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Different Shades of the Product Owner Role in organizations

I have experienced different shades of the Product Owners in different organizations as part of my coaching and transformation engagements. These shades come into light due to various reasons including: lack of understanding of this role in organization, no proper guidance in identifying right people for the Product Owner role and so on. In this article I am going to highlight few of the shades and why they come into existence and few tips to address them.

  1. PO is not found!

These are the POs who do not have time for their teams? Why?

  •   They may be part time in their role
  •   They are one of the senior people in the organization (Eg: CEO/CTO) and have many other responsibilities apart from the PO job
  •   They have multiple products in the hand at a time
  •   They focus only in dealing external part (Stakeholders and customers etc) which leaves no time for the team
  •   The PO is not really a PO, just a person put in that role as stop gap solution
  1. The wrong PO!

These are the POs not having right skills, why?

  •   May be he came from a traditional project management experience converted into a Product Owner
  •   Product Owners are selected by the Stakeholders; they aren’t trained or not experienced
  •   POs have been transitioned from other roles within the company just based on their long years of stay in the company. For example Head of the Department is made as PO for the Product belong to that department
  1. The PO can’t create/manage critical artifacts

These are the POs who do not give importance in creating and managing critical artifacts such as Vision, Roadmap, Release plans, why?

  •   They never used in their earlier experience
  •   They do not feel they are valuable
  •   They hesitate to seek help if they do not know how to create
  •   They feel it is not part of their role’s responsibilities  
  1. The Lonely PO!

These POs do not engage with the team and end up working alone, why?

  •   The PO treats the team as “order takers” instead of contributors to the product
  •   The PO regularly pushes stories that are unclear to the team, who are confused and/or develop things that are not as expected
  •   The PO feels if he works alone it will be more productive
  1. The Slow PO!

Because of such POs the team suffers from slow feedback from the PO, why?

  •   PO does not know who are the real users of the Product
  •   The team does not have direct access to the Real PO and there is a Proxy PO in between
  •   The PO does not have direct access to the users, therefore has very little feedback or very slow feedback for the team
  •   Sometimes there’s a sort-of “Product Owner committee” that supersedes the Product Owner, and it takes a long time for the PO to get their feedback
  •   The Product Owner spends their day in other meetings and is not able to engage with the team regularly
  1. The Underpowered PO!

These are the POs who cannot make decisions, why?

  •   Management does not have confidence in PO so anything he/she has to do should be approved by management
  •   PO himself/herself is not confident to make decisions on his/her own
  •   Organizational structural barriers
  •   Confusion with the Product Owner and Product Manager based environment
  •   PO changing the priorities during the Sprint due to the pressure from management/stakeholders
  1. The Micromanager PO!

These POs always want to supervise their teams closely, why?

  •   PO believes that teams work only when they are micromanaged
  •   PO comes from Project manager experience
  •   PO does not have clarity on how self-organized teams work

How these shades will impact the Team and Organization?

Eventually the “Trust” between the team and the Product Owner will be reduced. When Trust is negatively impacted, it shows the same impact on the “Transparency”. When they cannot be transparent with each other, the “Inspect & Adapt” will not be effective. So the whole team becomes mediocre teams. 

When the teams’ become mediocre, where their productivity, flexibility and creativity deteriorates, the organization’s overall performance gets impacted. It will eventually show impact on critical factors such as: time to market, quality of the products, customer satisfaction and so on.

How to address the impacts of these Shades of the Product Owners?

  • Identify right people (preferably dedicated) in to that role, do not try to forcefit the existing people if they do not have right skills, instead hire right people if required
  • Empower the Product owners and explain them the purpose of being accountability
  • Train the Product Owners to have common level of understanding and knowledge
  • Create a Product Management community of practice within the organization for knowledge sharing
  • Send your Product owners to external conferences, meetups to learn from industry experts
  • Make sure the Product owners work with the teams closely, I strongly recommend to have Product owners sit along with the development teams to have regular interactions
  • Make sure the Product owners attend the Scrum events regularly to have trust and transparency established among the team and Product owners
July 30, 2020
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