Selecting your Product Owner

PO = The Fuel

Product Ownership is the fuel that drives the Lean & Agile delivery team. Use inferior fuel, and you get inferior performance. It can be argued that the selection of your product owner is the most important decision you will ever make for a particular team.

A good product owner has a large business network.

A good product owner has a well-functioning business network.

The Criteria for Choosing

The product owner role is a true leadership role, the leader of requirements and value creation. The role requires a passionate, dedicated soul with a clear eye towards where the business benefit is. Here is a list of key criteria:

Key criteriaNOT criteria
Good Business NetworkGeneral Co-Ordinator
Is a Critical CompetenceIs Available
Superior Business EdgeUnderstands teams and projects
Passionate!Understands technology
LeaderGood Administrator

As you can see under “key criteria”, the product owner is not primarily a requirements manager, but an operative leader with a great network and a good eye for where the real business value lies. The perhaps most important criteria is passion—passion for the outcome and the results the outcome creates in business operations.

Too many organisations select product owners based on the “NOT criteria” side of the table. Please note that the column does not list bad attributes—I am just pointing out that these attributes are not relevant as key selection criteria.

Avoid the Pitfalls

Three common pitfalls are:POquote

  • You pick someone because of their availability, rather than their qualifications. Great product owners are rarely available—they need to be made available.
  • Your product owner has too little time, and there is no one to pick up the slack.
  • You promote a requirements coordinator who is more of an administrator than a passionate business visionary.

Find your Own Path

The world is not a perfect place, and you will likely not find the perfect product owner solution immediately. And that is just the point—you need to work hard on finding a solution that taken together will give you as much as possible of the left side in the table above.

As an example, the second item in the pitfalls list above may be a sign that more people are needed. Even though there needs to be one over-all product owner, this role sometimes requires more than one person. The product owner is a role description, not necessarily a title belonging to one individual. Some of the most successful teams and managers we have seen have come up with some rather strange solutions. The point in each case is that it works for them; they found a way to cover the left side of the selection criteria table.

Now… go find the solution that works for you! If you’re already there, share your secrets.