Working as a product owner is fun and challenging at times. One challenge is to balance two separate concerns: the market with the users and their needs, and the company – the team developing the product as well as the internal stakeholders. If one aspect is neglected, the product success is in danger.
As the product owner you should look outward to the market, and inward to the team and the stakeholders – similar to a cubistic Picasso portrait where the person’s eyes look in two different directions, as the following picture shows:
The picture above is based on Pablo Picasso’s portrait of Nusch Éluard. Picasso created the painting in 1938 using charcoal and pencil on canvas.
The Outward View: Users, Customers, and Competitors
As the product owner, you should be first and foremost concerned with understanding the needs of the users and customers, and figuring out how well your product is meeting them. Helpful techniques to test your ideas and acquire the necessary knowledge include observing users, conducting user interviews, carrying out product demos and users tests, and employing MVPs. You should hence “get out of the building,” as Steve Blanks puts it, and engage with users and customers. Don’t blindly trust the opinions of senior management or the sales group. Use data to validate your assumptions.
Don’t forget to pay some attention to the competition, and the overall market developments. Even a company like Apple cannot afford to ignore their competitors, as the latest iOS release shows: Some of its new features, such as killing an app by swiping upwards, had been available on other devices.
The Inward View: Team and Stakeholders
While the users and customers should be your number one priority, creating a great product requires the product owner to closely collaborate with the development team. This collaboration is essential: It provides direction to team, and it leverages the team’s creativity and knowledge. Helpful techniques include jointly carrying out the research/validation work such as product demos and users tests, and updating the Product Canvas or backlog together.
As important as it is, collaborating with the team is not enough – particularly in larger organisations. Take into account the interests and needs of the internal stakeholders including senior management, marketing, sales, service, operations, and other business groups. Involve their representatives early and regularly, for instance, by inviting them to review meetings. This allows you to align the stakeholders, and to benefit from their ideas and knowledge. (I explain how to identify and involve the stakeholders in my post Getting Stakeholder Engagement Right.)
Make sure, though, that you own the product and have the final say about what gets done. Avoid the trap of becoming a feature broker – someone who negotiates compromises between the stakeholders. Great products are not created by determining the smallest common denominator, and a product that tries to please everyone is likely to please no one. Follow your vision instead, and test your ideas with actual users.
You certainly don’t have to become a world-renown painter to be a good product owner. But to create a successful product, you should keep a firm eye on the market while collaborating with the development team and the internal stakeholders. Balance the two aspects, and avoid neglecting any for a longer period of time. In doubt, focus on understanding the user and customer needs and how to best address them. Leverage the ideas of the team and the stakeholders. But follow your vision, and validate your ideas early and frequently.