Top 10 Essential Product Owner Characteristics

We’ve written a bit about the product owner before:

  1. Product Owner Top 10 Backlog Tips
  2. 4 Questions a Product Owner Needs to Answer – In order to give good direction about a product
  3. 7 Product Owner Responsibilities and 4 Product Owner Artifacts
  4. Product Owners are VIPs – The PO tells us what to build!

Now we’re going to give you…

Top 10 Product Owner Qualities and Characteristics

  1. Engaged leadership – The best Product Owners are engaged in the entire process. A dis-engaged PO finds himself outside of the process quickly. An engaged product owner is a natural leader. He finds himself leading a team through his decisions and makes it apparent to the team that he is committed to not only the process, but the final product as well.
  2. Available within reason – The best Product Owners are available to the team, but within reason. There is something about co-locating oneself within the team so they have zero walls to climb in order to receive feedback and potentially daily guidance. The availability can come at a cost though, with an immature team who is lacking the accountability and responsibility of building the needed project. Be tactful here and give a healthy balance between availability and baby-sitting a development team. Sometimes helping them help themselves can create a partnership between team and PO that reeks of productivity!
  3. Informed about the product – The best Product Owners know the product inside and out. Noobs need not apply here. Subject matter experts on not only the product but also the market will find themselves the best prepared for giving updated feedback and guidance to a development team. Understanding beyond the product can help here as well, but core to the Product Owner role is their ability to intimately know and understand the product or product set they are helping a development team build.
  4. Empowered through humility – The best Product Owners are the end-all. They have been given the official right to make executive calls on product direction and feature-set. They have been granted this permission and power through their ability to lead with humility. They don’t take their power for granted, because they know that as quickly as it was granted, it can be taken away. They show their humility through history, continually making the right choices, and correcting poor product choices through due diligence and research. They intimately know their power comes at a price, because in the end, their power of decision can make a company grow, or fall into obscurity with poor product development.
  5. Prepared and responsible – The best Product Owners are always prepared. Like a good scout, they come to the ceremonial meetings prepared and ready to make decisions and take action. Preparation is key here because it is easily apparent when one is not prepared. They gain trust from the development team because the team knows that the PO is always prepared and responsible for the outcome of the product specifications and features. Development teams can be fickle, and often they will go to the nearest “prepared” individual for better guidance and direction if the “official” Product Owner isn’t responsible to their role.
  6. Knowledgable about history – The best Product Owners are crafted through time. They have been around, seen the ups and downs of the product life-cycles, and understand how the customer-base values the product. These guys are old-guard, but not old in the sense of not being up-to-date on the market and products. They are old-guard in the sense that they have a firm foundation of knowledge to pull from when decisions need to be made. They know the historical path of poor product development and poor product launches. They’ve been there. And sometimes, they were the reason. But they learned and use that experience to create even better products and services.
  7. Communicative in nature – The best Product Owners are natural communicators. They know how to leverage communication to get their point across so they can give undiluted guidance and direction to a development team. They know how to reach not only the customer-base, but know how to speak the development language. Developers respect, trust, and look forward to working with a communicative Product Owner. They respect the PO because the Product Owner knows how to speak on the level of the developer and may even, know how to code and develop himself!
  8. Collaborative by choice – The best Product Owners are team players. They value the team as not only the gears in which the product is actually built, but collaborate effectively with the team in regards to providing timely and valuable feedback. Collaboration is a choice, and many Product Owners aren’t good collaborators. It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes commitment. Do you have it?
  9. Agile in all things – The best Product Owners are flexible, in all things. They understand that software development is not a hardened process, but fluid, all the time. They work collaboratively with the team when changes must be made. They don’t get angry when previously unknown impediments and constraints come up. They are flexible because they have done the work ahead of time: A prioritized backlog, daily communication with the teams, intense research on the product and market. They are only agile because they are prepared.
  10. Fun and reasonable – The best Product Owners are fun. Period. Serious people need not apply here. There are times when teams are against the wall. We get it! But ultimately, nobody wants to be led by a humorless individual. Be fun. Bring life back into product development. Your team, your boss, and even your company will thank you for it.

26 Responses to “Top 10 Essential Product Owner Characteristics”

  1. Pierre Neis
    March 29, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    It’s the point of view of the team?
    Good starting point. Can you review it with the Product Owner as a part of the team, like a tester? or worse an architect? (kidding)

    • peter
      March 29, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

      Yep, starts with the team… not sure how I would go about doing that… sounds like a LOT of work :)

  2. Steven Vore
    April 29, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    Where can I buy one of these mythical creatures? Are there magical incantations I can use, along with a 20-sided die, to transform our current product manager into one?

    • peter
      April 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

      That’s the thing! It’s a “perfect” list… which you won’t find in this world… but it IS something to aspire to. Interestingly enough, I have met PO’s that are pretty darn close to these!

  3. Christopher
    January 17, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    They sound a little too perfect – a patriarcal ideal: all knowing, not prone to make mistakes and somehow remaining humble. Even making allowances for an ideal to be described to help make the point, if you could get someone even close to this, you would probably wake up after a few minutes.

    • peter
      January 17, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      Fair statement!
      Interestingly enough, this was modeled after several PO’s that have these characteristics… it may seem fairytale, but there are some out there that exist!


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