What is a Product Owner?

In the Agile Software Methodology there is a role called the Product Owner.  This is a new version of the traditional Product Manager.

My interest in team roles began after reading “I Sing the Body Electric: A Year with Microsoft on the Multimedia Frontier” by Fred Moody.  Moody spent a year with a team at Microsoft observing them building a children’s encyclopedia product code-named Sendak (Encarta Junior).  The team was a mess and the project was a stress filled 2 years of seemingly bad decisions and unhappiness.  I won’t ruin the ending but highly recommend this read.  This book highlights the Product Manager role and how they work with the team.

As I pondered the Product Owner role during my run this morning I came up with these flavors of the same thing:

Army of One

This is the person that calls themselves a Product Owner but is basically told what features to build, writes the code and is responsible for testing everything with no help.  This is typically seen when organizations “adopt Agile” but are still small without the cash to hire multiple developers and testers that round out the team.

Dev Team Project Manager

This is the person who works on a proper Scrum team, works with Stakeholders to define priority and is doing many things right to produce results.  They are really a Project Manager that is lucky to have a killer team, especially ones that have Designers on the team to elaborate the User Stories.  The team is humming along well under this person’s direction but they can probably be replaced without too much impact.  Companies usually pair this person with a Business Analyst or Product Marketing person.

The true Product Owner

This person possesses a deep technical knowledge of the Products they are working on, has a strategic mind with an understanding of their marketplace and can talk to Customers.  They are focused on one product or product family, come up with their own ideas as well as translate input from Stakeholders and are a thought leader in the space.

I was very inspired by this WWDC video featuring Werner Jainek of Cultured Code.  He speaks as a true Product Owner.  Listen to how he easily explains why Things for the iPhone is important by saying “tasks hit you while you’re walking in the city or in the store buying something”.  Then he discusses the iPhone SDK and it’s importance to the success of Things, and concludes with analysis of the marketplace for ToDo List software and the impact of the iTunes store as well as the price point they selected for the app.

Of course, each organization is in different phases of their life and has resource constraints, not everyone is the same.  What type of Product Owner are you?

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Read Part 2, What does a Product Owner do?

Read articles I’ve tagged about Product Owner and Product Management

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