The product owner is a key individual in the development cycle for projects and solutions, acting as a middleman between the business and the entire development team. Product owners are meant to carry the product vision, understand what needs to be developed, manage the backlog, and sift through user feedback. Being a product owner isn’t particularly difficult; most well-educated individuals can hop on a project and, with the right set of skills, manage a small team of developers, create and sort backlogs, hold meetings, and direct progress toward an end goal. However, being a truly great product owner is a rather challenging task and requires a lot of knowledge, skill, and teamwork.

Overall competency and product development skills are, naturally, critical. However, it doesn’t really matter how rapidly your team can work on new projects, or how impeccable the quality is, unless you are presenting the right things on a consistent basis while maintaining a high level of overall satisfaction. Let’s take a look at the main characteristics, capabilities, and qualities that every great product owner should possess.

A Great Product Owner Maintains a Clean Backlog and Establishes a Vision

Clean Backlog and Establishes a Vision
Clean Backlog and Establishes a Vision

Many product owners are capable of constructing business cases for various projects. However, throughout the continuation of a run, many product owners end up with a backlog that is completely stuffed with unnecessary items, many of which have nothing to do with the larger goal and instead act as clutter.

Stemming from this, it is not uncommon for teams to get knee deep in sprints only to forget the main focus of the agenda that they are meant to be working on due to a lapse in focus and the lack of an end goal, also known as a vision.

The responsibility of cleaning out and maintaining a proper backlog rests on the shoulders of the product owner. Backlogs can frequently become inefficiently taxed due to a product owner’s incapability to dissect larger agendas and reform them into shorter, more reasonable visions and goals.

In order to become great, a product owner should go through backlog items, analyze important details and aspects, and declutter. This system grants the product owner a foundation on which the vision for a final goal or product can be established. That vision must then be connected to every single item and detail on a project backlog. It is critical to connect the “what” to the “who” and to the “why.”

Naturally, establishing a solid vision can be excruciatingly challenging. However, even a basic draft of a vision will work wonders toward achieving optimal end results. An established vision must then be communicated by the product owner to all of the team members so that all of the moving parts of the product development cycle operate in full synch.

The product owner must be an expert with regard to the subject matter at hand, as well as be fully capable of organizing his team to function at optimal efficiency. The product owner must be the main architect behind establishing a product or project vision. That established vision will lead the team toward success while the tasks at hand evolve into their final stages as viable solutions to specific business requirements. A product owner’s vision acts as the motivation and inspiration to drive the team forward and align goals.

The Ability to Reject Ideas Properly

Reject Ideas Properly
Reject Ideas Properly

If a product owner does not have the necessary skills to effectively reject ideas, their backlog can quickly become clouded by unnecessary aspects that can lead to mass confusion, and may even completely impede coherent progress. Truly great product owners possess the power to say ‘no’ without offending anyone or stunting progress.

For example, a team member may come up with an idea that would add an extra item to the backlog. However, something else would need to be pulled out and sacrificed to make room for said extra item. Your better judgment as a great product owner signals you to reject the idea and leave it at that. Instead of blatantly saying no, come up with a way to reject ideas carefully and respectfully. Transform basic ‘nos’ into “oh, that’s not exactly a top priority for us at this point in time, it’s best if we devote our attention to these issues, let’s consider adding your idea in the next…”

Great product owners understand that if every team member’s ideas get added to the backlog, chaos will ensue. As a result of this chaos, development stages will take far too long, the focus will be lost, the final delivered solution may not even match the initial goals and targets that were planned, and the vision statement may become convoluted. Truly awesome product owners know that they are in the positions that they occupy because pertinent business leaders bestowed a great deal of trust and respect upon them. Therefore, great POs know that they carry a great responsibility to make the best and most efficient decisions possible.

While development teams may stumble upon great ideas occasionally, the most important skill a product owner can have is the ability to decide what ideas to implement and build. A truly great product owner can prioritize what needs to be done by analyzing the efforts required to build a feature, as well as the consequences that will follow.

Communicating and Being a Great Team Player

Being a Great Team Player
Being a Great Team Player

The greatest product owners out there are natural and highly effective communicators. They clearly understand how to use proper communication techniques to get their main points across and provide guidance and tutelage for a development team. Teams trust, respect, and love working with communicative product owners.

Great product owners are natural team players. They see their team not only as moving parts in the product building cycle but as vital individuals that greatly contribute to end goals. They have the capability to understand that software or application creation is not a hardened ordeal, but rather a fluid process. Excellent product owners don’t fall into a fit of rage when unexpected constraints flare up. They are flexible with their emotions and plan work ahead of time for themselves and the team. Moreso, great POs definitely don’t push their teammates beyond sensible limits, they understand that there must be a collaborative working environment and a reasonable allowance for innovations.

Being a well-versed communicator and both a team leader and player at the same time can definitely be difficult. However, a great product owner understands that they should never dictate decisions and terms, yet at the same time, they shouldn’t be indecisive or employ a laissez-faire management style. The team leader must act as a shepherd for their team members in leading them toward progress and product development. Making decisions and communicating them effectively ensures that the team’s knowledge and creativity can be utilized fully in order to deliver efficient results aligning the established visions and goals.

Everything Comes Together

Out of all of the skills and vital details addressed, communication is the key and the foundation linking everything together. The product owner must be a masterful communicator to ensure that the project development team and the business itself align in order to push visions toward fruition. Great product owners are the centerpiece of an organization that leads teams to innovative solutions and company goal fulfillment.

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