We’re often asked about what makes a great Product Owner and the key skills that Product Owners should have, so today we’re focusing on exactly that. The role of the Product Owner is very specific, and while many of the skills that got you to this position will be helpful to you in excelling in the role, there are some skills that always rise to the top of the list.
- Customer Focus
Your role as a Product Owner is very customer focused. It’s so important to be able to listen to what end users and stakeholders want.
However, the role goes beyond that. You can’t simply listen and then pass that on to the development team – Product Owners are far more than messengers. You need to be able to interpret their requests and uncover the things your customers need before they even know they need them.
Staying up to date with industry news, understanding the market and being approachable so that customers feel happy sharing their views with you – these are all ways of making sure that you keep a customer focus.
On big projects, or when you are juggling a lot of products, you might not be able to manage everything yourself. That’s OK. It’s fine to delegate.
The textbooks will tell you that the Product Owner is a single person and responsible alone. However, in reality, you wouldn’t be the first Product Owner to wonder if you’d taken on more than you could handle if you feel overwhelmed all the time!
The team (or teams) that you work with will benefit if you can manage the overwhelm. One strategy is to delegate. Build a ‘product owner team’ if it helps you, even if you stay as the main point of contact. For example, you could allocate the role of Technical Product Owner to someone with more technical capabilities than you, or if you don’t feel confident in a leadership role with technical professionals.
Look for a structure that works for you and the team. Delegate where it makes sense.
- Relationship building
Being able to build relationships is more than simply networking. In an Agile team, it’s about being able to help other people share knowledge. If you know what your colleagues are doing and how they are doing it, you can make the connections between them.
This is hugely valuable and can save your team a lot of time. You can make sure they are talking directly to the right people, and you can empower them to do that.
As a Product Owner, you don’t have to be part of every conversation. Pick and choose where you can add the most value and spend your time on those discussions.
Being skilled at relationship building will also help you when it comes to getting others to understand the big picture. Part of your role as a Product Owner is to make sure that the team has a clear vision (which falls out of your business case). You can make the connection between the vision and the items in the backlog. This gives your team information about ‘the why’ of a backlog item. You can use your vision to explain why something is important and the team together can choose the right next steps to make that happen – they may not turn out to be what you expected.
- Decision making
Product Owners need to make decisions, so a key skill is being able to do that effectively.
There are decisions as part of backlog grooming, or as a result of changes. There are decisions about priorities, or the way features are being introduced. It’s one long job of making decisions.
With decision making also comes the skill of being able to say no without aggravating the team and other stakeholders. There are nice ways to say no! How about: “That doesn’t feel like a priority at the moment. Shall we pick it up again next time?” (And it’s even better if you specify when like next month, or after something else major has been delivered, for example.)
The benefit of saying no to certain things means you and the team have more capacity to work on what really matters. Think of it as saying a big yes to other opportunities, user stories, and features. You are protecting your ability to deliver intentionally on the elements of the project that will offer the most value and make the biggest difference to customers.
If it seems hard to make so many decisions, remember that you’re in this role because your management team has decided you already have the skills to be able to take decisions on behalf of the wider business and the team.
- Communication Skills
Did you think we’d forgotten communication skills? Of course not! Great Product Owners have great communication skills. In this role, you’re communicating so much of the time, with the rest of your Agile team, with customers, with other managers and a whole host of other people who have an interest in the project.
Communication skills are something that you can develop with practice. While it might feel that other people are natural communicators, you can work on your skills. In the Product Owner role, it helps to be confident in writing, speaking and facilitating meetings. The easier it is for other people to understand what you are after, the easier it will be for the developers to build a solution that is perfect for you and the customers.
It takes a range of skills to make it as a great Product Owner, but getting these basics right will help you on your career journey.
If you could benefit from Product Owner coaching or know someone who could, we’d love to help! Triumph Strategic Consulting offers tailored coaching to boost your productivity and success. Give us a call today!