1. The art of pushing back on senior level stakeholders
Moving into a Product Owner role means taking on more decision making authority. Taking this authority on doesn’t mean you make decisions without input from others. It means you understand your leaders and stakeholders so well that they trust you to make decisions on their behalf and many times this means reminding them of the priorities and strategy you have already discussed. Pushback happens when various stakeholders start giving you the brain dumps of ALL the ideas all the time, and you become a proactive manager of this backlog of ideas, helping them say no to themselves by using techniques to influence the decision making and prioritization process. It is about not letting every whim of an “urgent request” run the show. It’s about expecting all these ideas and treating them all as a potential priority and having a respected process to prioritize and determine the order and importance of each against the everything else. Once you are comfortable with this and it doesn’t stress you out, you are ready to move into Product Ownership.
2. Asking the right questions
This is another influence without authority skill where asking the right questions changes the behavior of others in subtle and powerful ways to help us get the work done successfully. Asking the right questions is about owning the discovery process and facilitating a decision in others rather than clarifying what they are asking for. It is a proactive questioning process rather than a reactive stance. A reactive stance looks to clarify details, check the box, and get it off your plate as quick as possible. A proactive stance asks questions that help the requestor clarify and prioritize what they need, often making the request low priority or integrate into something you are already working on.
When you start to see and act in ways that leverage curious questioning aligned to helping them make decisions vs. taking orders to clarify and just get it done, you have demonstrated you are ready for a more strategic role and product ownership.
3. Facilitating a senior group in decision making
A big part of Product Ownership is decision making and prioritization. And, this rarely happens alone or inside your own bubble of thoughts. It is an intricate balance of buy in, consensus, and thought leadership from you. You will need all three to effectively lead a group of senior stakeholder through a decision making process. Things like prioritization of the product backlog, making trade off decisions on various approaches to discover the user need, and aligning the product features to strategy. As a product owner you are the decision maker to the development team, but the facilitator of these decisions to the wider stakeholder group. You are ready for product ownership when you can effectively facilitate a group in making decisions together when they all have conflicting needs and priorities to start!
4. Setting aside technical knowledge in favor of customer experience
Many Product Owners come from a background of deep technical knowledge about the product they need to “own”. Great product owners know when and how to set aside the technical knowledge and know that products are built for people. Product Ownership is about delivering value to people with a product, so we must lead with the customer experience, not the technical knowledge. The technical knowledge is a book on a shelf to pull out at times to have a deep conversation with the development team, or understand prioritizing technical debt with the team. It is something to pull out to reference, not what guides your day to day work as a Product Owner. The customer experience vision and intimate knowledge of the customer/users needs, emotions and goals is what drives successful product ownership.
Are you ready to set aside your technical expertise and focus on the customer?
5. Leveraging BA skills in the right place at the right time
Moving from BA to PO does not mean leaving our hard earned BA skills in the dust. It is about using them in a more lean manner, at the right place and time to move the development team and business teams forward. You will still need and use your decomposition skills, modeling skills, facilitation and writing skills, but in a leaner way, just in time, lightweight, as the groups need it. Think of these as techines in your toolbox to pull out when the time is right. Think of models as assets to the team that you create and use to drive powerful conversations and decisions. You will need these core analysis skills for sure, and you will need to be good enough at them to know when to pull them out and how to use an whiteboard (virtual or not) to use these models in real time with a group.