Working in an agile organization, I have often wondered what it really takes to be a great product owner? What are the competencies required for a person to excel and mature in this role?

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland have explained the role of a product owner well in the scrum guide. In literal terms, a product owner owns the product and is responsible for frequent iterative delivery of a working product to the stakeholders. The question that remains, what makes a product owner great?

After a lot of research, reading through blogs, books, and articles, I was able to narrow down 18 competencies which, in my opinion, are required to be a distinguished product owner.

1. Emotional Intelligence

A product owner must be deeply aware of their own feelings, opinions, and perceptions, and should be able to manage those wisely. A product owner has to interact with the development team, scrum master, stakeholders and other significant individuals of the organization on a regular basis in an extremely dynamic environment. They have to make detailed decisions regarding the product backlog and what the development team is supposed to do and keep the stakeholders engaged and up to date with respect to the work done. Amid all this, a product owner must understand and be in control of their own emotions and realize the impact it has on all the individuals involved.

2. Decisiveness

The product owner is solely responsible and accountable for the product backlog, product vision, and product strategy. That being said, they are supposed to take a lot of decisions consistently with respect to what items should be included, should be left behind and in what order should they be in the product backlog. For this purpose, a product owner must have the courage to effectively make decisions and validate those decisions with the help of iterative results.

3. Entrepreneurial Mindset

Having an entrepreneurial mindset for a product owner has a significant benefit. A product owner has to constantly evaluate the market conditions and the viability of the features of a product. They are responsible for identifying emerging opportunities and discovering new resources and using the existing resources to create value. An agile product owner constantly learns and validates the assumptions through frequent iterative delivery of a working product.

4. Assertiveness

Being assertive simply means communicating in an honest, open and direct manner. A product owner has to constantly interact with the scrum team and stakeholders, and clearly convey all the decisions with respect to the product backlog, vision, and strategy. It is important for the product owner to be honest and direct about the decisions made and take full ownership for the same. The product owner might get into a situation where they have to simply say ‘NO’ to the stakeholders for certain features and ordering the product backlog as it seems fit to the development team, and they ought to do it with full confidence.

5. Collaboration

Collaboration is the essence of being agile. The role of a product owner requires to collaborate with the development team, the scrum master and the stakeholders to ensure productive and frequent delivery of a working product. A product owner works with the development team to effectively order the product backlog and create a shared understanding of what work is to be done. They collaborate with the stakeholders to understand their requirements and assumptions. And lastly, the scrum master coaches and helps the product owner to get better at their role. Without constant collaboration, a product owner might not be able to produce the desired results.

6. Open Communication

Communication is one competency that needs to be stated independently for the significance it holds. A product owner must ensure effective two-way communication with the development team and the stakeholders. It involves clarifying the goal of the sprint, the product backlog items, understanding and respecting the team capacity and taking consistent feedback about the product by the stakeholders. A product owner needs to be open and effective when communicating with the individuals involved.

7. Stakeholder Management

A product owner is the only individual who has a direct professional relationship with the stakeholders. They work together to build a shared understanding of the assumptions and requirements of the stakeholders and subsequently the product owner creates the product backlog. A product owner has to keep the stakeholders engaged and up to date about the progress of the work done by the development team and ensures frequent delivery of a working product. They must constantly collaborate, and the product owner should ensure complete stakeholder satisfaction by taking regular and effective feedback.

You can assess yourself on how you are managing your stakeholders by taking this product owner assessment.

8. Value Maximization

Every organization functions in order to create and maximize value. A product owner is liable to create and maximize the value of the work done by the development team. The key ingredients to maximize value in scrum pertaining to the product owner are — ordering product backlog items and frequent iterative delivery. A product owner must order the product backlog items on the basis of value per unit work, which simply means the value of each item in terms of the costs incurred. The focus on frequent iterative delivery and constant feedback also helps the product owner to maximize the value of work done by the development team.

9. Quality Maximization

Anyone who has gone through the scrum guide is well aware of the fact that scrum functions on the empiricism model which has three very important pillars- transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Even though these three pillars are subtly present everywhere when practicing scrum, they hold special importance for quality maximization. A product owner should constantly inspect what can be better by revisiting the product strategy time and again, and openly adapt to the endless changes that come their way. They should have a mindset of experimentation and continuous learning.

10. Forecasting

In order to ensure frequent delivery of a working product, a product owner is supposed to regularly forecast and estimate the effort that will be required by the development team to deliver a releasable increment. This must be done with the help of available empirical data and learning with experience in each sprint. As a result of forecasting, a product owner should regularly reorder the product backlog items by means of realistic estimation.

11. Analytical Skills

A product owner has to analyze the market conditions and the requirements of stakeholders and break down the obtained information gathered in a logical manner to build a realistic product backlog and resolve problems. An analytical product owner would understand what the stakeholders want and why in a detailed manner and attend to and resolve any problems that may arise while building the product backlog.

12. Risk Management

Along with being analytical, a product owner should also understand and evaluate the prevailing risks involved while building a realistic product backlog. A product owner must understand that the product backlog items not only incorporate the functionality and value but also the risks that are involved with each item. A great product owner takes into consideration all three aspects and iteratively reorders high-risk product backlog items during sprint planning.

13. Flexibility Towards Consistent Change

An agile environment by default is an extremely dynamic environment. A product owner faces consistent changes in the requirements by stakeholders while managing the product backlog and even in technology. They are supposed to effectively, efficiently and continuously adapt to these changes to ensure frequent iterative delivery of working products. As mentioned before, adaptation is one of the most important pillars of empiricism, and it is an important quality to be a great product owner as well.

14. Creativity and Innovation

A creative product owner would understand and validate the market conditions constantly and use the knowledge in different ways to maximize the quality of the product. They have an experimental and innovative mindset and manages the product backlog in an efficient manner by constantly learning through experience. A product owner should apply creative ideas to maximize the value of the work done by the development team.

15. Product Vision

A product owner has to create a shared understanding of the vision of the product which includes the why’s, what’s, and how’s of the product with the scrum team and the stakeholders. The vision should be clear and concise and efficiently communicated with all the individuals involved. A great product owner would develop the product vision keeping in mind the value and risks and would ensure the vision is transparent to all.

Do you have a good product vision? Check by taking this assessment.

16. Product Backlog Management

A product owner’s job is to manage the product backlog to frequently deliver working products. In order to make this happen, they have to build and order the product backlog items with the help of the development team, iteratively refine and reorder the items to ensure value maximization and ensure transparency at all times. A product owner should make certain that the product backlog reflects the latest requirements and should be updated frequently.

17. Systems Thinking

Systems thinking in itself means to comprehend and analyze a problem from multiple perspectives to understand the problem as a whole. A product owner should use the systems thinking approach in daily life while dealing with the regular problems faced by them. It would help a product owner to have unbiased information and would help in better decision making with respect to the product backlog, strategy, and vision.

18. Value Measurement

A product owner must have a data-driven approach. It means validating the assumptions of the stakeholders and the value of the product backlog items in terms of quantified data. A product owner must continuously gather this data and iteratively refine the product backlog to ensure the value maximization of the product.

So, these are the most appropriate 18 competencies which I found are essential to become a great product owner. Assess and cultivate these competencies to excel in your role with the help of various assessments offered by Agile Cockpit.

To see how you are doing as a product owner, take this assessment. For validating the results, don’t forget to ask for feedback from your colleagues.



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