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5 Must-Have Traits Of An Effective Product Owner

Do you have what it takes to be a Product Owner?

Playing a role and being able to play it right are two very different things. One does only what needs to be done, the other has the required traits to do it in accordance with best practices. This applies to all roles.

What about the role of a Product Owner - a core role in any Scrum project. What traits are needed for that role and more importantly how do these traits impact the successful completion of projects? This article explores these questions in depth to come up with ideas that you may find useful.

Curiosity

A sense of curiosity must prevail among Product Owners all the time, every time. They should always be curious to ask the “Why” and “What if” questions from the customer as well as the development team during new product development. The “Why” questions to customers probe deep into what values the project is expected to deliver to the client and the “What if” questions to the development team reinforce the principle of continual improvement among members of the development team.

Once a Product Owner established a better understanding, he/she integrates information to provide insights and ideas that result in better conclusions. This will lay down the foundations to better deliver value to the client throughout the product development cycle.

For example, a Product Owner probes deeper into the client’s mind by asking powerful questions on how the proposed product or service requested will add value to the business. He is curious. His curiosity propels this line of questioning. Through this line of questioning, a Product Owner leads the client to strengthen their thoughts on how the proposed product features can serve as a conduit toward adding business value in the long run.

Adaptability

A Product Owner must be willing to and able to embrace change. Period. There are no two ways about this. Being open to ideas and at the same time and being fixated on ensuring value is delivered consistently is essential.

A Product Owner must be the willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn as the project unfolds. We live in the real world. Things change - and as Product Owners, we must be “Responding to Change”. The Old thought of writing a thick requirement document and controlling changes via a “CR” process dies when Agile starts to flourish.

This inspires collaboration with the customer, the development team and all stakeholders throughout the project. The focus remains the same, realizing the project vision but the desire to do so as situations change calls for appropriate flexibility and decisive adaptation.

An example of adaptability is when the Product Owner takes into consideration the risks and issues associated with the project, based on feedback from the development team and integrates mitigating actions into the Product Backlog to minimize the risk of delay. Hence the Product Backlog is continually adapted to represent the current vision of the project delivery.

Consistency

A typical Product Owner spends approximately 50% of his/her time with the customer, and 50% with the development team. This is consistent throughout his career.

He consistently monitors changes in the market, works with the stakeholders, and consistently explores new and better ways of delivering long term value to the client. If there is a place for Malcolm Gladwell’s 10000-hour rule to flourish, it is right here with the Product Owners.

Do it consistently, from exploring new ideas, and communicating possibilities, to writing those challenging acceptance criteria (AC) that could gain you a bit of hate from the development team.

I think you get the point. ;)

Clarity

Scrum teams are often handling complex projects with tremendous uncertainty. Having clarity is a critical commodity and a fundamental requirement to nurture curiosity, adaptability and consistency. Before the project starts, and as the project is being executed.

At the start of any project, Product Owners often ask the “what if '' and “why” questions to deep-dive into the situation and the current requirements. He will then collaborate with relevant stakeholders and development team members, ensuring that the project vision is clear and everyone has a shared understanding.

Adaptation is necessary as the project status rapidly evolves. In addition, the project budget, scope, resources, timeline, and many other elements may change. The ability to generate clarity for everyone is essential to ensure consistency in the project delivery to meet those changing requirements.

For example, a share-riding company would like to provide a receipt to users via email. What is the broader story then? Perhaps the user is a busy person on-route to the airport. The company the user is working for requires an expense report based on a receipt. The user needs a simple one-click solution to get it done. The Product Owner needs to understand the situation and have clarity beyond the written requirement to generate a valuable Product Backlog Item. He also needs to narrate the situation to everyone that works with him, to generate clarity and a common understanding of this requirement.

Decisiveness

Finally, a Product Owner should be decisive. In any project, there must be a decisive leader who can make tough decisions quickly and takes the nuke when things don’t work out.

To be decisive and wise, you need to nurture the other 4 characteristics first - Curiosity, Adaptability, Consistency and Clarity. Otherwise, you will be like the kind of person that put all the money in one pot in a casino - gambling on luck.

A good Product Owner makes informed, timely decisions to prioritize items in a Product Backlog. You are driving what the team works on next. Those could be huge decisions that result in millions of dollars of loss if you do it wrong on top of millions of dollars of missed opportunity.

Hence, to you, a Product Owner, it is “With power, comes responsibility”

Manage feedback wisely, say “No” to requirements that don’t make sense, extract the gems and guide everyone forward. That’s your superpower.

Interested to learn more about being a top product owner? The Register Scrum Master & Product Owner course teaches both skillsets in one complete journey over 3 days. This may be one of the best Product Owner courses to date.

Click here to find out more.

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