Voice of the customer. Leader of prioritization. Bridge between strategy and execution. Product Owners aren’t the hero you want, they are the hero you need.
I’ve had the pleasure (and challenge) of working with all different sizes and types of companies. I’ve seen organizations try to substitute other roles for Product Owners and I’ve seen those same companies struggle and become increasingly inefficient. Many of these organizations have failed to deliver business results and deliver what their customers need and want. In my experience, the Product Owner is an essential role that directly contributes to the success of outstanding delivery teams.
Exceptional Product Owners use their superpowers to bring the product vision down to the team level. They focus relentlessly on prioritizing what is needed and what is wanted for their business, their stakeholders, and their customers. The best Product Owners can strike the right balance between being specific enough to provide clear direction to the team while still being flexible enough to accommodate changes and shifts in priorities that come from a deep and dynamic partnership with Product Managers. These proverbial unicorns also have a deep knowledge of user needs and the experience that the business wants the customer to receive. They easily see the bigger picture and engage often with Product Managers, Customer Experience, and User Experience experts to define and drive the delivery of great products.
Elite Product Owners have an abundance of empathy in their toolkits. They’re able to read the pulse of the team, the customer, and stakeholders while balancing the push and pull to deliver great products. What sets apart the truly outstanding Product Owners is the ability to effectively listen. Not just to the words, but to the underlying messages and sentiments of everyone that they actively seek to communicate with as part of their rituals, ceremonies, and days at work.
But great Product Owners don’t just look inwards; they excel at looking outwards to the market, the competition, and the changing technologies that they work with every day. They know the goals and challenges, and can articulate the path forward to lead their teams and their products to successful outcomes. They are storytellers, evangelists, and cheerleaders for their teams and their products. The word on the chest of their superhero suit is often “TEAM”.
I encourage you to consider the value of the Product Owner the next time you want to “have one of the team do this role” or “use the BRM instead of hiring”—your teams will be more successful, your customers will have a better experience, and your organization will thrive and grow.