then learn from it and organizations aren't built like that. Is that would that be one of the big issues?

Fredrik Wendt: 17:19
Absolutely. And, you know, it becomes a challenge of discovering what the right thing is, which is why product discovery is, you know, the lips of most people these days, because it's about how do we discover what the right it is? How do we know that we talked to the right customer to the right market? Is this where we want to go? does it align with our products, so a lot of these discoveries, and that needs to happen as you explore and learn about your market, right.

Dave West: 17:47
And obviously, looking at the most economic way of doing that, considering the situation that you're in,

Fredrik Wendt: 17:53
there is an economic feasibility there a strategic feasibility and technological. So there's lots of stuff that you need to learn as you have typically in the digital landscape, the ability to learn quickly, if you set up your organization that way, and that is the biggest challenge, getting your organization to be set up that way, learning those new skills.

Paul Kuijten: 18:15
And that, and I think, being able to set up your organization that way, a lot of people just don't have the information yet how to do it. So so so if you look at the field and how fast it evolves, a lot of people that are running, these organizations just don't have the knowledge yet to know how to do it, because it has a lot of consequences. It has consequences on your organizational structure. It has consequences on your architecture, the way you structure your solutions. It has consequences on how you deal with your people. And there's a there's a million moving parts, and it's not spread yet the knowledge hasn't been spread yet that far on how to be successful with it. And then what you see in these organizations, it's it's solutions all the way down. Because I think, you know, I at least I have problem, I always know exactly what's going to be necessary. And there's there's way too many, there's way too many people with with that same problem still, and to really take a step back. And try to see if it works is really, really hard.

Fredrik Wendt: 19:32
Yeah, moving to that empirical mindset where you assume that I don't know, but I have an idea. How can we quickly learn about that? That is a big challenge. And when we get the whole organization to work with that kind of outset, like we don't know, but we have some ideas. Let's allow some people the time is based to figure it out.

Dave West: 19:55
So so I have to lean into this a little bit. Sorry. You know, you've had personal experience of working with our trainer community around releasing and trying to learn from, it's hard, isn't it? Yes.

Sabrina Love: 20:13
And I did have to at one point learn that for myself, I think from experience that it's not about gaining 100% consensus, but it is about bringing people along for the ride, the community are the people who deliver the courses. So they really need at least some amount of buy in, for it to work for the changes to be adopted for for those changes to ultimately reach our customers. So it's, it's very hard to gain and particularly I want to make note of a particularly we have our community that's about 360, who are global, which is amazing, it's really awesome to get that amount of diverse perspectives into the courser and how, you know, their customers are facing their challenges and their particular markets all over the world. That that is amazing. And also a challenge. Because alignment is possible 100% consensus, less so. But we are after alignment and bringing people along for the journey. So it is it's challenging, but it's also really fun.

Dave West: 21:18
difficult, but rewarding. So I just the other thing is about expectation management, one of the big challenges that I've seen is when you release something, and people like, Whoa, hang on, we were just testing on this one product. And they're like, No, everything's changed.

Sabrina Love: 21:38
They're really not not change creatures. I think it's a, there's there's a lot of storytelling and a lot of why and a lot of at the end of the day people have to want to change, you can't force change on them. So that is, you know, how do you help somebody change in the direction that you're going? is probably my number one challenge as a product owner? Yeah,

Dave West: 22:04
I think it highlights the importance of narrative, the importance of continuous communication, then, which has skills that I definitely as a product manager, becoming a product owner, I didn't learn I delivered stuff, put it in a shrink wrap product and put it on a pallet actually, back in those days, we used to create CDs and put them on pallets and send them out. I know Submariner, it's an it's an age. Yes. But the point is that now we have to create this continuous narrative, this continuous conversation with our stakeholders, with our customers, with our organization, and obviously, with our teams. Really, really interesting. Yeah, value and feedback. It's just incredible. So I guess we try to keep these, we could talk about this for hours, couldn't we everybody? This is such an interesting topic. But but we don't have hours and and certainly our listeners, don't they have real work to do delivering value to their customers often. So I guess what I'd like to finish with is a question around the increased importance of product ownership. What does it mean to be a Pio? We're seeing that I'm seeing that our websites seeing that, you know, we see traffic to our website, we see, you know, people that say I'm interested in product ownership, we see that kind of data coming in. So we see this increased importance or increased interest in product ownership. And, and and I guess that everybody's asking, What does it mean to be a PEO? What does it What? What is the future? Around product ownership? Sabrina, you're a real one. What do you think? Where do you think you're gonna go on this journey?

Sabrina Love: 24:01
I don't know. Um, but I can't wait to find out. I think you've heard Frederick say it a couple of times about the right it. I think it doesn't matter if we can build it right, if it isn't the right fit. And that's something I think that's from Alberto Sequoia. Fair remember? And that's kind of the crux of it. I think that's the you know, we got really good at delivering stuff. And now let's get better at delivering things that matter to people. And people are complex creatures, their needs and wants and challenges change every single day. I think, you know, technology and software still eating the role of technology becomes more prevalent in our lives every single day than it ever has before. And I think that'll continue to happen. So the nature of of those things of people and technology and the way that the world is evolving, is it's complex. So part of complexity is not knowing, I guess, and accepting that you can't know upfront, like in a project where you can define something, you know, there's a start and there's an end and you kind of know where you're heading and what it means to be done. In, in this complex world, sometimes it's a journey of figuring out what the right thing is, what is the right? Yeah, it's, it's so in my journey specifically, I don't know yet. But I have raising people here on the podcast with me today, I have these amazing people to help me figure it out, too. And, and that's part of, I think, what Another major difference of like, my past life and my current life is. It's much more human. If that makes sense. There's much many more connections and many like, it's, it's an environment, I think, that supports being human, as opposed to filling in spreadsheets and making, you know, I make it all green. I

Dave West: 25:57
mean, you would do talking a lot about it, and really about innovation, really. And I think one element of innovation that we often forget, that is actually increasingly important, is that human element. And I think that that's something we're learning more and more about, as we explore, delivering faster, getting understanding value quicker, trying to experiment, and understand the impact of experimentation. I think that that is definitely the future. Oh, what do you think? What does it mean? Where are we going?

Paul Kuijten: 26:33
Oh, well, well, yeah. When you, when you talk about innovation, it's really, what it triggers to me is that I always see these companies thinking of innovation as a department, or something like that. And I think we really need to start realizing that it's, it's, it's something that you do on a daily basis, in every scrum theme, there is basically, so so so so the lines between what is innovation and what is just regular, I don't know, work production work or something like that there is not really production work anymore. Everything is innovation to some extent, to a lesser or greater extent, and how to integrate that into your, into your product creation process and your value creation processes. That's gonna be the the big challenge. I think

Sabrina Love: 27:27
it's a learn something new every day kind of mindset, I think, is that what you're

Paul Kuijten: 27:32
Yeah, yeah. But yes, yeah, for sure. And,

Dave West: 27:37
but it's also more intentionally. Yeah, I think that's the point. I think it's ownership and intentionality. If those two words can be used together, I think that is something and, and I love the fact that you talked about product ownership, because it's not just the responsibility of one carbon based life form, one human being one, one person, it is the responsibility of everybody that's working in a scrum team that's working in an organization, to deliver value and to be passionate about that, and to really take advantage of these new, amazing, I think Frederick use the word abundant abundance, abundant opportunities that we have today. It isn't about being told what to do. It's about being told, how can I help? You know, and giving and being, you know, being pointed at that problem being pointed at that customer being pointed at that opportunity? And then getting, you know, getting stuff done, I guess, Fredrik, you know, let's get this sweet to finish us off. What do you think? You know, what does it all mean? What does it mean to be a Pio? Well, you know, in this increasingly important area of responsibility, we

Fredrik Wendt: 28:53
started out simple by talking about maximizing value. That's great on paper, but for most companies, that means innovation and trying to try new things out. I knew, you know, Spotify, they tried it running app. They were wildly successful, but they killed it anyway. And figuring out what that right thing is, and having the leadership that allows, you know, not just one person to think about innovation in your company, but everyone, and creating and setting that space up and that type of leadership to create a shared ownership of your products. I think that is one of the biggest challenges we have. And we have some great ideas on how to achieve that new leadership as well.

Dave West: 29:36
We certainly do and more to come. Thank you. Thank you, Frederick. Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Sabrina, for spending the time away from actually doing it for a second to talk about it, which I really, really do appreciate. And thanks for listening listeners. You know, today we heard around about product ownership about the increasingly important set of capabilities and skills that organizations are adopting to deliver more value, to deliver more value to the world to deliver more value to their teams to deliver more value to their stakeholders, and how product ownership is evolving from really this set of capabilities purely in the scrum team to manage the backlog and deliver the you know, the right tasks to something that's a lot more holistic and a lot more interesting, perhaps. So, thank you for joining us today. Thank you for listening to today's come to or community podcast. I was your host Dave West. I was here with Sabrina or Frederick talking about product ownership today. If you liked what you heard, please subscribe. Share it with your friends. Send in lovely fan emails into And of course come back and listen to more. We're lucky enough I am lucky enough. Fortunate enough in this world of abundance to have a variety of guests on this podcast talking about everything in the area, professional Scrum, product thinking and of course agile. Thanks for listening, and Scrum. Org

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