Agile Examples – Product Owners

This is an excerpt from the textbook that I am writing with a co-author on Agile.  Here are examples of a strong and weak Product Owner.  (Names are made-up so don’t think you know them  🙂

Would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Product Owner

There are many examples of good and bad Product Owners in the workplace.  These are challenging jobs with a number of conflicting inputs with regards to prioritization so it takes a strong personality with a collaborative work behavior to be successful.

Let’s look at Keith.  He was assigned as the Product Owner to an application that had several high profile and demanding clients.  Keith researched all of the necessary competitive and market information so he could ascertain the best prioritization for the development work that needed to be done.  One Account Manager who handles one of the high profile clients didn’t like Keith’s prioritization because something that their client wanted was not at the top of the list. Keith was very deliberate in his analysis and he felt that the requested feature would not be adopted by others in the marketplace – it would really just apply to this one client almost as if it was custom code.  Therefore, Keith put other features that he felt would drive more business value before the requested client feature.  But that didn’t satisfy the Account Manager as she felt like her client’s request was vitally important. So she pleaded with Keith again and again.  She called him and sent him e-mails and held meetings and just pestered Keith relentlessly to try and get him to change the prioritization.  Finally, in a moment of frustration, Keith said “Fine. You go talk to the IT manager of the Development team.  If she thinks they can get it done, then so be it.”

Is that an example of a good product owner or a bad one?productowner

Keith was having a bad day and in that moment, was a very bad product owner.  The Product Owner sets the priority for the work of the IT team based on their knowledge and research of the marketplace and what will drive the highest business value.  Further, the Product Owner must collaborate with all of the constituents to “sell” the prioritization.  The product owner must be collaborative and must hear input from a number of sources, including account management.  So it was Keith’s decision as to whether or not the client request would be prioritized high on the list.  His decision and his alone. By deferring to the IT Manager, he was shirking his responsibilities.  He should have either convinced the account manager that his backlog was prioritized correctly by articulating the business value of the high priority items and clearly explaining to the account manager why their desired task did not have the same business value – or, if he couldn’t do that – then he should have reprioritized the backlog to move up the client’s task, based on the information learned from the account manager.  Being a Product Owner is a difficult balancing act but the role is critical and must be performed well for Scrum to be effective.

By contrast, Sam is a great product owner.  He actually moved his desk to sit with the Scrum team so he could be immediately available to answer questions of the team.  Sam spent a portion of his time with the account managers, salespeople and actual customers so he could stay on top of how customers were using the product and what problems they were having.  He also learned from the salespeople what objections they were hearing from prospective clients.  He was able to distill all of that feedback into the user stories that he created and he understood which features would drive the most business value so he could effectively prioritize. Sam also listened to his Scrum team and understood enough about the technology to contribute to the discussion around various choices that could be made to solve a particular problem.  The best product owners have enough technical expertise to be able to follow a technical conversation and contribute salient points to the discussion.  Product Owners do not have to be developers by any means but they should demonstrate a technical aptitude.

Want to read more?  We have examples for Scrum Masters and Teams too.


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