Seasoned PO’s (Product Owners) share a certain kinship bred from their time spent navigating the PO world; a world full of balancing, prioritizing and clarifying. We decided to capture their PO knowledge and ask them, “What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were a new PO?”
From this question came a glut of useful, real-world tips that we offer to you. We present to you, our top 10 tips to becoming a better PO.
1. Love your ScrumMaster
Remember your ScrumMaster’s primary responsibility is to help the team get better at doing what you, as PO, need them to do. Show your ScrumMaster the props he or she deserves, and it will come back to you in spades, helping you balance the PO role and the team’s work in a way you could not do on your own. Think of your ScrumMaster as your team’s sports medicine doctor, assessing the health of your team and prescribing just the right treatment to strengthen their muscles, build their endurance and train them to be a lean, mean high performing team.
2. Know your Stakeholders
A self-organized team grounded in Scrum has the ability to eliminate much of the political power play that is prevalent in the workplace. That being said, as a PO, politically and more importantly, productively, one of the smartest things you can do is to get close to your Stakeholders. Understand their perspective. Be clear on their needs inside and out. You should be prioritizing the team’s work based on your Stakeholders’ desires, not on your assumptions of what they may or may not be thinking.
3. With great power comes great responsibility
There are many responsibilities that come with being PO. With that accountability comes praise for good results, but also blame for bad results. The fix? Be able, at all times, to justify your decisions in prioritizing the work. A sound justification for your team’s work prioritization is not only your safety net; it’s your 20/20 hindsight when things go south.
4. Don’t pull an Al Haig
After the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan, Secretary of State Alexander Haig famously announced in a press conference, “I’m in control here.” Technically, politically and legally that wasn’t actually the case. The same holds true for your role as PO with your respective team. You do not run the team. You are part of the team. You may make hard decisions and prioritize the work of others, but make no mistake. You are not in control here. Nor should you try to be.
5. Stop the micromanaging
You may think that your project will get done more quickly if you choreograph your team’s every step. But it won’t. Your team needs to stretch and reach and learn by doing. Your team needs to self-organize. And they will do this organically. But only if you take a step back and allow it to happen.
6. Don’t be a know-it-all
The reality is, your team knows more about their work than you do. Take the time to stop, listen and trust your team’s estimates. They get it more than you. They really do. The more you can lean into this trust, the more productive and fulfilling your PO-ing will be.
7. Never have a meeting to have a meeting
For every meeting you think you need to have, ask first, why am I having this meeting? What needs to get accomplished? And is a meeting the best way to accomplish it? If you determine a meeting is truly necessary, then remember the timebox is your friend. Not only should you always have an agenda, always have a timebox and stick to it. Your team will thank you for it.
8. Respect the sprint timebox
Speaking of time, that sprint timebox is there for a very good reason. It keeps everyone honest and provides critical retrospective and velocity data. Don’t artificially terminate or extend a sprint unless there is a major, compelling reason. What does compelling look like? It looks like the customer deciding they want to change the entire direction of the project. Compelling does not look like someone going on vacation.
9. Use all the Scrum tools in your Scrum toolbox
As PO, you’ve got a lot of tools at your disposal. There’s much more there than just the sprint board. You’ve got burnups, velocity tracking, storyotyping, etc. Each of these tools is designed to make your job easier. Don’t forget these tools make excellent information radiators, helping you to increase communication both within the team as well as to your outside stakeholders and management.
10. Clarify, clarify and clarify. Then, when you’re done, clarify some more
Sometimes taking the time to clarify may feel like an exercise in redundancy. It’s not. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of clarifying. Whether it be Stakeholder requests, ScrumMaster feedback or team expectations, things can get fuzzy pretty quickly. And fuzzy wastes time and productivity. If you can’t answer, “What does (fill in the blank with a fuzzy item) look like?” Then you need to clarify.
These seasoned PO’s had to learn these tips the hard way. But thanks to their struggles and successes, you don’t have to. Keep these tips in your back pocket and become a better PO.
Interested in furthering your PO understanding and implementation?
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As always. Stay Agile.
Notes and Sources
1-6 “ Product Owner,” “Stakeholder,” “Accountability,” “BurnUps,” “Velocity Tracking,” “Storyotyping.” Accessed February 12, 2018. https://scrumdictionary.com.