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.

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

Product Owner certificate
Get a FREE Trial Exam for the BVOP Certified Product Owner
Get a FREE Trial Exam for the BVOP Certified Product Owner

So what makes a good Product Owner? Not everything lies in 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.

Stakeholder management

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.

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’”.

Collaborate with the team

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 to be done based on what is of the 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 energize 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.

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 a 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.

Here is a sample motivational speech from the new Product Owner to the Development team.

The purpose of our meeting today is to discuss our position as a team and how to successfully achieve our work together.

I want to be aware that before taking this position there were some problems in the team with the previous Product Owner. What do you think was wrong to get to this situation? Does this reflect on your work? What could we improve?

To avoid making mistakes so far, let’s look at the things that would help us do our job better. Because the work will be better done if we are a team and work together.

I believe that if everyone performs their function properly and we communicate with each other, we will be able to cope together. Let’s communicate about every single problem our team faces. You will be surprised, but in most cases, effective communication can save the project, even when faced with a serious problem. You just need a detailed explanation of the problems.

It is important for me that each of you feels comfortable and confident here. I am happy to share information, advice, and suggestions to help ensure a better working atmosphere.

You may think that this is nonsense and you will go through exactly the same path, but let’s try to improve the atmosphere together, to give our best to start our first project successfully and motivated together.
I believe that each of you is an experienced specialist and professional, so I would like to ask you to write on a piece of paper a strong quality or skill. Share how you would be useful to your team.

The success of a project cannot be achieved by one person. Success is the contribution of each member of the team and the people involved in the project. I hope you learned something more about yourself and the rest of the team today. I believe that this would help us to take steps to minimize the shortcomings. Let each of us give the best of ourselves, let’s help each other, let’s be a team together.

One thought on “What makes a good Product Owner and what do they do?”

  1. Hello,
    I recently successfully received my BVOP Scrum Master certificate. I am extremely happy for my success. Now, however, I would like to continue my development. I am already attracted by the work and responsibilities of the role described in the article. I believe that for a team and a project, the most important thing is to balance the priorities and the technical documentation. Can you recommend me specific topics to learn? Which is the easiest programming language and database. As far as I know, the ability to create APIs is almost a must today. I want to break into a software company. What to start with?

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