A Product Owner has the most important role in an agile team. Their job is to maximise business value by communicating the product vision, prioritising the product backlog and taking key stakeholders on the journey. Here are five tips to help you be a better Product Owner:

1. Advocate for the product

The Product Owner should be the champion for the product. They should know the product vision and details inside out so that they can communicate it to stakeholders and the team throughout the project. They should make sure that the team get the resources and information they need to maximise business value. The role of the Product Owner can be intense, as they’re pulled in many directions, but they should remain present and proactive, bringing clarity and direction to the project.

2. Adaptive planning

Effective Product Owners plan quickly and replan frequently. They do “just enough planning, just in time” because they understand that projects are full of assumptions about what customers want, what the business needs, and what the solution is. At the start of a project they develop a high level plan with the team in a few weeks so they can get started as soon as possible. Then they deliver in small iterations so they can test their assumptions and adapt the plan based on feedback.

3. Estimate business value

At the start of the project and at the start of each sprint the Product Owner should estimate the relative business value of the features and stories in the backlog. The Product Owner can use affinity estimation with key business stakeholders to quickly synthesize everyone’s views. When you know the relative size and value of the stories in the backlog you can organise them into releases that produce the maximum business value in the shortest time possible. Involve the technical team to ensure that they understand what the business priorities are.

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4. Communicate with the team

Team effectiveness depends on good communication. To maximise communication the Product Owner communicates face to face with the delivery team every day. The best way to do this is to physically sit with the team so they can get involved in all the discussions that occur. When the Product Owner is communicating well with the team then the team can make good decisions about what they need to do to maximise business value and the Product Owner understands what support the team needs from the business.

5. Be decisive

The list of things that a team could do is always bigger than the list of the things they can do and this list increases as more people get involved with different priorities. The Product Owner is responsible for balancing competing priorities by constantly re-prioritising the product backlog. This means saying “no” to feature requests that have low business value. They understand that bad news delivered well improves relationships and increases trust.  A Product Owner can deliver a product within the time and budget available if they are decisive about what features are in and out of scope.

Summary

The Product Owner is responsible for satisfying the customer by delivering a valuable product as soon as possible and then iterating on it to improve it. This is a leadership role where you have to say ‘no’; work within a budget; motivate teams and be across both the vision and the detail. These are just five of the many things a Product Owner could do to achieve successful outcomes in this challenging and rewarding role.

Murray Robinson

Murray Robinson has 30 years experience in IT and digital and 14 years experience in agile and is now a leader in agile transformation. Murray is passionate about changing the ways organisations work so that staff are liberated to provide great customer experiences effectively and efficiently.

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