Habits of an effective Product Owner

Headshot of Richie Harris, Chief Technology Officer of SingleMind UX Design and Software Development firm

Written by Richie Harris

Vision

The key value that a product owner offers in an agile project is clarity of vision. The product owner knows exactly what the product needs to be in order to succeed in the market, and what the priorities are for that to happen. There are a few things that an effective product owner will do on a recurring basis to keep the team moving toward that vision. Those things are to organize the backlog by priority, communicate both high-level and detailed objectives, and be responsive to changes or technical challenges.

Priorities

Of the habits that make a good product owner, the inclination to attribute priority and maintain an organized backlog are two of the most impactful on the success of a project. Assigning priority, and re-evaluating priority as the project progresses, is vital to the team’s ability to plan how the work is done. As the adage goes, if everything is a top priority, nothing is a top priority. Throughout the lifecycle of a project, an effective product owner will revisit how features and tasks are prioritized to better inform the team how they can deliver on the product vision.

Communication

An effective product owner will participate in planning meetings, keep track of progress, and work with each member of the team to make sure they understand the objectives. This means that there will be regular team check-ins to review scope as well as a product roadmap that is maintained, aligns with the backlog, and is made available to the entire team. Communication is everything in a product development lifecycle. To be effective, a product owner will schedule their interactions with the team, as well as make themselves available to answer questions or sit-in on meetings between design and development teams.

Flexibility

The most unsung quality of a good product owner is flexibility. A product owner needs to have their eyes on both the forest and the trees in order to be effective. This means that they need to be willing to cut down a few trees if it means the forest survives. This is less a habit than a way of thinking, but it is something that a good product owner will be able to remind themselves of regularly. Any time the backlog is reviewed, priorities are being set, or any time that a technical challenge is encountered, an effective product owner will take a moment to re-evaluate their vision and be willing to entertain alternatives.

Stick to it

Between making themselves available to the team, and keeping an eye on both the high-level goals and the individual tasks, a product owner’s primary job is that of a cheerleader for the team and an evangelist of their vision. In order to be effective, they have to take all the ideas they have and put them into meaningful requirements, organize them by priority, and be willing to be flexible with the details. A product owner who’s able to commit to persistent communication and a constant eye on priorities can play a critical role in any project.