Guest blog: What makes a good Product Owner?

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In this guest blog post Emile Bakker, the product/market coach, talks about what makes a good Product Owner. Hint: It’s all about coaching!

What makes a good Product Owner? As a product Owner this is a question I am fascinated by. In order to answer this you could do a number of things. You could check the Scrum Alliance website or you could check the descriptions of open Product Owner positions. If you do that you will not, in my opinion, get the full or right answer.

Almost every company I see is looking for someone based upon a process description. Participate in the Scrum rituals, manage the backlog, bridge between business and development, stakeholder management, etc. We all know the list.

Yet, I know that you can be perfect in all these things and still be the worst Product Owner ever.

Take the product/market combination to the next stage

The ultimate goal of a Product Owner can be captured in a single sentence: “Take the product/market combination to the next stage”. In the end this is what each Product Owner should achieve, and this is what each Product Owner should be accountable for. Still, business are hiring people based upon a list of process capabilities.

Time to live of a Product Owner

While trying to understand how other Product Owners build their careers in the Dutch market I came across another remarkable thing. The time to live in the product owner role is by average 2 years, based upon a sample I took of 100 PO’s. This is based on my own empirical research, so officially data could differ a bit. I find this very short for the labor dutch market.

Learn and move on

Combining these factors, I think we need a different way of thinking about the PO role. And I like to make an analogy with the football coach. Each coach knows his role will end with his team on day. It may take a season, maybe two or three. But there is always a moment that the next stage is reached and there is a need for a next coach to get it to the next stage.

Also, look at how you learn. Over the course of your life, there have been people of who you learned from. People that have taken you to the next stage. Your learning has been a series of ‘coaches’ taking you to the next level. You learn and you move on. This is exactly what is happening with products.

Looking at the life cycle of a product, each phase could require a different product/market combination coach. During initial creation you need someone strong on vision, while in the mature phase you may want someone that is strong on the feedback of current users, to prolong that phase as much as possible, and so on. The PO makes products grow till it is time for the next PO to take it through the next growing phase. And, I believe there is no PO in this world that wants to be a PO of the same product its entire career.

The PO is your product/market Coach

My conclusion is that we should hire PO’s based upon how they fit with these product life cycle phases and PO’s should be aware of in what phase they are most effective. Besides that, everybody should be aware of the temporary nature of the PO role. Hire PO’s like football teams hire coaches. Your PO is the Product/Market Coach.

Emile Bakker is the product/market coach. Connect with him at theproductowner.nl.

Good Product Owners are key to deliver successfully

Thank you Emile for sharing your thoughts on the product owner role in this guest blog post on BenLinders.com.

It can be tough to be a good product owner but it surely matters, as Emile Bakker explained. Coaching can make a huge difference! When done in the right way it increases self-organization in the team and thus empowers team members.

In the book Product Mastery Geoff Watts explores how product owners can collaborate effectively with development teams. One of the things he suggests is to delegate decisions where the product owner acts as a coach to help teams decide.

 

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About Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.
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  • Ben Linders – Independent Consultant Agile, Lean, Quality, and Continuous Improvement

    Ben Linders
    Ik help organisaties om effectiever software te ontwikkelen. Neem contact op voor mijn diensten.

    I help organizations to effectively develop software. Contact me to hear about my services.