A product designer and a product owner operate from the same mental model

A product owner is responsible for the entire product and its outlook, whereas a product designer is responsible for the look and feel of a product. I am on a journey from product designer to product owner. It’s an interesting journey with interesting challenges. One of the things I have discovered is that designers and product owners work from the same mental model of value creation if you look at design from the big definition of design. So the skills and experience of a product designer seem to be a good foundation for the role of product owner.

Maximizing value

The job of a product owner is to maximize business value. There are many definitions of the role of product owner going around and everyone can, and should, have their own definition. Agile, in essence, is about individuals and interactions and not about processes and tools. So it should be about what works for you and not about definitions. But here is the definition of the purpose of the product owner that is closest to my idea:

“At the most basic level, an agile product owner, or Scrum product owner, is the leader responsible for maximizing the value of the products created by a scrum development team.”

Lucidchart

The maximization of value breaks down into four parts:

  • Value for the user. It all starts and ends with the people we are designing the products and services for. The more value we can deliver to the users (internal and external), the more valuable the product is. The product needs to be desirable. [this one is about humans]
  • Value for the business. The business is what pays for the development of the product. The business is what needs a return on investment. Your product makes part of the business more efficient and more attractive. Product development costs money and delivers returns. The product needs to be viable. [this one is about economics]
  • Value for the organization. Developing new products and services demands changes in the organization. New skills, new processes, new focus, new mindsets, all these things that come with creating new things make the organization better. Not just more efficient but also smarter, more agile, or more knowledgable. The organization needs to be able to deliver. The product needs to be feasible. [this one is about organization and technology]
  • Value for the planet. This is one I like to add into this familiar mix of desirable, viable, and feasible: responsible. Doing things that are good for the planet will translate into business value and value for users even if you don’t have the wellbeing of the planet in your corporate strategy. The product needs to be responsible. [this one is about the holistic foundation of our existence :-) ]
Four dimensions of value creation

Orders of design

This are exactly the dimensions a designer is trained to work in. A designer is trained in the human sciences to design for humans. A designer is trained in science and technology to design feasible products. A designer is trained in marketing, branding, economics to design products that work for the business. At least a designer that is trained in a higher order of design. Not higher in the sense of better but higher in the sense of more complexity. If we look at the Four Orders of Design model of design from Buchanan, we see the higher the order of design, the more complex design becomes:

The Four Orders of Design model of Buchanan (in my own words)

Different types of designers are trained in different subjects to enable them to operate on the level of complexity they have to do their job. In this, you see a clear step up in level of complexity from web design, that is mostly about communication, to digital product design, which entails more complex functionality and flows and is closer to business. The 3rd order of design, product design, is actually very close to the role of product owner, which for me is the 4th order of design.

The journey from product designer to product owner

There is no school to become a product owner and every product owner will have his or her own journey. But coming from product design, I see the benefits of a product design background when it comes to becoming a product owner exactly because I believe they operate from the same model for value creation with the four dimensions of humans, economics, technology and planet. It provides a useful foundation of skills and experience. A product designer has knowledge about all these subjects and the experience to create products that embrace this complexity. The next step from a product designer to a product owner is a step in which we are designing on the same dimensions but with a different medium. No longer are the services the medium of design but the systems and organizations within which the services are designed and developed. In the product vision, product design and product ownership come closest for me. For me, the step to product owner is a natural step on the journey of design leadership. Before it was leading by designing. Now it’s more leading based on design or with design. The product owner designs the team and the organizational context.

To be continued….

Thank you for taking the time to read this essay. I hope you enjoyed it. If you clap for this essay, I will know I connected with you. I will dive deeper into the topics around Product Ownership in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also subscribe to an email service here on Medium which will drop new essays right into your inbox. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn to see new articles in your timeline or chat with me there.

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Dennis Hambeukers

Design Thinker, Agile Evangelist, Practical Strategist, Creativity Facilitator, Business Artist, Corporate Rebel, Product Owner