What does a Product Owner own anyway?

Recently Ross Ferguson wrote a great blog about why GDS chose Product Manager rather than Product Owner as the role title of its Product people. Ross is right when he says that Product Management is the profession, and more widely understood by the wider industry, so why do we in DWP not use that term for our people?

I could be, and often am, glib about why DWP chose to stick with Product Owner, even after we stopped purely using SCRUM methodology, but a good conversation on twitter got me thinking about the debate again.

So what is a Product Owner?

The question on Twitter was 'does Business Analyst + Project Manager = Product Owner?’ And while a good PO needs some of the skills from both of those professions, that’s not all they are.

For me, a good Product Owner is part Business Analyst, part project manager, part researcher and part service designer.

They have to analyse and understand the problems and options whilst also researching and understanding the needs of their users. They have to understand and manage the details whilst also being able to dream big and understanding the opportunities.

But they don’t own the analysis, or the research, or the plans or the design, they don’t own the code or the solution. Agile is a team sport, and as @Scott offer says a good Product Owner is the generalist in a roomful of specialists. They manage the backlog and make sure all the things happen, but they don’t own those tasks.

Product Owners are accountable for making sure we develop the right thing. That we solve the right problem. That we meet the needs of our users in the right way. But accountability and ownership are different.

So, if they don’t own the tasks, is it actually the Product they own? In smaller organisations, absolutely. But in an organisation as big as DWP do our Product Owners really own the full end to end service?

Honestly? 8 times out of 10 probably not. Most of our Products and Services are so big they can only be owned by the Senior Responsible Officer.

So what do they own?

The vision.

The vision is what makes or breaks a Product or Service.

A good vision solves a bigger problem.

A good vision is the difference between transforming something or redesigning it.

A good vision challenges and moves us all on.

And that is what a Product Owner owns.

I don’t think Product Manager is wrong, and in the future the community in DWP may choose to being Product Managers, they are all empowered to choose the term that they feel fits best, but it’s not the term that resonates with me.

I own the Vision, it does not own me.

Sorry, for the geeks amongst you, this is Vision…. I’ll get my coat.

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