7 Key points to succeed as a Product Owner

Over the last 5 years I’ve been working as a Product Owner, my perspective is that this role is as important as tough to be played. That said I’d like to share what I’ve learned during this time and what I consider to be key points of being sucessful on that.

1. Listen more than you speak

Over the years I’ve seen that is quite common for people playing this role to start taking conclusions during the beginning of the conversation. Assumptions are created and solutions are defined, because it seems that there is no need to listen the other side. In my point of view this is really tricky and it could guide to solutions that won’t solve what’s needed to be solved.

A better approach is to learn how to listen, but not only listening, it’s beyond that, the Product Owner has to listen empathically and understand what the other is trying to communicate. This ability is one of the most important for this role, since it’s needed to talk with a lot of people to get the answers, and they will only come if the speaker is confident to share, it comes with empathically listenning.

2. Ask questions until the reason is found

I doubt there is a P.O. who has never received a solution totally defined to be implemented, described by the user the way he wants. It’s a pitfall that needs to be avoided, but how? It happens because some users see that what they need is pretty trivial and they jump direct to the solution, but the P.O. must not be confortable with that, the reason for that has to be understood.

The P.O. needs to ask why does the user want that, which problem is going to be solved?

My experience tells me, don’t do what you don’t understand, it’s better to seem to be fool and ask why until the reason for that is shown than building something it might not solve the problem.

In collaborative working 1+1 is greater than 2.

3. Set expectations from the beginning

This role works with the highest level of the companies, like founders, C level (CEO, COO, CMO, etc), directors and investors. These people generally want precise and straight answers about time. I’ve heard the following questions a lot of times:

  • When will it be done?
  • Why is it taking so long?
  • This is really easy, could we do it now?

It’s important to set expectations from the very beginning, I like a sentence that is: “plan reality not fantasy”. If you as the P.O. don’t know the answer don’t give it, instead ask more questions like:

  • How important is it for the company?
  • Considering the projects we have which is the priority of this one?
  • Would you like to postpone any other project to put this ahead?
  • It could be easy, but let’s think what do we want to solve before planning how.

It’s imporntant to compromise what is feasible and deliverable. A lot of times delivering less means delivering more if expectations were set properly.

4. Get things done

To get things done is not something trivial, but it’s mandatory if you want to be a great Product Owner. When you’re in a Scrum team, get yourself emerged with them, participate in the Daily Scrum, provide the answers, kick out the impediments, get the answers no matter what it takes, go for it.

A lot of times things don’t get finished due to lack of ownership, the Product Owner is the owner always in my point of, it’s crucial to the success of the project to ensure that what is needed to be done is being done.

Don’t be satisfied until it’s done. But it doesn’t mean you need to micro manage the team or to lock them in a room and make they work until it’s finished. Your role is to give them purpose for what they are working on, trust them and let them master the development, though ensure they see in you somebody they can trust and get the information they need. Be helpful, be servant, be a real P.O.

5. Be focused in goals

Focus is a key word that everyone knows, unfortunatelly it’s turning harder than ever to use it as we should. People tend to consider theirselves as multi-task, they really believe they run multiple projects at once, I don’t doubt it, what I doubt is if you can give your best at multiple projects at the same time.

I have been struggling to be focused in one problem at a time and get it solved before moving forward. In my perspective I really believe that when you focus you achieve better results than shifting your mind all the time among different projects.

The tougher part on it’s to get support. I’ve tried to get a chance and once it’s conceived it’s time to prove that if you focus deep, better solutions for the problems will come up.

6. Don’t live behind your desk

Sitting behind your desk is really a dangerous place to be, although it’s the easiest and most confortable.

One thing that I have learned is, if you want an answer, go and get it yourself, the more you avoid proxies the better and righter response you will get. A lot of times we accept information from another people, however the way to get the real answer is to go and talk to the real folks, if you have to travel, do it, it’s going to worth, your audience needs to be known, by the end of the day you are building products for them.

7. Be data driven, however don’t be blind

Nowadays it’s common to hear from companies that they are data driven, sentences like this are getting come “We trust in data, if it’s being told there, it’s true, otherwise it’s no more than an assumption”.

I’m a data driven person, however I don’t trust data blindly, in my experience some decisions were made incorrectly due to bad data, and guess what? That’s happening quite often with everyone.

Being data drive means more than a sentence, it’s something cultural, structural, it requires preparation, planning, proper tools and putting a considerable amount of money and time on it.

The P.O. has to question the data, it’s mandatory to get the hands dirty and dive as deep as possible to ensure data is not misleading, because if it’s the case it’s good when it’s found otherswise the cost of wrong decisions can be higher investing in properly.