The story of a product owner (II) — Passion
In the first part of this series of interviews, we talked with one of the product owners in eMAG and what his take is on this role. He gave us some advice and some heartfelt opinions on the matter. Time to get some insight from Vlad Puescu, currently the Content Platform Director in eMAG.
Vlad a few words about yourself, how did you arrive in eMAG and what are you up to now?
Well after high-school I studied mathematics and computer science with the idea of becoming a programmer. However, in the last year of school, I realized this is not for me. I studied philosophy then I got hired in the editorial field. From there I slowly turned my eyes towards technology through social media and electronic books. I was hired to build the ebook platform of elefant.ro and I gradually became product owner for the entire platform. From there I came on board to work on the eMAG website. After a sabbath period of 6 months spent in Asia, I was lucky enough to return to eMAG and take on my current role of Product Content Platform director.
If you were to give a short definition for the product owner role, what would it be?
Well there are lots of definitions for the role but I will try to give you three versions of that answer:
The boring version — A product owner must understand needs, measure benefits, come up with solutions, communicate decisions and problems, define the vision, motivate, offer the optimal compromise, achieve results, ensure long term development and reevaluate constantly his product and priorities;
The highly motivating version — A product owner is a combination between an angel and a bureaucrat. He understands and mediates two realms but keeps track of everything that’s happening. In the end, he doesn’t let you pass unless you truly deserve to;
The funny-sad version — A product owner is like a circus actor. He walks the high wire on a monocycle while he balances plates that are on long poles. When he gets off the wire he tells a joke. At the end of the show, he counts the money. He is constantly thinking about how to improve his act, what to keep and what to take out. On his face, there is tear painted, but behind the mask, there is always a smile. In the end, it’s still very hard to walk the high wire.
What makes a great product owner great, and a bad product owner bad?
The position in your company is not a job title — you earn it through the trust bestow upon you.
Beyond knowledge and the minimal experience, I think that what separates the two is more a question of mentality and approach:
Empathy — you have to understand and take into account the needs of everyone involved in the project and process — the final customer, the clients from the business side, other stakeholders, the development teams, other platforms, sponsors from senior management, and so on.
Extra effort — A good product owner never gives up, doesn’t blame others and does everything in his power to get to the best result for the client and the company. For a good product owner, there is no such thing as “It’s not my job”.
Maturity — Professional and emotional — it’s hard to decide what it means to make a reasonable compromise or when you have to deliver the best product on the market without compromises. It’s very hard to prioritize and to say NO to projects that it is to say YES. And it’s very hard to know when you have to destroy what you have built.
What projects have brought you the biggest satisfaction and why?
A major project from a difficulty and outcome point of view was the entire revamp of the shopping experience through the shopping cart and the checkout process. The product was quite fast if you take into account the complexity behind it, technical and from a UX point of view. It was essential for the future of the company which serves millions of clients from 4 countries.
Other projects that brought me satisfaction were those where I wasn’t asked for solutions, I was asked results. Some turned out well, others didn’t. But no matter the outcome, the most important thing is to know how you will measure your success or your failure and the fact that you have the freedom to find new solutions to old problems. Or was it the other way around?
How do you overcome difficult times in a project?
In the difficult times, I think it’s essential to just stop, take a deep breath and take a step back. Ask yourself “why?” over and over again until you get to the root cause of the problems you are facing. Give up everything you thought you knew and ask questions just like a curious kid would. Be emphatic and understand the position and needs of everyone involved in the project. That’s how you will understand their actions and you will find a common language.
And last but not least don’t ever forget it’s ok to make mistakes. Even projects that you are especially proud of in a few years will look mediocre at best. It’s ok to make mistakes as long as you keep your passion, your honesty and your desire to change for the good the lives of others through the products you are building.
A few words of wisdom for the younger generations, for the product owners of tomorrow.
- Any experience is an opportunity to learn — try to make the best of what you have and out of the situation you are in
- If you don’t do things with passion just don’t do them
- Go the extra mile — do everything you can and beyond, not just what it says in your job description
- Don’t focus on live features, concentrate on the results
- Your position within your company is not a job title — you earn it through the trust others bestow upon you
More on product ownership in the next article when we will talk with Bogdan Sorescu, product owner in the Web & Mobile area of eMAG.