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What makes a good PO?

The empowered central point of product leadership. One of the three roles on a Scrum team; the single voice of the stakeholder community to the Scrum team. The product owner defines what to do and in what order to do it.

Geoff Watts Author of Product Mastery: From Good To Great Product Ownership contributes the following traits of a successful product owner:

Common challenges that can impede a PO from being effective:

Underpowered – who has the power to make final decisions? Is it you? Or is it someone higher in the service? If the answer isn’t you then sorry but being a PO is not going to work!

A PO needs to be able to make decisions on the spot about what is crucial and what is not, how a procedure should be implemented or removed completely.

This doesn’t mean that only service leads can be Product owners but they must have delegated authority to you ans empowered you to make the decisions that are required at the time.

Overworked – yes who is not overworked now a days? But this is an issue with POs that think that when they are having a product designed and made that it is being done for them. Agile development works with you to produce what is required. Therefore you need to be as immersed in the project as the team is. Everyone still has a day job to continue with however you need to realise what contribution is required from the beginning of the process – make sure you do have the time to give to the project otherwise is there someone you can give the role of PO to – Just remember to check out underpowered / proxy PO so you are not just moving the issue elsewhere.

Partial PO – this scenario happens when there is a project manager and a project owner who split the role between them so the Product owner is the one who works with the team and the project manager who manages the vision and outwards communication. This set up blurs the lines of who has authority and the decision-making power, momentum can be lost and team members end up blocking the process.

Distant PO – usually a bio-product of an overworked PO, but can also just be lack of engagement. A Distant PO isn’t just someone who doesn’t attend the daily stand-up but can be someone who doesn’t contribute to the team and get involved in meetings or discussions. This can have a detrimental impact to the wider team as if the PO doesn’t have buy-in to what they are working on it is hard for them to find enthusiasm.

Proxy PO – A project needs a PO to succeed but the person who would be right for the role has too big a workload to dedicate the amount of time required. So they nominate another team member to do the role as it will be a good development opportunity – but they are to refer to them before they make any decisions.

No this doesn’t work – a PO needs to be empowered – a true development opportunity would allow them to make the decisions themselves. So if you are thinking of nominating someone for a PO role think are you giving them the authority to make all decisions. If you have been put in a PO role – do you have the authority to make all decisions or do need to run things past a manager / another colleague? 

PO Committee – otherwise known as too many cooks – a number of people who consider themselves the product owner with not one person who is leading the way with vision, direction or decision making. There needs to be ONE person in overall authority who will be the decision maker and there in the right place at the right time.