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Hiring a Professional Product Owner

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One of my customers is asking me about the accountabilities of a Product Owner and how they break down. While I had seen many things around the Scrum Master for my post on Hiring a Professional Scrum Master, this was a little bit more of a discovery session, which is why I asked some of my trusted colleagues at Scrum.org to help out.

Key Influencers: Fredrik Wendt | Scrum.org, Ralph Jocham | Scrum.org, Andy Hiles | Scrum.org. Maarten Dalmijn | LinkedIn, Jim Sammons | Scrum.org, Victoria Pent | LinkedIn, James Powis | LinkedIn

This represents my best efforts to pull together a specification of the Product Owner accountability from the Scrum Guide, agile practitioners, and a little bit of experience.

Professional Scrum Product Owner Stances

Hiring a Professional Product Owner

In general, I do not see companies hiring for a Product Owner but instead promoting from within. Maximizing the value in the product requires intimate knowledge of the business context, the existing state of the market, and the things that make your business distinctive. They need not only these understandings but also the ability to communicate effectively with Developers and Stakeholders.

My take on the above…I am seeing the opposite.  I’m seeing more companies valuing Product Ownership as a skill and going outside for it.  I think this is a positive trend and will probably have the benefit of bringing an outside perspective to a company which may be exactly what a product needs.

Data: LinkedIn has 12,894 jobs for “Product Owner just in the US right now and 25,520 for “Product Manager”.  Didn’t look at global numbers.

Jim Sammons | Scrum.org

Adding to Jim’s data:

Country / Job TitleProduct OwnerProduct Manager
USA12,89425,520
UK9,25623,241
EU25,25435,626
Worldwide119,808300,060
Data of Jobs posted on LinkedIn!

If you just need short litmus tests for product ownership then Jim Sammons sent me this “Five A’s of Product Ownership” graphic.

Five A’s of Product Ownership

I do mention certifications, both from Scrum.org and Scrum Alliance, and please be aware that certification is not an indication of competence but may be used as a simple bar to reduce the load on interviews and assert a minimum level of knowledge, at $200 for a PSPO I assessment and $250 PSPO II assessment. With a reputation in the industry of not being totally easy, these are a no brainer for any aspiring or experienced Product Owner. There are more than 100k people with PSPO I and 2k people with PSPO II at the time of writing.

The assessments can be used to inspect and adapt your own knowledge and there is even a free Product Owner Open assessment.

A Scrum Product Owner Job Spec

The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.

Role Summary (Accountabilities)

This Product Owner is a key position that sets the tone for product leadership and the definition of success in the organization. As such, modern product management practices and mindset are expected to be put into practice daily. This Product Owner is accountable for and has the authority to maximize the value of the product and the effectiveness of the Product Backlog by using, but not limited to, these 6 key stances:

  • The Visionary
    • Articulating the strategic vision of the product;
    • Developing and explicitly communicating intermediate strategic goals;
    • Propose how the product can tactically increase its value each Sprint;
    • Understand and shape the impact of the product on our company;
    • Each Sprint ensuring that the Scrum Team is prepared to discuss the most important Product Backlog items;
  • The Influencer
    • Actively manage stakeholders, their desires, expectations, and outcomes;
    • Create an effective communication strategy;
    • Influence the Developers during Backlog Items Sizing by helping them select and understand trade-offs;
    • Work with Developers daily to clarify and renegotiate the Scope of the Sprint;
  • The Collaborator
    • Collaborating closely with the Developers & Stakeholders daily;
    • Developing and communicating budget, investments, roadmaps, vision, & strategy;
    • Developing controls for a change, risk, quality, & incident management to enable professional Scrum;
    • Developing and influencing commercial contracts that align with the agile values and principles;
  • The Customer Representative
    • Understand the desired outcomes of customers within the bounds of the business constraints
    • Defining our product(s) and services and how customers will interact with them
  • The Decision Maker
    • Ensuring that the Product Backlog is transparent, visible and understood;
    • Ordering Product Backlog items;
    • Choosing what and when to release;
  • The Experimenter
    • Using evidence-based management techniques to optimise outcomes and value delivered;
    • Create hypothesis and craft experiments to test that hypothesis quickly;
    • Tracking product use and impact on end-users and drive consistent approaches across all Product Verticals;

The Product Owner may do the above work or may delegate the responsibility to others. Regardless, the Product Owner remains accountable.

Role Requirements

The successful candidate must have the following attributes:

  • First level Scrum Product Owner certification (CSPO, PSPO I);
  • Product Owner Experience; Demonstrable experience of product ownership;
  • Business domain knowledge; a keen understanding of the [business domain], market, and other influencers;
  • Entrepreneurial focus; A keen understanding of evidence-based techniques to inform strategic and tactical milestones;
  • Excellent ideation skills; with a proven track record of successful hypothesis-driven ideation and sustainable feedback loops;
  • Excellent communication skills; Communicating Vision, Goals, and Backlog Items with both the Developers and other Stakeholders;

In addition, the successful candidate will have some or all of the following attributes:

  • Second level Scrum Product Owner certification (A-CSPO, PSPO II);
  • Experience fulfilling the Product Owner role for at least two years;
  • Knowledge and/or experience with complimentary Agile product management techniques: Evidence-based Management, Goal-orientated Product Roadmap, Business Model Canvas, Growth Experiment Canvas, Delegation Poker, Liberating Structures, Three Horizons Innovation, Stakeholder Mapping, Impact Mapping, Value Pyramids;

I would love to get your feedback and discussion on this job specification so that we can make it better!

What does this mean?

When I sent the above to my customer they condensed it into this easy to digest “What does this mean?” section for communication.

As you read through this its important to note that it is as much about behaviours as it is about accountabilities.

  • Articulating the strategic vision of the product
  • Developing and explicitly communicating intermediate strategic goals
  • Propose how the product can tactically increase its value each Sprint
  • Understand and shape the impact of the product on our company
  • Collaborating closely with the Scrum Teams & Stakeholders on a daily basis
  • Developing and communicating budget, investments, and road-maps
  • Developing and influencing product governance and controls to enable professional Scrum
  • Understand the desired outcomes of stakeholders within the bounds of the business constraints
  • Defining our product(s) and services and how stakeholders will interact with them
  • Ensuring that the Product Backlog is transparent, visible and understood
  • Ordering Product Backlog items
  • Choosing what and when to release
  • Using evidence-based management techniques to optimise outcomes and value delivered
  • Create hypothesis and craft experiments to test that hypothesis quickly
  • Tracking product use and impact on end-users and drive consistent approaches across all Product Verticals
  • Actively manage stakeholders, their desires, expectations, and outcomes
  • Create an effective communication strategy
  • Influence the Developers during Planning and Refinement by helping them select and understand trade-offs
  • Work with Developers daily to clarify and renegotiate the Scope of the Sprint.
  • Each Sprint ensuring that the Scrum Team is prepared to discuss the most important Product Backlog items

The key point in the above is the delegation point; we are not thinking that a single Product Owner is able to conduct all of the above on a Programme of this size – and we obviously have other members of the Hiscox team, and Cognizant Business Analysts to share the load… but accountability remains with the Product Owner.

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