My fellow Agile Avenger, Danis, and I were recently asked to step out of our comfort zones and take on roles as interim Product Owners for two very different squads. Mine – a marketing squad responsible for delivering the strategy, comms, and digital journeys for retention. Danis’s – an engineering squad looking after a key area of the digital sales channel.
Despite us already having a strong understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a PO, it’s fair to say the experience was an incredible learning curve. So here are our 5 learnings from being a Product Owner. If you’d like to hear more about how we got on, including our highs and lows check out our vlog here.
Focus on value
There will always be ‘nice to haves’ in the backlog, however, will they actually drive value? Teams get bombarded with work all the time, and as the PO it is your job to protect the productivity of the team, the backlog, and ensure that work being delivered is maximising the value of the product.
It’s OK to say ‘No’
Saying no to external requests and incoming work is OK if you have good reason to, or data/logic to validate why you are saying no. It helps to refine the art of saying no to your different stakeholders as well, just to soften the blow….
Learn to read your teams emotions
This is vital for picking up early signs of burn out, low morale and well being before it severely impacts the team. The more time you spend with the team, the better you will get at reading their emotions. Make the most of stand ups, sprint reviews and retros to gauge how your team are really doing. If you have time to, set up 121s with each member too.
Build and maintain good relationships with other Product Owners/teams
You never know when you are going to need support from another team, and who will decide if they can support and when? Their product owner! Build all these relationships from the start – share learnings, invite them to sprint reviews, offer support where you have capacity, and have those tea breaks together in the kitchen! It’s not always about work, so encourage inter department comradery as well. This will help create a positive working environment for all.
Be kind to yourself
Stepping into the PO role for a new team can be a little daunting, reglardless of your experience level. Make sure you are kind to yourself throughout your journey. Here’s what we recommend:
- As the gatekeeper of the backlog and the servant leader of the team, this means you will be in high demand! Ensure you make time for yourself! Try blocking out time in your calendar, signing off from communication channels, or finding a quiet space in the office to focus. This is especially the case when you are preparing for sprint ceremonies, backlog refinement or planning.
- As a PO you take on several roles, including business strategist, product designer, marketer and customer! You will be required to take the lead and make multiple decisions. Trust yourself and your judgement. Be guided by the data and remember to focus on the value. There will be times where you may make a mistake, and this is OK. Fail fast but learn fast. You got this, Agile Avenger 😉
Danis and I were thrown into the world of being Product Owners, and we both managed to learn so much in a short period. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, and we would both love to do it again on a more permanent basis. We realise every Product Owner will have their own stories and learnings to share, so we would love to hear from you! Let us know if you can relate to what we have discussed, and if you have any other advice to offer the Agile Avengers community.