June 18, 2015

The most important tool for a Product Owner.

toolsProduct Ownership is a tough life.

If the development team aren’t moaning about quality, the clients are pushing for more work in less time and trying to fit just that one more extra story in at the last moment.

You have to have two heads on. One head firmly set on the horizon, seemly peering into the future at what might be, weighing up each stakeholder demand with the technical demands of the team, architects and system support. The other head is firmly focused on the backlog and the set of communications it contains for the team. The never ending refining, writing and prioritising of stories and pressure of getting the right ones ready in time for the planning sessions.

No wonder, some teams fall back to the idea that this is a two person role. One person for each head. It is hard to find someone who can play both parts of the role at the same time.

There are lots of tools at your finger tips. There is the backlog of course, which helps you visualise the work, describe it, shape it and track progress. There are the reports, and the plans, such as burn down, burn up, story maps, road maps and the sprint kanban board.

The most important tool of all though is something that can’t be seen. It is the secret defence that makes the whole job work. In fact if you have it, the role works well and becomes easier, if you don’t have it, you are doomed to failure, stress, and low quality code, amongst many other problems.

This tool is one you can’t buy. But something that comes with experience. It is simply the one item that differentiates average or poor product owners from those that are truly great.

As a product owner, if I had one tool only, this would be it.

It is the ability to say ‘No’.

Simon Powers

Simon Powers is an Agile Coach specialising in large scale transformations and agile adoption. He has a background in very large enterprise architecture which has led on to organisational design and agile process refinement. Simon is the founder of Adventures with Agile.