Blog / 10 Attributes that make a great product owner

Alan Thomas
May 29, 2015

I’ve been working for Unboxed Consulting since 2008 on a large number of projects and over the years I have worked with quite a few different Product Owners. Some have been great, others not so good.

On a recent project I worked on, I was lucky enough to work with a Product Owner that fell in to the great category, it made a huge difference to me individually, in terms of enthusiasm for the product we’d been asked to deliver.

Here (in no particular order) are a few of my thoughts about what makes a great Product Owner:

1. Technical

Being technical doesn’t mean being a developer, it’s being able to grasp the context of a technical discussion. During a planning session, at some point, things will get technical, you are building a technical product aren’t you?

2. Willing to change

You may have spent hours figuring out a solution and think you’ve perfected it, but when it gets to the people that are going to build it, they may have a different point of view, that you hadn’t considered. Try and be pragmatic about your ideas in order to find an efficient solution.

3. Prepared

You don’t need to know all the answers - who does? Planning sessions will run so much better when you’ve done good preparation. Good preparation will also give the team confidence that they are doing the right thing. Have a vision of what you want to achieve and share that with the team. If you can, research your potential users - you don’t want to create something that nobody wants do you?

4. Passionate

If you are passionate about your product and not just “getting the job done”, the difference is immense. You can’t expect your team to be passionate if you aren’t.

5. Can prioritise

Budgets are limited. Time is limited. These are cold hard facts. Make sure that the most important things happen first, this can only improve your chances of getting more time and more budget. Don’t priorities stories that are easy to do and not do the tricky ones, if it’s the most important thing, it still is, regardless of it’s complexity.

6. Empowered

Red-tape equals slow progress. If you can’t make decisions immediately and have to consult the board/stakeholders, things will be inevitably slower and more costly.

7. Think simple first

Make something that works first. It may not be your ultimate goal, but you have something that works and it will give you a clearer picture of what your ultimate goal will take and if it’s even necessary. Think about what your product really needs rather than what you want.

8. Availability/Engagement

It would be great if all the teams queries were solved during a planning session. That never happens. Queries will come up during the build, make sure you’re around so that progress isn’t hindered. Engaging with your team and knowing what’s going on can only help.

9. Communication

Make sure your team has all the information they need. What? Why? When? Where? Who? Try and talk with your team and not to them, people work better when they can contribute to the product, rather than feeling like a “cog in a machine”

10. Celebrate success

A team that feels valued is a team that will work harder. Make sure you celebrate success. Buy your team a few drinks! (as appropriate!)

Steve Lennon