My journey in the digital world started when I was only 14 years old. I’ll never forget writing my first HTML code and seeing the text “Hello world” in my browser.
I was amazed by the magic of it. I knew, right then, this was the field I would like to work in.
Years and dozens of projects later, what have I actually been doing? I’m not a UX designer, but I understand UX. I also understand digital marketing, branding, SEO, SEA, CRO, digital business, concept development, but I’m not a specialist.
What am I then?
It all fell into place when I started working as a Product Owner on my first project. That’s when I realized what I’m good at.
I’m not the one building the product. I’m the person who makes things possible. I maximize value by enabling others to build the right product or service.
Having worked as a Product Owner for a while, I’ve put together the following tips to help new Product Owners:
1. It’s OK if you can’t build anything
You don’t need to be able to design, write code, set up integrations or run marketing campaigns.
Of course, it’s helpful if you do have a background in any of these because you’ll understand the team much better. You’ll be able to have deeper conversations.
However, you don’t need to be able to do any of these to be a great Product Owner. What you need is a combination of soft and hard skills, and a lot of energy to guide and lead others when needed.
2. You might already be a Product Owner
It took me a while to figure it out. For years, I was delivering products for my clients, but I was never satisfied with my titles.
At the end of the day, titles don’t really matter, but it is great to be able to explain what I do when somebody asks me.
If you’re a generalist in the digital world and would love to enable teams to build products, then you could become a Product Owner.
Looking at your current job or previous experience, do you feel the need to deliver and make things happen even if you’re not officially responsible? If all that sounds like
3. Don’t worry if you are not following Scrum 100% of the time
Having done most of my projects according to the Waterfall and Agile methodologies, I was a bit nervous when I started working with Scrum.
After getting my Professional Scrum Product Owner™ I (PSPO I) certificate, I realized we weren’t following the Scrum framework 100% by the book.
There’s no need to be anxious if you haven’t worked with Scrum before, just be open and read more about it to get familiar.
What I learned is that Scrum should be seen as a tool to get you closer to reaching your goals. So don’t aim for perfection or overcomplicate meetings and concepts just because you want to do Scrum the right way.
4. Level up with stakeholders
Stakeholders are just like you. Everyone wants to achieve what they think is right.
Being open to stakeholders is the key to your success. It’s not about who is right or wrong. It’s about understanding each other and creating a vision together.
There’s no need to see them as your seniors or as your enemy. It’s best to involve them early and understand what they want to achieve.
They might approach you and ask you to deliver a solution. It’s your job to dig deeper to understand why they want this solution and what is behind it.
Defining the goal, rather than implementing their solution, will allow you and the team to come up with the best solution.
If you don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve, you can’t validate it, even if you have a good solution.
The solution itself is not the goal, solving the problem is. Read my 7 tips for better stakeholder management for more insights.
5. Scrum might not transform your company
Some companies might think Scrum will transform them and allow them to maximize value. It can only do that if people truly change their mindset and see challenges and solutions differently.
If the company culture was built on Waterfall methodology, switching to Scrum may or may not change the mindset and the way people work.
Depending on the complexity of the project, you might have different teams and stakeholders working with you to achieve your mutual goal. This setup can complicate your product. However, you should see this as a challenge.
Educating the team about Scrum is vital to transforming the mindset. You are not officially responsible for doing so, but as the Product Owner you need to own the product and enable others to get things done.
You have to lead, coach, mentor, and help the team and stakeholders to make new discoveries. It’s in your interest to take the time to do so. Use any opportunity you get to transform mindsets by coaching or asking the right questions.
I used to think I should come in and tell everyone how things should be done, but people generally dislike being told what to do.
Whenever you are facing a difficult situation, ask questions and try to understand the team members. Look for any chances to create new possibilities.
Be the change that you wish to see. Show the team how to be rather than telling them how to be.
6. Be Courageous
As a Product Owner, you are the one who has to connect all the puzzle pieces together. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Stakeholders or team members could be specialized in one area of the puzzle, but the Product Owner has to understand how all the pieces fit together.
Be courageous and step up when needed. Your job is to bring everything together to optimize the delivery of value.
If any stakeholders and team members are not adding to that value, handle it, and fix it. You might need to coach someone, have an open conversation, take responsibility, or apologize. Do what it takes to get back on track. It’s your responsibility, so own it.
7. See the advantages in your background
Focus on your strengths if you’re someone who is new to product management.
Not knowing everything about product management allows you to be creative and deliver outstanding results. Embrace your differences.
Sometimes you might think you need a piece of paper to tell the world that you’re great at what you’re doing.
In reality, what matters is who you are as a person. Do you show up, persevere when things get hard, guide others and try different options to get things done? Do you do the right things and maximize value?
If yes, then you don’t need a piece of paper telling you what you can or can’t do. It’s of course critical to keep yourself up to date, read, follow industry experts and be coachable.
8. Don’t get blinded by the concept of being data-driven
Data is key to making the right decisions, but sometimes you might end up down a rabbit hole if you don’t watch out.
You might already know some concepts and design patterns that work based on your experiences. This, of course, does not mean that they will work again next time. Find a good balance between using your skills, gut feelings, and the data.
Don’t overcomplicate it. I know that my UX designer friends won’t like it, but what I say is: let’s ship the first acceptable version and improve as we go. Acceptable means it solves the user’s problem and is attractive. Done is better than perfect.
9. Don’t lose your vision for harmony and balance
You might think that you need to settle for something less than you envisioned to retain harmony in your project team.
Well, this harmony will always have a price. Your goal isn’t making sure everyone can put some of their vision into the product.
Your goal is to maximize value and deliver something that works. Make the hard decisions and say no if you believe someone isn’t adding value to the product.
10 You might feel like you have superpowers, but without the right team, you won’t make it
As a leader, you have energy, and vision. Some people might even admire your attitude, but this alone won’t get you what you want.
I don’t say “your team” because you are just a part of the team. The team is your most valuable asset. Taking care of them is key to producing what you desire.
Maximizing value means delivering solutions or products that amaze your customers, in turn accomplishing company goals. For that, you need different expertise and skills. The team has that.
Gather only “A players” and trust them, allow them to generate and test ideas. You’ll be amazed by their knowledge and creativity.
Respect the areas of expertise of each member. If you don’t agree, ask questions, and come up with an alternative, but in the end, let them take responsibility for their choices.
Each team member has a talent. Listen carefully to find out what that is, allow that talent to grow and nurture it. Let everyone embrace their powers and reach their potential. The greater everyone is, the better we work together.
We work together as a team, but you as the Product Owner should be the one to bring everything together. You create deep relationships so the team can grow and achieve their desired goals.
11. You have multiple roles as a Product Owner
You are more than a Product Owner. You are:
- A leader
- A business owner
- A coach
- A mentor
- A guide
- A facilitator
- An industry expert
- A great listener
Allow yourself to be in the above roles. Try to find out in which areas you need improvement. You also need to be situationally aware and adapt based on what the circumstances require.
Remember, you play a critical role within the team. Others look to you for vision. They come to you with their questions. They see you as their guide to build the right things. Take on that responsibility and be open.