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Product Owner

The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team. It’s a one-person role that brings the customer perspective of the product to a Scrum Team1 .

The Product Owner is responsible for:

  • Developing and maintaining a product vision and market strategy;
  • Product management;
  • Ordering and managing the Product Backlog;
  • Involving stakeholders and end-users in Product Backlog refinement and backlog management;
  • Alignment with other Product Owners when needed from an overall product, company or customer perspective.

A GREAT PRODUCT OWNER

  • Embraces, shares and socializes the product vision. A great Product Owner represents the customers voice and creates a product vision together with the stakeholders. Every decision is taken with the product vision in mind. This ensures sustainable product development, provides clarity for the development team and increases the chances of product success drastically.
  • Exceeds the customer’s expectation. A great Product Owner truly understands the customer’s intentions and goals with the product and is able to outstrip its expectations. Customer delight is the ultimate goal!
  • Is empowered. A great Product Owner is empowered to take decisions related to the product. Sure, creating support for his decisions might take some time, but swiftly taking important decisions is a primary condition for a sustainable pace of the development team.
  • Orders the product backlog. A great Product Owner understands that the product backlog should be ordered. Priority, risk, value, learning opportunities and dependencies are all taken into account and balanced with each other. For example, when building a house the roof might have the highest priority considering possible rain. But still it’s necessary to realize the foundation and walls earlier and therefore order them above the construction of the roof.
  • Prefers face-to-face communication. A great Product Owner understands that the best way to convey information is face-to-face communication. User stories are explained in a personal conversation. If a tool is used for backlog management, its function is to support the dialogue. It never replaces the good old-fashioned conversation.
  • Knows modeling techniques. A great Product Owner has a backpack full of valuable modeling techniques. He knows when to apply a specific model. Examples are Business Model Generation, Lean Startup or Impact Mapping. Based on these models he knows how to drive product success.
  • Shares experiences. A great Product Owner shares experiences with peers. This might be within the organization, and outside it: seminars and conferences are a great way to share experiences and gather knowledge. In addition, writing down your lessons learned can be valuable for other Product Owners.
  • Owns user story mapping. A great Product Owner should master the concept of user story mapping. It’s a technique that allows you to add a second dimension to your backlog. The visualization enables you to see the big picture of the product backlog. Jeff Patton wrote some excellent material about the concept of story mapping.
  • Has a focus on functionality. A great Product Owner has a focus on functionality and the non-functional aspects of the product. Hours or even story points are less important. The goal of the Product Owner is to maximize value for the customer. It’s the functionality that has value; therefore this is the main focus for the Product Owner.
  • Is knowledgeable. A great Product Owner has in depth (non-)functional product knowledge and understands the technical composition. For large products it might be difficult to understand all the details, and scaling the Product Owner role might be an option. However the Product Owner should always know the larger pieces of the puzzle and hereby make conscious, solid decisions.
  • Understands the business domain. A great Product Owner understands the domain and environment he’s part of. A product should always be build with its context taken into account. This includes understanding the organization paying for the development but also being aware of the latest the market conditions. Shipping an awesome product after the window of opportunity closes is quite useless.
  • Acts on different levels. A great Product Owner knows how to act on different levels. The most common way to define these levels is strategic, tactical and operational. A Product Owner should know how to explain the product strategy at board level, create support at middle management and motivate the development team with their daily challenges.
  • Knows the 5 levels of Agile planning. Within Agile, planning is done continuously. Every product needs a vision (level 1) which will provide input to the product roadmap (level 2). The roadmap is a long range strategic plan of how the business would like to see the product evolve. Based on the roadmap, market conditions and status of the product the Product Owner can plan releases (level 3). During the Sprint Planning (level 4) the team plan and agree on Product Backlog Items they are confident they can complete during the Sprint and help them achieve the Sprint Goal.
  • Is available. A great Product Owner is available to the stakeholders, the customers, the development team and the Scrum Master. Important questions are answered quickly and valuable information is provided on time. The Product Owner ensures his availability never blocks the progress of the development team.
  • Is able to say ‘no’. A great Product Owner knows how and when to say no. This is probably the most obvious but most difficult characteristic to master. Saying yes to a new idea or feature is easy, it’s just another item for the product backlog. However, good backlog management encompasses creating a manageable product backlog with items that probably will get realized. Adding items to the backlog knowing nothing will happen with them only creates ‘waste’ and false expectations.
  • Acts as a “Mini-CEO”. A great Product Owner basically is a mini-CEO for his product. He has a keen eye for opportunities, focuses on business value and the Return On Investment and acts proactive on possible risks and threats. Everything with the growth (size, quality, market share) of his product taken into account.
  • Knows the different types of valid Product Backlog items . A great Product Owner can clarify the fact that the Product Backlog consists of more than only new features. Fore example: technical innovation, bugs, defects, non-functional requirements and experiments, should also be taken into account.
  • Takes Backlog Refinement seriously. A great Product Owner spends enough time refining the Product Backlog. Backlog Refinement is the act of adding detail, estimates and order to items in the Product Backlog. The outcome should be a Product Backlog that is granular enough and well understood by the whole team. On average the Development Team spends no more than 10% of the capacity of the Development Team on refinement activities. The way it is done isn’t prescribed and is up to the team. The Product Owner can involve stakeholders and the Development Team in backlog refinement. The stakeholders because it gives them the opportunity to explain their wishes and desires. The Development Team because they can clarify functional and technical questions or implications. This will ensure common understanding and increases the quality of the Product Backlog considerably. As a consequence, the opportunity to build the right product with the desired quality will also increase.

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