Friday, November 13, 2015

3 characteristics of outstanding Product Owners

The success of your product depends to a large extent on your Product Owner. If the PO directs the product in the right direction, your success chance will be maximized. If not ... your product may well fail.

How do you decide the future of your product?

Here are three characteristics of outstanding Product Owners:

1 - Obsessed with customers

Customers are not merely those who pay for what you produced. They will use the product - they know what annoys and what pleases them. They are not just consumers. They have opinions, ideas.

Every Product Owner must understand their customers, how they act, what they think, what they want.

Good Product Owners have a good understanding of who their customers are and how they use the Product - and what they will pay for.

Great Product Owners drive this to obsession, constantly looking for new and better ways to understand their customers better, to get closer to their customers.
They become the personification of "the customer" when discussing the next Product Increment - and they become the avatar of "the Product" in their interactions with the Customer.

Outstanding Product Owners are emotionally attached to the Customer and the Product. They feel joy when something is done well, but they also suffer when customers suffer, they feel pain when the product is inadequate - and they can't "not take it personal".

2 - Caring for numbers

Numbers are not everything, but numbers are important. You can't be a good Product Owner if you only groom and discuss user stories. You must correlate them to the needs of the customer and the business.

Every Product Owner must understand the Product Vision, communicate it clearly and base Releases, Epics, Stories and Features on this vision. They must always be able to draw lines forward and backward between these items and be ready to restrict everything that is not in line with the product vision.

Good Product Owners are not only able to map stories. They can relate them to business figures. They understand which Epic, story or feature delivers how much business value. They can clearly discriminate between "gold plating" and Minimum Viable Product. They will deliver the highest value first and cut discard items which do not have a good bottom line.

Great Product Owners will go one level beyond that: They do not only attach a business figure to features, they relate Performance Metrics, such as Clicks, Conversion Rate and hard cash earnings. They do not only predict which feature is most valuable - they build a product that lets them measure, so that they can inspect and adapt their product to maximize value and customer satisfaction.

Outstanding Product Owners transcend all of that - they have the data and are ready to produce accurate analysis at a fingertip. Additionally, they understand the large scale implications of a change: They do not focus only on the product, but on the ecosystem in which the product exists. This includes being aware of potential on short-term gains that might decrease future sustainability - for example the phenomenon called "Mudflation" in MMO's.

3 - Disregarding agendas

Of course, the Product Owner works in your organization. But the loyalty of the Product Owner lies with the Product, not with a specific portion of the organization. They own the product and the product directs them - not management!

Every Product Owner must be in charge of their product. If you're looking for someone to whom you can spoonfeed what to do when, you're not looking for a Product Owner - you're looking for a Project Manager. That's OK, but don't call it Scrum, don't claim to be Agile - and don't wonder why you're wasting lots of money on a failed product: It was a management decision.

Good Product Owners take ownership, just like the title of the role proclaims. This means that they will do what, based on their understanding, is the right thing to do. If management wants the Product Owner to do a certain thing with the product, they will provide clear information on why they want that - and must be willing to accept a "No". A good Product Owner will tell management if an idea is stupid.

Great Product Owners care more for the product than for themselves. They will do the right thing, even if it is a personal disadvantage. They can not be threatened or scared by backroom politics or titles. Neither will they be swayed by personal gain - you can not bribe them with pocket money or promotion. If a suggestion is bad for the product, it will be rejected. Likewise, just because a suggestion is good, it will find it's place in the Product Backlog based on product value, not on someone's title or rank.

Outstanding Product Owners are beyond your company. They choose to dedicate a portion of their life to the product - if you want something from them for a political reason, be prepared for rejection. If you have a suggestion that would destroy their product, be prepared for fire. If you want to gut the product for short term gain, you have to accept that they will make the product successful without you.


The decision making process of an outstanding Product Owner is driven by customers, numbers and value. You can't own an outstanding Product Owner - and they own the Product.

Before you hire a Product Owner, decide if you really want a Product Owner. Your choices are still to hire a Project Manager, an Analyst or a Requirements Engineer. None of these are Product Owners.

An outstanding Product Owner is not a person to whom you simply delegate work in the development process.

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