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Do's and Don'ts of Product Owner

In the past decade, Agile Methodology has become one of the most implemented software methods in the information technology industry. Industries such as aerospace, construction, banking and finances, architecture, and government sectors also use Agile to develop projects and products. As Agile has many advantages over the traditional software methods, many companies who were using the traditional methods have switched to Agile Methodology. The number of job opportunities in the Agile sectors has increased exponentially in the past few years as companies have realized the true potential of Agile methods. Scrum is one of the most implemented software frameworks as it is the most simple one. Scrum has three main accountabilities: The Product Owner, The Scrum Master, and the Developers. Each member of the Scrum Team plays an important role in the development process. If one member fails to fulfill their task, it may become an obstacle for the other person to complete their work. Hence, coordination among the three roles is extremely important. In this article, we discuss the roles and responsibilities of a Product Owner and see the Dos and Don’ts of the role. 

What is a Product Owner?

The Product Owner is a professional who is responsible for maximizing the product value which the Scrum Team has built. There may be many ways through which different Product Owners function in different organizations. The Product Owner is a single person and not a committee as they represent the several needs of the stakeholders in the Product Backlog. The Product Owner is also responsible for managing the Product Backlog which includes developing and communicating the Product Goal. Making and communicating the items in the Product backlog, ordering the Product Backlog items, and ensuring that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and understood. The main role of a Product Owner is to communicate between the stakeholders and the Developers and help the team develop a product that provides value to the consumers. If one wants to become a successful Product Owner, they have to know the Do’s and Don’ts in the profession and abide by them during their work process. 

Do’s and Don’ts of Product Owner

One of the famous books called “Agile Product Management with Scrum” by Roman Pichler has many insights about how one should use Agile Methods in the Scrum framework. There is also a section for Dos and Don’ts of a Product Owner where the author describes what a Product Owner is supposed to do and what they should avoid. Professionals who want to know in detail about the Agile Methods used in Scrum take a look at this book. Taking reference from this book, let us discuss the Dos of a Product Owner.

1. Say what needs to get done

As a Product Owner, it becomes your responsibility to effectively communicate with your team and tell them what needs to get done so that the Product Goal is achieved. This may go two ways; either you are micromanaging the team and explaining the methods of completing a Product Backlog item or you are not bothered about what exactly needs to be completed to achieve the Product Goal. Either way, it is going to harm the Scrum Team or the organization. Hence, you have to communicate what exactly the Scrum Team needs to finish such that they can achieve the Product Goal. The Developers should be trusted on finishing the assignment and should not be micromanaged on how they are going about the work. Also, if the Scrum Team has any queries regarding the Product Goal, it should be cleared as soon as possible so that the Scrum Team can get a path to follow to achieve their goal. 

2. Challenge the team 

Whenever a new product has to be designed and developed, the Scrum Team should be encouraged to think out of the box and brainstorm ideas in designing the product. Agile Methodology is not about command and control where the Product Owner directs the team to design products in a particular way. In Agile, the Product Owner should encourage the team to think of innovative ways where the product can work to help solve the customer’s problems. Rewarding a team member when they give a great idea and correcting them whenever they haven’t got a concept correct, should be routine in the product development process. Hence, as a Product Owner, you should be the one who should explain why is it required in the product and also challenge the team in thinking of creative ideas for the product. 

3. Build a High-performance team

As a Product Owner, you need a team that is highly productive and functional. And take help from Scrum Master to build a high-performance team. You have to assess their abilities before recruiting them and ensure that they blend in with each other in the group. Each team member should function as an individual and also as a unit. There may be few instances where a team member may be more productive and others may not which can lead to conflicts. Hence, a Product Owner should always invest in building a high-performance team where each member contributes to building the product. You can assess how much each person contributes to the group and also evaluate how they coordinate with each other.

4. Practice Business-value driven thinking

While building product features, you should always think about how this will affect the product value and how much it can contribute to the revenue of the company. While deciding the product features, this type of thinking should be encouraged to the team members as well. This will help them effectively come up with similar ideas for the product features which will give them an early return on investment. The Product Owner should always be thinking about how to make the product more accessible for the customers and what are features currently trending in the market. Also, their main goal is to solve the client’s needs from the products and effectively grow the company in terms of its business. 

5. Protect the team from obstacles

As a Product Owner, your team becomes your responsibility, and protecting them from outside noise becomes one of your main roles. Often the stakeholders or other members of the company may confuse the team members about the type of product they want. This would lead to miscommunication among the team members and also between the team and the PO. Hence, a Product Owner should communicate between the stakeholders and the team and should take full responsibility for the type of product the development team builds. The Product Owner should not let the external members of the project affect the Developers as it may create chaos among the team’s communication. 

6. Incorporate change between the Sprints

Once a Sprint is decided, the team has a clear path to achieve the decided Sprint Goal. Multiple Sprint Goals will help reach a larger Product Goal. Each member may have certain deadlines and ways in which they have planned to achieve the Sprint Goal. As a Product Owner, if you want to change any features in the product during the Sprint, it becomes extremely difficult for the team. The change may not be incorporated and the Sprint Goal also may not be achieved. Hence, it is always advised that any changes in the product or the team should be incorporated for the subsequent Sprints. Conduct regular Product Backlog Refinement sessions to help other understand the changes. This would help the team become aware of the changes for the product before they plan their next Sprint. Likewise, they could incorporate these changes as they are working on the product in their successive Sprints. 

Don’ts of a Product Owner
1. Say how to do it or how much it will take

One of the main reasons why the Developers chose to work in the Agile Methodology is because they did not want anyone micromanaging them while they work. As a Product Owner, you may tell the team what product feature they have to develop and what is the main feature they have to focus on currently. You are not supposed to micromanage the team members and say how they should approach developing a particular product feature. You should give them their space and freedom and let them decide the tools they wish to use to complete a given task. You may give an idea about how to develop the product, but do not say how exactly they are supposed to complete it and how much effort or time it will take them. Respect that the team members would complete your tasks as given and make them believe that you trust them that they will complete the assigned work. 

2. Bully the team

You are not a person with a senior hierarchy in the Scrum Team just because you have the designation of the Product Owner. The team respects you as a Product Owner because of the abilities and knowledge that you bring to the table. Do not bully the team and make them work extra hours or exhaust them just because you could not plan your work better. You are a team and every success or failure should be equally shared by the team. Give credits to people who have contributed to the idea and appreciate them in front of everyone. Do not criticize or bully any person because they could not get work done or based on their gender, caste, creed, race, etc. A healthy environment where everyone feels safe to work and enjoys creating products should be established by the Product Owner such that the team builds products faster and more efficiently. 

3. Focus on Short-term deliveries only

A Product Owner should think about the long-term goals of the product and how it will help the company grow. Focus on short-term deliveries would not give a proper direction to the Developers and the company. Always make decisions by keeping the long-term goal of the product in mind. All the product features that have to be incorporated should be based on how they will affect the long-term image of the product and how profitable it will be in the long run. Next time you are making any decision in the Scrum Team, always ask whether this decision is supported only for a short time or will it stay long and help the product and the company. 

4. Sticking to the original approach 

The circumstances and thoughts when you initially built the product and the company would be very different as time passes and the company progresses. If you are a Product Owner who is old school and believes that the original approach for product development should always be followed no matter what, then you are destined to fail. You have to understand that the market constantly changes and features that may be trending today, may die tomorrow. Hence, sticking to a particular plan and not adapting to the current market is a total recipe for disaster. You have to be an open-minded Product Owner who understands that changes in plans are inevitable and implements changes in plans which would best suit the product in the current market. 

5. Panic Before anything happens

The Product Owner has to be the anchor for the team and should help the team stay strong throughout the thick and thin. If you are a type of Product Owner who worries about the changes that may happen in the future, before it even becomes real, then the team is certain to mess up and panic while developing the product. You can anticipate the changes that might take place and take precautions to deal with them, but worrying the team about the changes would make them go out of their flow. 

Conclusion

A Product Owner has many roles and responsibilities in a Scrum Team and has a great deal of work in selling the product which the Developer creates. When you follow these dos and don’ts given you are certain that you will become a better Product Owner who can effectively contribute to your team and your company. These are a few points given by Roman Pichler in his book Agile Management in Scrum. You will know about being an effective Product Owner when you get a great share of experience in the company building great products.

References
  1. https://www.romanpichler.com/romans-books/agile-product-management-with-scrum/
  2. https://medium.com/@boynudelik/product-owner-dos-and-donts-1e0664d3a256
  3. https://www.scrum.org/resources/blog/10-tips-product-owners-agile-product-management
  4. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/product-owner-dos-donts-uygar-boynudelik/


Author

Paula

Is a passionate learner and blogger on Agile, Scrum and Scaling areas. She has been following and practicing these areas for several years and now converting those experiences into useful articles for your continuous learning.