Skip to main content

Who is the agile Product Owner?

In 2011, while agile methodologies are more than mainstream, the Product Owner position is still not well understood or defined. While I’m convinced the “Team engagement in a stream of value creation” is one key factor of agile principles, I can’t find a slogan for the Product Owner.

When you want to learn about agile, you browse the Internet, find the best books to read, find a local community or an active mailing list. If you want to understand the agile Product Owner thing, you have a few ways to learn about this position. To be efficient, the first step is to understand your current context:

Do you work in a project world with:
  • A unique customer who knows his end users and pays for what he specified years ago? Your customer is inside or outside of your company, but the project’s health is yours and your customer’s problem.
  • A customer who defined several bunches of requirements and wants to implement them step by step? Your customer is inside or outside your company and he can decide to change sub contractor at each step.
  • A stream process where your unique customer has a short regular deployment schedule and where all content is evaluated by the end user and the contract can be continuously renegotiated.
A contract definition and a delivery process were deliberately linked in the previous description. But obviously you can also multiply the context possibilities by splitting them.

Do you work in a product/service world where:
  • Your several customers are identified, meet in customers’ conversations, and understand either a stream or an iterative process.
  • You have identified a few customers but do not really know where your market is.
  • You have an idea, but like as a start-up, you do not know yet if the people that you consider as customers will buy your product.
So regarding each situation, the Product Owner skills are different, but there is clearly a difference between a product context and a project context.

There are a few interesting ressources about the Product Owner in a Product Management world.

For example, in his 2008 talk “Product Companies Need Product Managers, Not Product Owners”, Rich Mironov clearly explains that the agile alliance view of the Product Owner is a developer’s inside-out view.

Still in the product management world, an interesting stream of posts have been published following Saeed Khan.‘s bomb: The Scrum Title “Product Owner” must die!"

Backlog manager, Technical product manager, I do not know the perfect term, but these discussions really emphasise the need for clarification.

Custom software supplier
To start from the beginning, a post from the brilliant svproduct blog explains that the origin of agile comes from the custom software world.

“The custom software world – building special purpose software for specific customers - has long been a brutally difficult type of software. This is partly because customers notoriously don’t know what they want, but they have a need so they write a contract with a custom software supplier …”

This notion is really important because making a project for a specific customer who has order something that is different in his mind every day, needs pragmatic processes and people. The agile methods with a pragmatic PO who understands the technical principles and has the ability to interview, exchange, influence the customer, really fits the situation.

In the IT world, customisation for a specific purpose is common. The Business Analyst (BA) is well-known as the person who identifies business needs and determines solutions to business problems” (see BABOK).
So as per this description, this person must be the Product Owner at least in the IT custom software world. But sometimes for a BA, the transition from Traditional Requirements Definition to Collaborative Requirements is a difficult cultural change.

In the software world, a technical person with a great openness or a marketing/sales person who enjoys complexity, are both good candidates.

Independent Software Vendor
Now, if you are an Independent Software Vendor (ISV), with a working software product, you either need to add new features, lean your product or kill it.
When you build a new one, you may follow the traditional product management principles or use the “Lean Startup” ones. But in each case you need to understand the difference between your customers’ needs and those from the market (VOC versus VOM). So not considering product management principles for a PO in an ISV context will drive your company to death. So you need someone with market analysis skills and regarding the size of your company, it could be either the PO, a consulting product manager, a combination of PO and PM, or the CEO.

Jurgen Appelo : Top books list
Pragmatic Marketing : Product Companies Need Product Managers, Not Product Owners
On Product Management : Why the “Backlog Manager” fits best for Scrum focused ISVs
Wikipedia : Business analysis
Wikipedia : A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge
Agiledad : Agile BA
svproduct : The Origins of Agile
Wikipedia : Independent software vendor
On Product Management : Guest Post: Voice of the Market vs. Voice of the Customer


Popular posts from this blog

Learning about Data Science?

This is the end of a beautiful summer, and also one of the warmer recorded in France. I’m continuing my journey in the product management world and today I’m living in the product marketing one too. I will blog about this later. During this first half of this year, I read several articles on big data and started to understand how important the data science discipline is. Being able to define a direction/goal to search, collecting the proper data, then using a collection of techniques to extract something others can’t see - it sounds like magic. Also, when I listened to the Udacity Linear Disgression podcast episode “Hunting the Higgs”, I understood people with these skills can be better at solving a problem than the domain experts themselves. Katie Malone explained that in a competition to solve a particle physics problem, the best results came from machine learning people. Then I read the article about Zenefit on the vision mobile website : “Zenefits is an insurance compan

Didn't register yet to the European Agile event 29-31 August in Paris?

I tell you, I’m not an expert in agile, just someone who found solution to my professional problems using agile methodologies. If you are convinced too and want to move further, please join us at the end of august, for a lot of open discussions and fun. Things are moving forward in the ALE 2016 organisation. Already, a great diversity of people answer to our call as shown below, but we need more. Yes the ALE 2016 will be great as it has always been since 2011 in Berlin. For those who do not know about the yearly ALE event, please find below a few tips. What is it?  If you do not know yet about the Agile Lean Europe event, here a few tips. ALE is a event for practitioners, meaning people who already practice agile methodologies like developers, modern CEO, teachers, leaders, etc.  Sharing ideas and solving problems are the ALE mains goals: people can propose topics where they share their experience, other can ask to solve a problem the can’t alone  The event formats helps

Unconference Agile Lean Europe 2016 (Paris) - Laissez vous porter.

No EN version yet here, sorry.  Second version. Précision du principe de communauté pour résoudre des problèmes. Ceci est un message personnel à toi qui serais dans le doute par rapport à ALE2016 . Il y a quelques semaines, j’étais à Mix-IT , une conférence de développement informatique / organisation, pour assister Yves Hanoulle dans l’animation du jeu The Scaling Ball Game . Durant les conversations hors des sessions, j’ai échangé avec différentes personnes sur le prochain événement auquel je vais participer : ALE2016 , A ma plus grande surprise, j’ai découvert qu'ALE impressionnait, faisait peur ou était incompréhensible pour ceux qui n’avaient pas encore jamais participé à cet événement. Mon message est simple : Laisse toi aller, viens à ALE2016. Durant les 5 premières premières sessions dans chaque coin de l’Europe, les remarques ont toujours été les mêmes. En repartant, tu auras : Découvert des participants qui sont tous très abordables. Tous viennent à cet évé