Some of the most experienced business owners have trouble defining the product owner’s role. The confusion arises from different definitions of the job title and the corresponding responsibilities.
Some may define it as prioritizing the backlog and attending Scrum meetings every day. Others, however, may consider the product owner as more of a user advocate.
At times, a third perspective arises that a product owner is the same as a product manager who handles or controls the development team.
Pretty confusing, right?
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What Does The Scrum Guide Say?
When in doubt, you can always fall back on the Scrum Guide. It states that the product owner’s duties generally revolve around maximizing the value of any given product.
To this end, they must work closely with the development team and oversee that all the necessary precautions and quality checks are in order.
The definition is pretty clear, but the Scrum guide does not shed light on the execution.
As a result, product owners often end up assuming additional roles (like that of a product manager, and no, they are not the same) or not maximizing the product value at all!
Following are the 7 undesirable traits of a product owner and ways to overcome them:
1. Acting As A Clerk
The role of a product owner has undergone many mutations, one of which has taken the form of a clerk.
Also referred to as a secretary, order taker, admin, yes man, or a waiter, the product owner doesn’t really work towards optimizing the value.
Instead, they end up receiving orders from the client and transferring them to the development team thereafter.
Result? Pointless features and low-business value.
A product owner should be able to question the need for specific product backlog items. He or she must own the prioritization by acting as a visionary!
Remember Windows Vista? Much hype was created about its launch. In fact, Microsoft invested $500 Mn to market the product.
It was ultimately rejected by users (even the loyal ones) due to Vista’s performance and compatibility issues. Apple stole the show with its “I’m a Mac” ad campaign.
2. Acting As A Manager
This has become a critical problem in many software companies where the product owner starts acting like a manager.
The Scrum Guide does not even state the role of a manager. That means the development team, Scrum Master, and product owner should act as peers.
Therefore, a product owner is more of a servant-leader. In other words, there is no hierarchy in Scrum. You should not monitor, pressurize, control, or command the team during a sprint.
3. Acting As An Architect
A product owner does not deal with the how of product development. He or she is only answerable for what and why. The aim should be to create a productive and sustainable workplace.
While getting a product owner certification will enhance your credibility, you must bear in mind that answering the ‘how’ is the development team’s forte.
Hence, the implementation part of product development should be left with the team by giving them enough headspace and flexibility.
4. Acting As A Protector
Can someone apart from the product owner include new specifications into the backlog?
Certainly then can and they should. A product owner is responsible for the backlog but is not the protector of the same. This approach effectively kills any scope of collaboration.
That means stakeholders are free to write new requests. The product owner can then decide whether he or she wants to proceed with the request.
One can do so by determining if the new item adds value to the end product as well as the business.
5. Doesn’t Collaborate Well
Scrum emphasizes collaboration. That means the individuals are not bigger than the team itself. Failing to do so can lead to the team getting demoralized.
It’s just as Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
One of the most desirable traits of a successful product owner is his or her ability to collaborate with senior stakeholders.
Incorporation of their inputs into product design is imperative for sustainability considerations as well as business debt.
6. Doesn’t Pay Enough Attention
This may seem counter-intuitive, but many companies end up appointing proxy product owners because the real ones may not be available or may not pay enough attention.
However, the proxy product owners don’t possess the influence, vision, or knowledge required for good decision-making. This, in turn, leads to delays in product development and launch.
Accountability without authority is what best describes the role of proxy product owners. As a result, their commitment becomes questionable.
Software firms must channel enough resources to hire dedicated and expert product owners to prevent any delay.
The key to succeeding in this endeavor is to come up with appropriate product owner interview questions during the time of hiring that test the real skills of a candidate.
7. Cannot Differentiate Between Wants And Needs
This trait circles back to the product owner’s ability to question the client’s requests. He or she should be able to separate the wants from the needs.
Will adding the new specification to the backlog fulfill users’ needs or solve their problems? Most users are not aware of their needs. Identifying those requires the approach of a visionary.
An unsuccessful product owner just fulfills what is asked for, but a successful one blends their needs and wants.
This trait or quality largely remains elusive when it comes to finding a great product owner.
To Wrap Up
If you are a business owner, having a clear understanding of a product owner’s desirable traits will help you hire the right person.
Failing to do so can lead to frustration within the development team as well as dissatisfaction with the stakeholders.
On the other hand, if you are a product owner, you must the clarity of what your job is and not unknowingly wear different hats at the same time.
It’s a lucrative career, and such knowledge will help you get to the zenith of it!