Product Owners, the right environment

Taking on the role of Product Owner is no small feat. I often say that of all the Agile roles introduced the Product Owner is the special unicorn, with many inward facing (team) and outward facing (organisational) responsibilities, ensuring a balanced view of commercial needs, user needs and technical feasibility. 

Product Ownership

Nearly as hard as finding this special unicorn is ensuring the organisation is setup to allow the Product Owner to excel, giving them the responsibility and autonomy, yet support they need.

This week I was contacted by an ex-colleague who is currently interviewing for a Product Owner role at an organisation I have previously worked at. She was looking for advice or insight into what she could potentially be walking into.

My main observation of the Product Owner role at this particular organisation is that typically they were neither working directly with the Product team (as a Product Manager) nor were they working within the delivery team.

Instead they were stuck between the two worlds and essentially became a disempowered connection between “the business” and “IT”. 

I put forward a few simple questions to help her navigate the interview process:

  1. Who are my stakeholders, who am I representing?
  2. What decision making am I empowered with?
    Will you be handed a wider company vision and desired goals? Will you and the team get to determine how and what outputs will allow you to reach the outcome?
  3. On the day to day, who will I be sitting with and working closely with?
    Will you be within a cross functional team, ranging from research/UX through to delivery, build/QA, through to policy/comms/change?
  4. When asked “Which team do you belong to”, will my team mates reference our cross functional team, rather than their particular discipline?
  5. Who is based here in Sydney, who is based in Melbourne?
    This particular organisation under consideration had a culture of phone conference, the office is littered with people on headsets conferencing back and forth to Melbourne, many handoff points of work between the two cities.
  6. At the completion of the sprint, who is demoing to who?
    Will you and team demo to stakeholders? Are your stakeholders actively engaged and curious about the teams achievements over the last 2 weeks? Will stakeholders use the showcase as an opportunity to provide thanks and feedback, rather than an a** kicking session?
  7. Who oversees the process/ways of working? Will I be able to work with the team on iterating/improving the process?
    Will the team have autonomy of the details of the practices and techniques, as long as they respect wider processes and principles? Unfortunately, in this particular organisation under consideration IT “own” the process to the nth degree, governed by PMO type people.

Of course, not all organisations are in a position to immediately foster the right environment. However, does the organisation under consideration at least understand the intent and are aspiring to get to that level. 

I hope the questions above provide some assistance for others assessing future roles. I welcome feedback or additional questions you would include.

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