Friday 17 September 2010

Involved Product Owner

Dear Junior

Let us continue the discussion about four characteristics of a good product ownerHaving an engaged product owner is very well, but it does not really help much if she is not involved.
Engaged   Involved
Decisive   Empowered
Being involved is basically spending time with the team. I want the product owner to show up at daily stand-ups, and to be available for questions and discussions. Without being involved, the engagement does not lead anywhere - like "that is a really interesting and important point; we really need to discuss this, but unfortunately I am extremely short of time  - can we set up a meeting next week?". Few things stops up development more that not being able to put forward those important questions and have those discussions.

Being an involved product owner is much about discussions and other informal situations - much like being engaged also is. However, where "engaged" is an attribute of the person, I would say that "involved" is an attribute of the organisation: does the (rest of the) organisation let the product owner to be involved or does it expect her to be elsewhere?

Having the product owner being involved rules out product owners that have lots of other important stuff to do, and being product owner will have to take whatever time that "is left" (obviously seldom more that extremely little). Product ownership is nothing that can be handled "on the side, with left hand".

One striking example is the Head of Marketing, who was the product owner of a web sales system. However, that person had so much to do with campaigns and strategy planning he did not even have time to come to the bi-weekly demos. 

It is not uncommon to hear this kind of situation "solved" by a Proxy Product Owner.  The proxy will fulfill the "involved" part while the Real Product Owner is elsewhere doing more important stuff. I do not think this is a good solution.

The Proxy Product Owner does give the team someone to talk to and discuss with on a daily basis, the problem is that that person seldom hold authority to take decisions - and if they do those decisions often need to be ratified by the Real Product Owner. In the two-times-two-matrix, it is rather a problem about being empowered - so let me return to the Proxy Product Owner in a later letter.
Engaged   Involved
Decisive   Empowered
Being involved is an attribute that applies to informal situations, like being engaged. In contrast to "engaged" it is however not so much about the person per se, but rather about the surrounding organisation. In that respect "invloved" is more akin to "empowered", with the distinction that the latter is more about formal decisions.

Still, having the product owner involved in the daily work is crucial for success.