Product Owner: The Linchpin to Program Success

Published on by Dan KlcoPicture of Me Dan Klco

Like the 80s hair band Cinderella will tell you, you "Don't Know What You Got Till It's Gone". You don't know what it's like to have a good Product Owner until you don't have one.

A good Product Owner is the linchpin of a successful product delivery. But how do you know what makes a good Product Owner? To be a good Product Owner the individual must be authoritative, protective and knowledgeable. 


A Product Owner must be Authoritative



Product Owners must be empowered and capable of making and defending decisions. The Product Owner may not be the sponsor, nor will they control the budget, but the buck must stop at their desk. A good Product Owner when a stakeholder disagrees with the decision will work to ensure that this does not impact the delivery team, but either finds a solution which is a net neutral or will add an enhancement into the backlog to be addressed according to the business needs. Similarly when the team looks for a decision the Product Owner must be enabled and willing to make that decision and be aware of the business needs to make a decision that is right as often as possible.


A Product Owner must be Protective



You can have it fast. You can have it cheap. You can have it done well. pick 2.

Product Owners must vigorously defend their product within the business and from the business and act as a buffer between their team and the politics of the surrounding business. The Product Owner must be invested in the success of their product and the team delivering it this means that they will be willing to call out the team when needed and to protect them when they need it.


A Product Owner must be Knowledgeable



A good Product Owner knows their product. A great Product Owner knows quite a bit about their product but is aware there are some people who know more than they do. Product Owners must have enough knowledge to be capable of making decisions and have the wisdom to seek outside counsel and to work with stakeholders to make sure their decisions will have the support of the business and the implementation team.


Do You Have a Great Product Owner?


A great Product Owner will need all three criterion, being authoritative, protective and knowledgeable. If you do not have someone like this for your project, this is a risk that should be addressed as soon as possible. Not having a central decision maker will result in your team having difficulty making decisions and chasing your tails as you flounder to find the right thing to do. An unprotective Product Owner will allow the business to run over the product and the team delivering a poor outcome by not providing the vision and discipline necessary to deliver. And an unknowledgeable Product Owner will make poor decisions and will not be able to defend decisions made.

I hope this helps anyone that plays a Product Owner role on a project and any team that's struggling to understand why their floundering or having trouble making decisions or being caught flat-footed.


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