Learning about becoming a good product owner

I recently did a Certified Scrum Product Owner course (‘CSPO course’) facilitated by Gabrielle Benefield. Gabrielle is a very experienced product manager and agile specialist, who has worked closely with businesses and agile practitioners to establish agile development practices. Doing this course helped in driving home some of the key responsibilities of a good product owner:

  1. Creating a clear product vision – Over the last few years I’ve learnt the importance of driving product development with the help of a simple but clear product vision. It was interesting to hear Gabrielle teach the importance of the act of ‘visioning’. I believe that as a good product owner one needs to have a clear idea of what a product or service ultimately needs to achieve. Clarity of vision is key in this respect as it will help you to break down the vision into tangible goals, metrics and products or features.  
  2. Communicating a clear product vision – It’s the job of the product owner to create a simple but compelling product vision and to be able to effectively convey this vision and its related product goals. You don’t need to necessarily know how exactly you’re going to achieve a 3-year product vision or solve a particular consumer problem, but as a product owner you need to be able to motivate and inspire the people you work with and your customers (I wrote about the art of creating a good product vision last year). If anything, you need to be very clear about why you’re developing a product and be able to get others to buy into this vision.
  3. Setting clear product goals – The ability to set and communicate clear product objectives is in my mind absolutely key for any self-respecting product manager or product owner. Once you’ve defined a product vision, the next step is to define clear product objectives and ensuring these are aligned with overarching business objectives. On the CSPO course we talked about companies like Pirate Metrics and how they help businesses measure 5 key objectives: (1) acquisition (2) activation (3) retention (4) referral and (5) revenue.
  4. Measure, engage with customers and iterate – This is one of the areas that I’m looking to learn more about. How do you measure value? How do you set the right success criteria? As a product owner it’s ultimately my responsibility to ensure that product goals are achieved, whilst meeting the needs of the customer. I believe a critical part of being a good product person is to act as ‘user champion’, someone who truly understands the target audience, their behaviours and needs.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate – As part of the course we dissected the role of the product owner. We concluded that it’s obviously very important to have a product vision but it’s just as important to be able to communicate that vision and to inspire others in the process. I liked how Gabriele highlighted the importance of communication, stressing the need for a product owner to be an effective communicator. I find that as a product owner you constantly make product related decisions – big or small – and how important it is to make sure that all stakeholders are up to date on those decisions. Even more importantly, you want stakeholders understand the ‘why’ of your decisions. Not everyone might agree with a decision you make or direction you choose, but as a product owner a large part of your role is ensuring that people are aware of what’s going on and the underlying rationale.
  6. Act as a user champion – I believe that as a product owner you effectively are a user champion. The shape of a product change, but as a product owner you continuously need to assure that the product addresses the needs of your (target) users. It’s easy to get dragged down into the day-to-day challenges of product development, assuming that you’re building or managing the right product. As a product manager I’m trying to always challenge my own or other peoples’ assumptions, going back to what the customer wants or expects. Whether you use real-time data or go out of the building to engage with customers, I feel that it’s vital to be on top of what users (think they) want.

Main learning point: doing the CSPO course really helped in (re) emphasising some of the key responsibilities of a product owner. The course reminded me of one of the key roles of a good product owner, that of a facilitator. I believe that a good product owner as someone who constantly tries to champion the different aspects of product development: (1) user needs and expectations (2) business objectives (both strategic and financial) (3) stakeholder interests and (4) technical viability, working closely with developers and designers.

There are two main areas which I picked up on in terms of further learning. Firstly, I’ll try to learn more about ‘value driven product development’ (using real-time metrics to drive product iterations). Secondly, the CSPO course for me hammered home the importance of getting other people excited about a product vision or a strategy. I appreciate that this is a skill in itself and something that I’ll continue to work on.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.jtpedersen.net/2012/01/06/product-visioninghow-often-do-you-do-it/ 
  2. http://www.slideshare.net/dmc500hats/startup-metrics-for-pirates-long-version
  3. http://www.sciweavers.org/publications/less-never-more-launching-product-critical-features-and-nothing-more
  4. https://platinumedge.com/blog/agile-artifacts-product-vision-statement
  5. http://mindtheproduct.com/2013/02/everything-a-product-manager-needs-to-know-about-analytics
  6. /http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kano_model
  7. http://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/tools/relative-weighting
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_requirements_document
  9. http://www.mironov.com/pm-kpi/ 
  10. http://teresatorres.com/producttalk/2011/12/how-to-frame-your-product-vision/

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