Monday, November 9, 2015

Show some love for the product owner

Show your product owner some respect.
I spend a lot of time talking about agile and what it means to be a scrum master.  This week I wanted to change things up a little bit because I think many of us in the agile community have been neglecting one of the most important people in the agile process- the product owner.

I am a big fan of Roman Pichler’s book on product ownership.  In it, he says that being a product owner is one of the hardest jobs in technology.  You need to understand the nature of the business, be able to act as a liaison to the technical team, and finally understand the nature of building software.  I would like to add a few more.  A product owner should be able to advocate the priorities for the business, they should act as a cheerleader for the team, and most importantly they need to be empowered to say no.

Too often in large organizations, executives treat their departments like feudal kingdoms.  The only way to get promoted or advance is to serve at the pleasure of the lord or lady running the department.  This forces the people working under these feudal rulers to avoid telling the truth about project progress and saying no to situations which are misguided.  It is up to the product owner to act as this informed chancellor to the lord or lady of the department.  This delicate balancing act is not for the meek.

Making matters worse, if that projects in large organizations are funded by the project instead of by the department.  This means the product owner is not a full time position but rather someone appointed by an executive because they have some project management experience.  So in essence you have a product owner who is not empowered, not able to say no, and has no vested interest in the project being successful.

This is where I spend a great deal of my time trying to train product owners as they come and go in the organization.  I teach them how to write user stories.  I teach them how to write given, when, then statements to help the developers with test driven development.  I also try to help them navigate the weird world of technology as they are asked countless questions by the development team for situations they never considered.

I work with three product teams over two continents.  I also have two very different product owners.  I have to be respectful and firm to both of them.  I also feel a great deal of empathy.  They are working one of the hardest jobs in technology.  I also understand that I can be eccentric, mercurial, and a little tightly wound so their job is just a little more difficult.

So the next time you get cranky with your product owner; take a step back and think for a moment.  They are working in one of the hardest jobs in technology.  They are also working with you and your goofy technology team.  Show a little love and respect.

Until next time.