5 Surefire Ways to Become an Awesome Product Owner

As a product owner, you’re the one who defines and prioritizes a team’s work, which is difficult but rewarding. After all, you define the tools for building the product that will ultimately help your company achieve its business goals.

Frankly, it can be overwhelming to try to balance often-competing business priorities and constraints of time, budget, and scope.

The good news is that by properly applying Agile principles to product development, regardless of what that product may be, you can achieve your company’s goals quickly and cost-effectively.

To get you started down the path to awesomeness, here are my 5 tips:

1. Communicate the Vision Early and Often

A product vision is not just a nebulous corporate concept that should stay locked in the boardroom.

As an Agile product owner, communicate the vision to interested executives, impacted business owners, and your development team. This communication should start in the kickoff meeting and continue throughout the entire engagement.

On a long project, your development team might start to burn out, getting tunnel vision on their next set of tasks. If you periodically remind the team of the positive impact their work will have on your organization, however, you’ll motivate them to produce higher quality work.

2. Tease Out Business Value

A well-articulated product vision provides the necessary tools to negotiate the rough waters of stakeholder involvement. Whose needs win out? Marketing or IT? Legal or Sales? It’s not always as easy as defaulting to whoever ponied up the most budget dollars. Focusing on the product vision and the project business drivers will help guide stakeholder discussions.

Imagine that the main goal of your new e-commerce site is to increase revenue by making it easier for customers to pay with a variety of payment methods. It makes sense that the features and tasks should be focused on that goal over items that do not impact it, such as a face-lift to an existing user interface.

3. Adapt and Reprioritize

One of the many benefits of Agile development methodologies is that prioritization is not something done once at the beginning of the project and set in stone. Instead, we urge our clients to look at prioritized items as written in pencil, not ink.

Your prioritized features should change when the needs of your business or department change. Did your sales goals change in the middle of the project? Did your business acquire another business? If these occurrences impact your current product owner role, it’s OK to reprioritize the features in your product backlog. (In Agile lingo, a product backlog is the list of work to be accomplished.)

This reprioritization means that some new features will take greater priority over older ones, and some features may drop off the “To Do” list entirely. While potentially painful for new product owners, this constant give-and-take makes for a better product. Why? Because your prioritized features list will constantly be checked and rechecked against the needs of your business.

Be fearless when it comes to prioritization. Your stakeholders will thank you later.

4. Visit MoSCoW Frequently

The MoSCoW method can help you prioritize features by placing them into buckets:

    • Must Have: These features must be complete or the product cannot be launched.
    • Should Have: These features should be developed to meet the product vision but could be released without them.
    • Could Have: These features are ‘nice-to-haves’ that will improve the product but will be completed only if time and budget allows.
    • Would Have: These features may enhance the product but will not be delivered in the first release.

These buckets assist in better prioritization decisions, keeping your project outlook moving in a productive direction.

5. Maintain Clarity of Communication

One of the guiding principles of the Agile Manifesto is the concept of “customer collaboration over contract negotiation.” What is the Agile Manifesto? It’s THE document that formed the basis for all Scrum and other flavors of Agile project management.

In essence, this tenet stresses the importance of constant (even daily) communication between the development team and the person in the product owner role to ensure that what’s being built meets the desired business goals.

To do that, you must engage in requirement definition meetings called “grooming” or “refinement” sessions. Here’s a simple example to illustrate how this works:

A user story (a requirement written from a user’s perspective) could read: As a new sales prospect, I want to fill out a form so that someone from the company can get back to me and answer my questions.

Sounds straightforward enough, right? But the development team will ask questions like:

    • What fields do we include on the form?
    • Should there be any validations on the form (e.g. maximum character length)?
    • What constitutes a new sales prospect?
    • What type of information do these users want to know?

By thinking about and discussing these questions, the development team can more quickly build a product and ensure no surprises occur when they demo work for you and your stakeholders.

Congratulations! You’re on Your Way to Awesome.

Making a product vision come to life is hard work. But by adhering to these 5 must-know Agile product owner tips, you’ll move from good to great to awesome in no time. Your project sponsors will see the results, and you’ll sleep better at night knowing that your project is moving in a positive direction.

That sounds pretty awesome.