The 7 Habits of a Highly Effective Product Owner


Sorry to interrupt, but if you enjoy this post, you’ll love Building Digital Products, my new book on Product Management.

7 Habits of a Highly Effective Product Owner

Author Stephen R. Covey wrote “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in 1989 and over the last 26 years, it has sold over 15 million copies worldwide. The Business/self-help book is still incredibly relevant today, and Covey’s simple approach to improving effectiveness inspired this blog post.

I’ve observed many different types of Product Owners across many different sizes and types of companies across several industries.
From this experience, and the experience of my Product Owner peers at Webs, Pagemodo, and Vistaprint, I’ve developed The 7 Habits of a Highly Effective Product Owner.

1. Be an “Extreme Generalist”

A highly effective product owner is an extreme generalist.

They have enough skills to be dangerous in many, many, many different areas, but are only true specialists in a few.

They recognize quality designs vs. crappy ones, they understand their customers wants and needs, they know how to market and promote their products, they understand what analytics they need and how to interpret them, they even understand technical trade-offs and the high-level differences between programming languages.

It’s completely normal that many, if not most, of these general skills will lie dormant for months for effective product owners; however, they have the ability to activate the right skills for a new product, a shifting business landscape, or a strategic opportunity.

2. Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

A highly effective product owner shifts their mental priority list on a daily basis.

The highly effective product owner is running a business, not just a product, and that business requires constant adjustment.

This doesn’t mean they communicate those changes to the team or to leadership on a daily basis.

This does mean that they are always thinking of new opportunities and weighing those against the priorities of the past, even if that past was yesterday.

3. Say “No” a LOT

The highly effective product owner says “No” at least 10 times as often as he says “Yes”.

“No” can take many different forms for a highly effective product owner.

“Sure we’ll consider that for version 3” or “Let’s try asking customers about that first before developing” are powerful phrases for a product owner to say “No” while preserving team morale or relationships with other teams.

4. Passion for the Product

A highly effective product owner has a palpable passion for their product(s).

· If you aren’t thinking about your product when you wake up in the middle of the night, you aren’t a highly effective product owner.

· If you aren’t considering future opportunities and strategies for your product on the weekend, you aren’t a highly effective product owner.

· If you don’t worry about the pain points your customers experience in your product, you aren’t a highly effective product owner.

· If you don’t get excited about new companies and technologies in your industry, you aren’t a highly effective product owner.

This does not mean a highly effective product owner has to have to have a destructive work-life balance, but rather that they have to have a passion for the product, their customers, and the problem they are solving.

This also does not mean that they let their passion cloud their judgement and what is truly right for the business and their customers.

5. An Adaptive Focus on the Past, the Present, and the Future

A highly effective product owner knows the right amount of time to spend on the past, present, and future and when to shift their focus between these areas.

Past: What trends have brought the business to where it is today? What mistakes were made in the past and why? What were huge wins of the past?

Present: What do customers love about the product today? What do they hate? What trends of the past continue today, what ones don’t?

Future: What are the next things we should build? How can our product be differentiated from the competition or the industry? What should we abandon, what should we keep?

6. Constant Evangelist

A highly effective product owner is always selling their product(s).

They sell their products to family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. They aren’t afraid of negative feedback; in fact, they love it as it gives them the fuel to improve.

A highly effective product owner actively seeks out the people that will provide them the highest quality feedback wherever they are: at a conference, at meetup events, or on the street.

Even more, they should not just be an attendee at these events, they should be a presenter. It’s much easier to spread your product when you’re speaking to hundreds of people at once instead of 1:1, though the highly effective product owner sees value in both levels of interaction.

7. Constant Learner

A highly effective product owner is always learning. If they see a weakness in their skillset, they fill it.

· Don’t know the difference between Javascript and Java?

· Aren’t familiar with SQL and database queries?

· Not sure how to do multivariate testing?

The highly effective product owner doesn’t know everything, but they attack their shortcomings at the right time to deliver the right decisions for the right product.


Hopefully, this list of 7 Habits of a Highly Effective Product Owners will inspire you to be better in your role. I know that I definitely still have a long way to go to achieve many of these goals.

Finally, thank you again to my Product Owner peers at Webs, Pagemodo, and Vistaprint for helping me compile and refine this list.