As someone who’s been a Product Owner for over 10 years, I thought I’d share some of the key lessons I wish I’d known at the beginning, but thankfully I picked up on the way. These are my views and may not be shared by everyone out there. Sadly the Agile industry still seems to be arguing with itself over what Agile is. Therefore I’m speaking from my experience, it has served me well leading high performing and happy teams, and that’s all that should matter to you as a Product Owner at the end of the day.
1. Agile is a mindset, not a framework or methodology
If you take just one lesson away from this article make it this one. It’s important to separate frameworks and methodologies from Agile itself.
Some examples of Agile Frameworks and methodologies are as follows:
- Extreme Programming (XP)
You don’t “do” Agile. Agile is a mindset that sits above the frameworks, it is a set of principles that boiled down to their core for me are about focusing on:
- Continual value delivery to the customer
- Getting early feedback on what is working and what isn’t and being able to pivot and adapt to changing needs
- Creating a safe and healthy working environment for the team, treating them like humans not resources and allowing them to be in “flow”.
- Enabling team empowerment, collaboration and transparency
These principles transcend digital development teams where Agile was born and can apply to any team that wants to be effective in an information-heavy and opportunity overloaded world.
This is why I’m a big advocate of Modern Agile which is framework free and has four key principles: “Make Users Awesome”, “Deliver Value Continuously”, “Make Safety a Prerequisite” and “Experiment and Learn Rapidly.
2. You need to obsess about outcomes not outputs
If you measure your team’s work based on outputs such as volume of code, the number of story points delivered, hours worked, you’re setting yourself, your team and your company up to fail.
In my experience, this is all pretty meaningless, and it also drives the wrong behaviour. The team will focus on these measures at all costs and completely lose sight of what successful Agile delivery is all about, value to the customer.
I used to be quite open with my teams, “I don’t care if you spend more time in a sprint discussing the problem than actually coding, all that matters is we deliver the best product we can to the customer”.
If I had measured success based on the volume of code we would have had an unnecessarily complex codebase, a burnt-out team and lots of technical debt.
What matters is measuring the value we are delivering to the customer.
Is the work solving customer problems? Is it increasing profits based on better customer experiences and products? Is it increasing customer satisfaction and retention?
These are good measures, they keep you focused on outcomes for the customer and in turn the company.
3. Stop thinking like a project manager and think like a product owner/manager
By its very definition, a project has a defined start and end. However, digital products are ongoing, they need to be continually evolved, reviewed, and improved as the market and your customer’s needs change.
Traditional project management focuses on hitting the end as quickly and as cheaply as possible, with the end game being deemed a success. This is rarely compatible with the modern digital world we live in.
As a product owner, whilst you do need to be open to a time when your product no longer has a place in the market, you need to focus on continual improvement of your product, not when it will end. If you take the mindset that Digital never ends it will stand you in good stead.
The first version of Microsoft Word was launched in 1981. Microsoft is still working on it 41 years later!