Monday, May 16, 2016

5 Characteristics of a Great Product Owner

The Product Owner is a crucial part of the agile team.  I've had the experience of working with a number of different Product Owners.  This role is critical in leading the team in prioritizing work and having a vision for the product and knowing what to build.  Here are 5 characteristics I've observed in great Product Owners:

Trustworthy Partner

Trust is the number one characteristic of a making a great team.  The team that can trust each other can go far.  The Product Owner plays a crucial part in this.  This person needs to be able to trust the team to identify things they need and also for the team to speak up if there's issues/risks along the way.

A great PO will work through issues and partner with the team to come up with alternative solutions.  If a feature is much more effort than originally thought, is there an easier way we can get similar functionality, with less cost, that would still enable a useful user experience?  Being willing to negotiate and partner with the team to ensure the simplest, most cost effective solutions are being created.

This partnership means being actively participating in the scrum ceremonies: prioritizing stories, stand up, and retrospectives but constantly being available, ideally in the team room.  Team members may not constantly have questions to ask but recognize that once they do have questions, often times they are blockers until they get answers.  Blockers are expensive.  Having that conversation and answering questions sooner than later, keeps the team moving and delivering value.


A great PO has the power to make decisions.  He/she has autonomy to make decisions regarding the product.  The PO is the product ambassador, being tuned to the goals and users of this software solution and must be trusted from outside the team room to make decisions.  The more powerless the PO, the greater the time to market.


A great PO is experiencing pain.  If pain is not being experienced, what value is the software?  Pain tends to be a motivator to get things done.  A mix of power and pain can really be an asset to an agile team who strives to deliver value quickly and iteratively.

Product Focused

A great PO has the product's best interest in mind.  He/she is product driven, a solid idea of what the team needs to build, and what value each story has and prioritizes according to the biggest value first.  While they are a critical role in the process both inside and outside the team, the product is of first importance.

Political Prowess

Navigating the corporate landscape and getting things done fast on behalf of the team.  If the team needs a tool to make them faster or needs approval, the Product Owner knows how to navigate and get that tool or approval fast so the team can keep moving and delivering value at an optimum pace.

In your experience, what makes a great Product Owner?