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In general, the best product owners are those that care passionately about the customer of the product.  Note that I didn’t say about the product itself.  Actually, people that only care about the product, generally do not make good product owners.  Products only matter in relationship to their customers.  If a product doesn’t provide value to the customer, then the product has no value, no matter what a person might think of the product, and no matter what cool technologies exist inside of the product.

A good product owner is also a good negotiator.  They recognize that many different priorities exist inside of a corporation, but that there can be only one list that developers work from.  A good product owner recognizes that its their job to help others around them prioritize (perhaps with a Product Council), but also understand that they alone have the final say about priorities and are willing to make the tough decisions required.  Deciding the priority between two perfectly valid stories is very difficult, especially when the stories are from two different departments!

A good product owner is deeply interested in helping the team be successful.  They don’t seek to control the team, but instead seek to understand what the team can do and then work with the team to get the best product possible for the Customer.  A good product owner is never denigrating to team members, ever.  They recognize that such behavior would damage the trust that needs to be present between team members and product owners and will avoid it at all costs.

In general, technical people (i.e. former or current developers) make poor product owners.  In their minds, they can’t separate implementation details from user functionality, so their stories end up sounding like implementation details.  For example, “The user enters their username on the password screen” is something that a technical product owner would write.  The proper wording for that story is “A user supplies the system with their credentials.”  Because technical people think different from the rest of the population, they are generally not a good fit.

A good product owner is also a good writer.  Writing good stories demands good writing.  The art of persuasion, descriptiveness and just general good grammar are all required.  A good Product Owner must also be well spoken, since most of what will be conveyed will be conveyed with the spoken word, not just written word.

A good product owner is a “People Person.”  They like talking to people and are very patient.  They don’t mind having questions repeated or fielding many questions, because they want to make sure that the ideas they’re conveying are properly understood so the customer gets the best product possible.  They are happy to answer any questions a team member may have and invite feedback and criticism of designs and stories, since they want a good product.  They really have little ego that gets in the way of building a great product.

All of these qualities can be hard to find, but if you look close enough, you’ll find the right person in your organization.  Product owners can be found anywhere, not just in upper management.  Some of the best product owners are those that are very close to the customer.  In fact, check your customer support staff.  I’d bet that several great product owners are lurking there.

Final note about what makes a good product owner.  You’re probably NOT going to find a good product owner in a manager, especially if they consider themselves a “Manager.”  Product owners don’t manage anything but the backlog, so be especially careful if the person you’re selecting for Product Owner is a manager.

Up Next, “Messing with the Team.”

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Posted on Monday, May 17, 2010 11:02 AM | Back to top


Comments on this post: Who Makes a Good Product Owner

# re: Who Makes a Good Product Owner
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Man, I agree with you. You almost read my mind with this post ! Thanks for this awesome article
Left by A on Jun 26, 2012 6:12 AM

# re: Who Makes a Good Product Owner
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The ability to provide a good quality product is essential. - Bath Planet Franchise
Left by Jon Curtney on Feb 09, 2017 9:21 PM

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