From Project Managers to Product Owners

24 Jan 2019

From Project Managers to Product Owners

Jan 24, 2019

Just a few years ago, Product Owners were relatively rare creatures. Even if product development organizations adopted agile methods a long time ago, quite a few of them did not have full-time Product Owners. I felt that product ownership was seen as a role that could be taken on by anyone who had the skills, time, and will. This person might have been the project manager or the product manager, sometimes even the line manager or the Scrum Master. This is one way to do Agile, but it is hardly a coincidence that companies are now starting to have more and more full-time Product Owners.


Does Changing the Title Guarantee Success?

The Product Owner has a substantial effect on the team’s results.

I have already discussed this in an earlier blog post. The Product Owner has a substantial effect on the team’s results, and it takes time to do your job well in this role. Sometimes it is a full-time job, but sometimes you can get the work done by putting in 50% of your working time. If you only put a few hours of your time into it, you cannot fulfil your duties very well. Product Owners are needed for more than just the Scrum ceremonies: it is important to discuss with the team, work on the backlog, determine the needs of stakeholders and customers, and cooperate with product management. Perhaps changing the title to Product Owner demonstrates that organizations have realized this. Even though people still have other duties, having the title of a Product Owner gives them the permission to put the necessary effort into the job. This is a great trend!


Understanding the Meaning of This New Role Is Also Important

Merely changing the title will obviously lead nowhere! However, putting more time into it is a good thing. The second advantage is that changing the title might get the Product Owners to learn what product ownership really means. The main objective of this title change could be to actually change the tasks. In addition to understanding the requirements and purpose of the Product Owner, people have been able to find the necessary information and skills to deliver results in this role. That’s when you are on the right track!




Mission of the Product Owner

The Product Owner’s mission is to maximize the value of the results of the product development team. Whether there is one or more product development team, the Product Owner aims to determine, based on the customers and stakeholders’ opinion, what features should be included in the product to ensure maximum value for the organization. This value can be financial value or cultural capital, i.e. more data. This sounds simple, but it is everything but that: there are innumerable possible ideas and issues, and the Product Owner should know how to prioritize the most important ones.


The Biggest Challenges for Product Owners

It is extremely important for the Product Owners to realize that they should spend a great deal of their time to determine, using different methods, the needs of the customers and the market.

The biggest problem for a Product Owner is that, in order to make the best prioritizing decisions, they should be able to communicate in a very large scale. And of course, good communication takes a lot of time. Lack of time is the biggest problem: a constant swarm of product and project-related bugs, issues, problems, questions, and fires takes up a lot of time. If the Product Owner is defeated by this swarm, they might forget to spend enough time on testing, product management cooperation, and on determining the needs of the market and the customers. This could create a bigger risk of making wrong prioritizing decisions, or even worse, result in producing something that is unnecessary or has to be changed or fixed. This results in waste.

It would be even more dangerous to try to develop a product in the dark, without any knowledge of the market reception of the new features. In these cases, people act based on their assumptions.

It is extremely important that the Product Owners, as well as the product managers, spend a great deal of their time to determine, using different methods, the needs of the customers and the market, and also to follow the reception and profitability of the new features. After this, they can make the right results quickly.


Success Factors for Product Owners

How do you find the time for doing all this? It helps to have smart routines to manage the swarm of issues and decisions and to understand the success factors for Product Owners. These matters are discussed in detail in my book and also on our Product Owner course. We can now take a closer look at the success factor model I have introduced in my book.

I have modified the normal PDCA model to suit the needs of Product Owners better. My model also includes four elements, the first of which is called Plan. I have modified the three following factors to suit the needs of Product Owners. The three following success factors are Guide, Release, and Learn.



The idea behind this is that instead of doing, the Product Owner should guide the team’s work. Instead of carrying out the Check and Act phases of the PDCA model, the Product Owner should launch the release to be tested by the users and then learn from the results: what was good, what should be adjusted, what should be done next. I guess this could be called the PGRL model.


The PGRL Model

The PGRL also has three subsections for each factor to provide more details on what should be done at each phase. But we will not get into that territory right now. My book and the courses discuss the subject in more detail. In addition to this model, my book and our courses introduce the eight principles for Product Owners that explain how Product Owners can continuously achieve good results.


Learn More!

The role of a Product Owner is fun and challenging. It provides an excellent insight into product development. When you have established good routines and know how to spend your time on the right tasks, the role of the Product Owner becomes more and more pleasant. I hope that this blog post made you want to hear more!


Arto Kiiskinen

Arto Kiiskinen

Senior Consultant

In his career, Arto has worked in product development as a Product Owner, Scrum Master and Product Development Manager. The operating methods of both large and small companies have become familiar. Arto loves to improve organizational learning and product owner know-how, and write blogs on different topics. Because retrospectives are one of Arto’s favorite topics, some of his customers have given him the nickname “Retroman”. During his free time, Arto tries to live healthy, buy as many cars as possible, rewatch the Star Gate series and study to become a Personal Trainer. Arto has also written the book “OWN IT – 8 Simple Secrets of Product Owner Success”

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