5 Product Owner Skills your team needs


29 april 2015


Nowadays many companies are looking for Product Owners. In this search they often focus on business related skills like performing A/B tests, cooperating with stakeholders and performing user tests. But how about the Product Owner’s relationship with the development team?

I often do not see this skill clearly described while I find this a very important part of the Product Owner role. In this blog post I want to share my top-5 Product Owner skills that are important to build a successful product together with the development team:

1. Help the team understand the why

A clear product vision is not only meant for stakeholders. It is important that you express a clear product vision to the development team as well. Invest time in their understanding of why we are building a product. Make them dream the product’s domain so that they can make the right implementation decisions.

Support the expression of your vision with for example a Product Vision Board and Goal Oriented Roadmap.

2. Challenge instead of push

“Hey, these features must be developed during the upcoming sprint so I need your commitment” or anything else Darth Vader would command his team is absolutely the wrong message and can result in a disfunctional team.

Too much pressure from the product owner to deliver more user stories than possible can result in a catastrophic structural overcommitment of the team. This results in failing sprint reviews, too many bugs, technical debt and most importantly an unhappy and demotivated team and unsatisfied stakeholders.

Instead of pushing the team to build more than they can, challenge the team to help you find a way to build the product within the available time and budget. Questions like “What can we do to shorten the implementation time for this feature?” or “Do you have any suggestions to change the scope that makes the implementation more easy?” are way better when you are not satisfied with the progress of the product’s development.

3. Be part of the team: you are responsible for a successful sprint too

Sprint planning is not a point where you hand over the responsibility to deliver a successful product increment to the team so that you can go on holiday until the sprint review takes place. You are as important as any other team member to deliver a successful product increment.

Be available every day to help the team puzzle out the challenges they face. Sometimes this means explaining why we are building a feature to help finding the correct implementation, other times it means simply telling the team to put a problem to rest because the time it is costing is too much compared to the value the solution will deliver.

In all these situations a lot of waste would exist if you are not there to provide the right answers and ideas on the spot.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

No matter how hard you try, you will always make some mistakes in defining the features that need to be developed. When asking for help you will receive ideas from different disciplines (designers, architects, developers, testers) who will provide different angles that can help you figure things out so that a better product evolves.

5. Be curious about the “HOW”

As a product owner I will never define how a feature should be built, but that does not mean that you should not care about it. Being curious about how the product is built helps me understand the technical side of the product to a certain level. This helps me make better decisions and is greatly appreciated by team members who are working hard to create the best solutions.

These 5 skills can help you as a Product Owner to have more fun and profit with your team. And better software products as well. Do you think there is an important skill missing? Feel free to share it by adding a comment to this post. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated!