10 Practices of Strong Agile Product Owners

I've worked with some excellent agile product owners that have developed new products, delighted customers, grown revenue, and collaborated well with their agile teams. I've also worked with other product owners that have some very bad behaviors reflecting in poor under performing products and angry team members.

So I thought to share some of the behaviors and practices that make product owners successful. They fall in three categories; understanding customer value, practicing agile, and leading data driven practices.

Customer Value + Agile + Data Driven

  1. They develop a holistic view of market segments, customer needs, and value proposition - Sounds like a 101, but many product owners dive right into developing solutions without developing segments, personas, and values as a guide.

  2. They are great listeners and collaborators - The best product owners know they are sitting in the center of a virtual circle between sales, marketing, technology and other stakeholders that have different opinions and skills. The best product owners listen first and collaborate with the team on priorities and solutions.

  3. Leverage agile strategically to shape their product to market need -  They capture customer feedback and use it to reshape their vision, requirements and priorities. They pivot when required and experiment to see what's working. 

  4. Sell their vision, detail their stories - Great product owners have to be excellent communicators to get larger teams to understand and follow their vision. They also have to be strong practitioners, best demonstrated by making sure the active agile stories are precise on what is required.

  5. Leverage a network of key customers and prospects - Great product owners develop these networks to get insight into the industry, test ideas, pilot new capabilities, or capture critical performance feedback.

  6. Partner with technologists on platforms, standards, and prototypes - Every organization develops standards to be efficient and leverage skills and investments. The best product owners learn to leverage these to their advantage by reapplying existing capabilities to accelerate speed to market rather than developing new solutions from the ground up. And when new capabilities are needed, they partner with technologists to develop prototypes to validate and gain consensus on approach.

  7. Review financial performance and contracts - Great product owners understand the fundamental financial performance of their products, profitability of key customers, health of the sales pipeline and other performance metrics. They also review customer contracts in order to make sure their requirements can be met. 

  8. Develop KPIs and use them to drive priorities - Product Owners need to insure their teams are data driven in their decision making. Their role is to define key KPIs on the products performance in areas such as financial, customer satisfaction, risk and other criteria to help drive priorities.

  9. Develop brands, platforms, and ecosystems - Winning at digital business requires product owners to recognize that products do not survive in silos. They need to consider how their offering might evolve to become a platform or interface into appropriate ecosystems. They must also partner with marketing to build brand, attract prospects, and develop relationships. 

  10. They balance priorities to short and long term needs - Product owners have the tough job of digesting all the issues, wants, and needs demanded by top customers and sales people, the technical debt and other system priorities escalated by their technologists, branding and messaging ideas escalated by their marketing professionals into a manageable prioritized list. Then comes the harder part of determining how to best balance these needs against the strategic vision and long term success drivers. 

And here's an extra one - one that many product owners under the stress of market conditions, difficult customers, challenging stakeholders, engineering realities often forget -

  1. They celebrate small wins and thank the team - Things go wrong all the time and the team is never truly 'done' with everything that customers need and product owners want to deliver. Great product owners know how and when to thank the team and individuals on accomplishments both big and small.

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.