As a Scrum Product Owner, you are called to do a particular job in a specific role. However, reality oftentimes can put you at odds with what you know to be true.
Many Product Owners, especially new ones struggle with this.
But there is good news, and it lies in the veterans of the industry. Over time, accumulated experience imbues the individual with an innate sense of proficiency that can’t be measured on a scale. This proficiency is more nuanced and a direct result of developing certain understandings over the years.
In this article, we asked practicing Agile coaches to detail the five Product Owner truths you need to know to better align your focus.
Manager or Owner?
You’d think that applying for a role as a Product Owner would result in responsibilities specific to product ownership but often, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Basically, a Product Owner ends up performing in a Project Manager role. This is especially true if said Product Owner is unaware of the difference between the two. So, if this is you, then this tip should right your ship:
Project Management mindset is about what the project should be, i.e:
- Within scope
- Within budget
- Must be completed on time
This mindset emphasises the end-product and is frequently seen in companies that dogmatically pursue a waterfall strategy.
While the intent is always to deliver value, working on a strict and narrow line can inevitably shift the focus from delivering value and instead, result in a lower quality product, especially if budget and timeline are immutable.
A Product Owner mindset on the other hand, focuses on delivering value and optimising quality via:
- Building incrementally
- Measuring progress
- Learning from experiments & mistakes
Understanding the difference between the two will correct your direction and more importantly how you manage your time and responsibility as per your job properly.
A Product Owner should breathe Agile and while at the beginning it can be hard to abide by the Scrum values especially if the company isn’t entirely on board, it’ll be your responsibility to show its benefits by example.
New Product Owners tend to attack the job as the title dictates, that is, overseeing the product and pursuing a singular vision. Yes, it’s true that a Product Owner has to know anything and everything about their product, but the line isn’t drawn there.
A high-performing Product Owner is like an entrepreneur and is committed to hearing and evaluating customer feedback. And not just hearing either; face-to-face conversations are a key part in the entire process.
Customer feedback awareness is what keeps good Product Owners from developing product myopia, that is to say, tunnel vision. Customer feedback ensures the product remains relevant and allows the Product Owner to focus on the most important aspect of their role; maximising value.
Know your role
Product Owners may be responsible for the product and maximising value, but the line often blurs between them being an equally important part of the Scrum team and a team lead.
The two roles are somewhat different in that it’s not totally the Product Owner’s responsibility to manage the Scrum team and instead to impart their expertise and intimate knowledge of the product and feedback from customers. The job, then, is to steer the team in that direction to ensure value is delivered.
In short, the Product Owner is a member of the Scrum team and should not be treated or act like a traditional top-down manager. You’re there in the trenches with your team, standing shoulder to shoulder to deliver a quality product.
Not a traditional manager
If a Product Owner were a traditional manager, then they would be responsible for the development progress of the product. But they are not, therefore this falls under the purview of the development team. The Product Owner has enough to tackle without needing to oversee progress development as well.
So decouple yourself from this responsibility, even if it’s something pushed onto you, to enable you to perform in your role better.
The concept of roles in a Scrum team, according to the Scrum guide, is flatter than flat earth theory. Basically, it postulates that hierarchy is an even plane and individual titles don’t matter.
However, reality is often different and while Agile is certainly a viable and efficient way to work, most companies, especially MNCs are deeply entrenched in a waterfall mentality. As a result, titles define your roles. So, this is the problem; how do you abide by the Scrum guide of being role agnostic and deal with the contrasting way in which traditional, older companies work?
The way you navigate this is to apply the Agile principle of being adaptive. If you can’t force a complete overhaul, then apply your learnings where it matters and where possible. In time, if you deliver value and can exhibit the benefits of your strategy, you may gain more freedom. Until then, the way to do Agile is to be Agile.
There you have it. Five truths a beginner Product Owner should be aware of! As always, these things are subjective and can affect different people, differently. So, be mindful of what you do and where you are.
Adapt to your surroundings but understand what your role entails to avoid situations where your scope exceeds your reach.
If you’re new and still trying to figure out what else is required for you to make a good impression, check out our article on the 10 essential skills every product owner needs.
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