The greatness of a Product Owner
6 June 2022
Who is a Product Owner?
The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.
The main requirements of a Product Owner can be summarised as:
- the ability to delegate activities, but for which he remains solely responsible.
- the need for everyone to respect his decisions.
- the need for this role to be filled by a single person and not by a group.
The role of the Product Owner acquires and maintains meaning and value only when considered in relation to two other important roles in the Scrum framework: the Dev Team (a group, thus a plurality as opposed to the individuality of the Product Owner) and the Scrum Master.
What makes Product Ownership efficient?
But what determines the effectiveness of a Product Owner?
Let us help with a metaphor: the hourglass.
The hourglass is a transparent glass object consisting of two “cone” shaped containers that meet at their respective vertices. The purpose is to pass the sand from one cone to the other.
Imagine, then, that each part of the object corresponds to a part and function of product ownership:
- The top container corresponds to the stakeholders, who are not directly involved in production, but have an interest in the product’s success;
- The container at the bottom, on the other hand, represents the Dev Team, which is responsible for making the product;
- The small central “opening” that connects the two parts, finally, represents the Product Owner, who filters stakeholders’ demands (top) towards the Dev team (bottom), isolating the essential items that are useful for the realisation of the product.
Characteristics of an Effective Product Owner
Let us list the first characteristics of the effective product owner.
- He/she has a clear vision of the product: the vision, in a healthy organisational environment, is linked with the company’s strategies; indeed, there is often a correlation between the Product Owner’s vision and the company’s objectives. Its purpose is to translate the vision into valuable elements for the organisation.
- He takes care of communication: between the stakeholders (usually internal, who bring indications), the customer (who can be present in the company, create relationships and share requests; as well as being distant or even absent and, therefore, coinciding with the market), the organisation and the team (which is the main recipient of communication and whose actions are directly influenced by the effectiveness of the communication itself).
- It possesses a rich toolbox, consisting of: the vision; backlog management; backlog writing.
The Product Owner’s superpowers
So, what are the elements that make the Product Owner “great”? We can imagine the PO as a superhero with his indispensable superpowers.
- Being able to enhance and valorise the team: only through a well-organised (indeed, self-organised), competent and cohesive team the Product Owner will be able to achieve his challenging goals.
- Applying the iterative and incremental approach: very often people use a method that we call “iterative waterfall”: they proceed in steps, but the product is not released at each iteration, but only once and only at the end.
We then move from an approach in which we develop individual pieces hoping that they will all fit together easily, to an iterative and incremental approach in which we first sketch out a basic sketch and then, through successive passes, refine the entire product, always maintaining high overall integrity.
- Knowing how to use feedback: it is a powerful tool that makes the incremental approach real and concrete. It is indeed essential to have confirmation (or denial) that what we are doing is going in the right direction. Remember that individual feedback is not a “command” but a suggestion that the PO must carefully weigh up.
- Knowing how to minimise the backlog. In fact, a “simple” and “small” backlog should contain in detailed form only what we have to do in the next two or three sprints; the rest should remain at a low level of detail and be the subject of later refinements, to be “ready” only when we are close to realisation of those parts.
- Knowing how to say no! Taking a large number of requests into the backlog without prior filtering is not a good idea. Putting things in the backlog that we already know we will not do generates frustration in the person who requested them and generates disappointment in the team for not having completed all the tasks.
This does not mean that the stories will be permanently excluded, but that we can take them up again in the future or when they are more consistent with the activities of the moment and especially when someone feels the need to reintroduce them
The superpowers we have described are elements that give an important boost to the Product Owner’s effectiveness. A great product owner must know how to use them, even though the context is often not the best one for applying them as he/she would like.
In this article, we have analysed just five of them, according to our personal experience.
But according to your professional experience, what are the superpowers of the Product Owner?