What makes a good Product Owner and what do they do?

In our experience helping companies implement Scrum, Product Ownership recurs over and over again as THE big issue. In this blog article, we provide some guidance on what makes a good product owner and include a Product Owner position description.

As Ken Schwaber pointed out in his interesting blog article Product Owners, not Proxies: “The people in Product Management and customers have caught on. They have realized that we want them for ourselves, to help us do our work. They have fled, leaving behind a largely eviscerated Product Owner position, the Product Owner/Business Analyst. Of course, this simply reinforces waterfall, where someone is between the developers and the person in charge of the product and its use.”

I couldn’t agree more.

So what makes a good Product Owner?

So what makes a good Product Owner? What do they do? And how much time will it take? These are often questions we field from clients new to Scrum. Typically these are also accompanied by “and can they do this along with their ‘normal job’”.

The product owner needs to closely collaborate with the team. They need to provide the Team guidance and direction by providing clarity on “the what” without attempting to tell the Team how to do “the How”. Basically, the product owner is in the business driver’s seat, determining what the business wants done based on what is of highest value to the business.

We have worked with a range of Product Owner from brilliant ones who take to the role like a duck to water and energise and empower Teams, to downright poor Product Owners who are either absent, uncommitted or incapable of determining what is important to the business. Sadly, the majority fall into this camp resulting in a major Scrum dysfunction.

Product Owner certification is just a start. But the good product owner is a real product maker

So what makes a good Product Owner? Not everything lies on the product owner certification programs. Roman Pichler has written a very good book on Product Ownership. In his highly valuable article “Being an Effective Product Owner” he also talks about three things particularly helpful for product owners:

A thorough understanding of the customer needs and how the product will satisfy those needs allows the product owner to describe, prioritize, and communicate the requirements that really matter and answer all related questions. The product owner should express what value-added is from a customer perspective and focus the development efforts toward providing that value.

Proactive stakeholder management is particularly important in larger organizations, where the stakeholders include not only customers but also internal functions, such as production support, service or sales, as well. Taking into account and prioritizing the various interests early on and involving stakeholders regularly, for instance in form of user story writing workshops and sprint reviews, is crucial to ensuring that the software can successfully work in its target environment.

Knowing (at least roughly) how good software is developed makes it easier for the product owner to closely communicate with the team. This kind of knowledge helps product owners to better understand how the team works and how important quality and the related agile technical practices are to sustain a high velocity across releases.

To help companies engage good Product Owners, we have assembled a basic Product Owner Position Description that we are happy to open source to the Agile community. See the download at the bottom of this article.

And how much time will the role take? The way I see it is this. Over a two week Sprint they will need to commit to the following.

The Scrum Meetings

  • Sprint Planning meeting 1 – 4 hours
  • Sprint Planning meeting 2 (they need to be at least available) – 4 hours
  • Sprint Review – 4 hours
  • Product Backlog grooming – 8 hours

In addition, the Product Owner needs to perform the following:

  • Questions throughout Sprint and collaborating with Team – 8 hours (30 minutes as day)
  • Meeting preparation (Grooming, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review) – 4 hours
  • Stakeholder management, governance – 8 hours
  • Release planning, Product Roadmap – 6 hours
  • Financial planning/ROI/budget – 8 hours
  • Working with customers, User Experience etc – 8 hours

I make that 62 hours over a two-week Sprint – 31 per week. Product Ownership is NOT something people can do in their spare time. If the business is serious about the project then get serious about working with the team to define what you want.

Product Ownership is not an easy role. It takes time, focus, commitment and engagement with the Team(s). We need to build better Product Owners – something we are actively working on at Clarus.

For all of you that may be interested in the advanced product techniques, The new Agile 2020 Conference tracklist is ready.

Now as you are here, you may be really interested in the good Scrum Master role. Check out another article of ours: What is a Scrum Master and their responsibilities.

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