OK, so you have decided to form agile teams in your organization and after talking to HR, you learn that they don’t have a bunch of Product Owners laying around on a shelf somewhere. And since your plan for this agile stuff didn’t include hiring any new people (which it probably should have), you start looking at who could potentially transition into this new role.
I would like to offer my thoughts on this but before I do, please let me just state very clearly that I don’t believe in one right way that universally is more correct than any other approach. However, there might be some ways that are more likely to work well than others. I will convey my thoughts through a few principles and some examples.
In order to quickly be able to respond to change, we need to move decision power to where the information is and not the other way around. In other words, the Product Owner needs to have the mandate to conduct actual ownership of the product.
Delivering as much value as early as possible is the core principle behind ordering the Product Backlog (prioritizing the items in such a way that they are in an unambiguous sequence). This requires the Product Owner to understand what is valuable, what is a business requirement and what is neither even though it might be communicated, disguised or perceived as being such.
Being a Product Owner is a fine balance of making hard decisions based on what is best for the product and creating mutual empathy while doing so. It doesn’t matter if a Product Owner objectively makes all the right decisions — if everyone disagrees with the decisions, the Product Owner will be short-lived.
Being a Product Owner is also about seeing one’s product in the context of what the organization is striving for. This, of course, requires the product vision to align with other organizational visions but it also requires Product Owners, whose products depend on each other, to communicate closely in order to understand how to best order their individual Product Backlogs to support each other in the joint pursuit of organizational goals.
And now for a couple of real-world examples:
As you can see from this small selection of examples, there are many ways organizations find and support their Product Owners. Depending on organizational culture and individual, personal competencies, I believe there can be many ways to do this with success — and probably equally many ways to have it go completely off the rails. The important part is to keep an eye on the principles and continuously improve. Like everything else in Agile.
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