Top 10 Ways to be a Great Product Owner – Part 1

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While there is some debate within the Scrum community, the Product Owner accountability is often described as the most difficult accountability in Scrum. In this two-part blog series, I want to highlight 10 ways to become a great Product Owner. The first five of these recommendations are as follows:

10.) Have a Product Vision – This might seem like an obvious suggestion but have a Product Vision. A good vision identifies what success for the Product looks like as well as the “Why? behind building it. It is the foundation upon which the rest of the product development process (e.g., Product Goal, Product Backlog) rests. If you have one, make sure everyone knows it. Remind them constantly!

9.) Have a single Product Backlog – In most organizations, there is debate about how to categorize various types of work and whether these certain types of work even belong in the Product Backlog. Should defects be in the Product Backlog or should they be in our ticketing or call center system? What about Technical Debt repayment? What about spikes? New ideas? Regardless of the type of work, it belongs in a single Product Backlog for that product. If it’s not in the Product Backlog, it doesn’t exist.

8.) Prioritize your stakeholders – “All Stakeholders are equal, but some stakeholders are more equal than others”. This phrase is, of course, a play on the words issued in George Orwell’s famous book, Animal Farm. However, in managing a Product Backlog, it’s important to acknowledge that not all stakeholders hold the same weight. A customer that is responsible for generating 80% of a product’s profit is more important than one that only generates 5%. A good Product Owner understands the need to prioritize these stakeholders and their requests in managing their Product Backlog.

7.) Know your stakeholders – In order to maximize the value of the Product, a Product Owner must focus on the needs of their stakeholders, customers, and users. Great Product Owners use tools like Customer Journey Maps and Personas to help themselves and the teams that they serve to achieve this focus.

6.) Use User Stories (within reason) – User Stories, while not an official part of Scrum, are a valuable technique to have in your Product Owner toolbox. They generate empathy for users and can generate several valuable conversations about how product can truly delight them. However, like any tool, they can be overused. Great Product Owners know when to use User Stories (hint: they must involve users) and when to just add something that needs to be done to the Product Backlog.

In next week’s post, I will share my top 5 recommendations on how to become a great Product Owner. In the meantime, if you are interested in a more in-depth review of these and other techniques, be sure to sign-up for our new course offering, Professional Scrum Product Backlog Management (PSPBM) Skills. You can learn more and sign-up here.