The Secret Sauce of an Effective Product Owner

Product Owner from the scrum guide has two critical responsibilities – Create a good product backlog and continue to prioritize the work based on the customers/committee/ consumers.

When I am coaching the product owners, my view is that while the product owners’ have to live and breadth the backlog, there are two additional dimensions for successful product owners.

Three Dimensions of work that a Product Owner needs to focus:

Product Backlog Health –

Backlog health is a factor of having a good set of Initiatives, broken down to epics and stories.

A metric that I have seen product owners use is number of stories that are sized compared to the average velocity. If backlog health is 150%, then it’s a good healthy backlog.

This metric includes the following

  1. prioritization as the stories that are prioritized are the only ones that are sized
  2. maintaining the products’ health as the balance of conserving the past and creating the future needs to be balanced

As a coach, I recommend Product owners to invest at least 15% of the product backlog on technology excellence

Product Knowledge –

With the advent of digital, possibilities are endless and having a domain understanding is of critical importance. Continued learning is important for technology members as well as Product owners to keep abreast of the changes. Learning mindset needs to be with respect to technology advances as well as product.

One of the squad leads that I coach says “I am not the idea generator, I am the decision maker and mini-CEO. Only build solutions for problems that are urgent, pervasive and that markets are ready to solve”.

Ideas for work needs to come from all the angles consumers, sponsors, team members, tech community and external sources such as conferences and competition.

With these ideas and a strong servant leadership, the execution becomes a vital secret ingredient.

Servant Leadership –

In the digital age, the team members are closely working with the product owner to create a psychologically safe environment. Research shows that having a safe environment is the minimum common denominator for innovation, learning and move the team towards high performing teams.

Some of the characteristics of servant leadership that product owners can practice are coaching them, empathize with the challenges and finding ways of addressing them.

Each area is worth a separate book under the leadership section. In short, being a champion of the team comes only by being with the team.

Being with the team, doesn’t necessarily mean co-located. Product owners can provide a sense of belonging in a distributed environment by constant communication, one-on-one conversations and continuous coaching

Imbibing the servant leadership is hardest skill, as the erstwhile product managers were taught to constantly challenge the team and become task masters to be the most effective self. This needs quite a bit of unlearning.

To summarize, an effective product owner needs to continue to push the needle in all three dimensions to make the team approach high performing team.

What do you think?

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