Top 5 Ways to Help Make the Product Owner Role Easier

One of the most common observations, Angela Johnson, Certified Scrum Trainer and Agile Coach in Minneapolis, MN receives when coaching our training clients on Scrum is, “Wow! The Product Owner Role is really hard!”

While this reaction is typical, there are the top 5 simple things that a Product Owner can do to make their job easier.

1. Obtain and Communicate Product Vision

Because the Product Owner is responsible for working with the stakeholders of the product as well as those sponsoring the product development effort to craft and communicate the product vision, this is key.  By starting with a well-crafted vision to use as a decision making tool.

2. Get to Know The Users

Remain connected to the users and other stakeholders they represent in the development process.    Schedule time to observe users in their native environments – whether that be a warehouse, the cab of a truck, an operating suite or an office setting – seeing and interacting with users will allow a Product Owner to truly represent the users and their needs to the Development Team.

3. Ensure you are Empowered

The Product Owner is a leadership role and, as such, needs to be empowered to make decisions both the Development Team and stakeholders respect and follow.  While “Empowerment” is a term thrown around with great frequency, many struggle to define it.  It means two things – 1.) Not Having to Ask for Permission and 2.) Never having to say you’re sorry.  Having a conversation at the start of the development process regarding “empowerment” and its meaning within the context of the process will help make future conversations regarding features, their order within the Product Backlog, etc. easier.

4. Trust the Team

The responsibility a Product Owner has for the success of the product can be overwhelming.  One of the best ways for a Product Owner to avoid feeling overwhelmed is to trust the Development Team.  I am not advocating “blind” trust – the Product Owner should question the value of the Team’s suggestions when appropriate.  However, most of the Development Teams I encounter are skilled craftspeople who want to build a product that not only meets the stated needs of users today, but delights them both today and in the future.  Moreover, these Teams possess knowledge about the domain the product they are building will operate in and, as such, can provide advice and counsel to the Product Owner as he or she makes decisions.

5. Focus on the “What”

A key aspect of this trust is ensuring the Development Team is allowed to focus on how the product will be built, while the Product Owner remains focused on what will be built.  This challenge is a leftover from traditional ways of working where the Development Team would simply do exactly what the requirements document stated, no more, no less.   This behavior, in turn, caused business people to specify not only what they wanted built (e.g. I need to submit an order so that it can be processed), but also how it should be built (e.g. the order submission button should be blue).  A strong Product Owner will not succumb to this behavior and, instead, will focus on the “what” knowing the Team will surprise and delight them with how the product is being built.

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