Anna Divers
Nov 4, 2015
4 mins reading time

Wanted Lonely shock absorbers. Apply within.

Not an appealing role is it? Don’t all jump at once!

So what am I talking about? I am talking about the role of a Product Owner, and having spoken to some of my fellow colleagues, this term seemed to resonate with them.

Why a lonely shock absorber? Let’s dissect that a little.

‘Shock absorber’ - The Product Owner is the buffer between stake-holders and their own product team. On the stake-holder front, there are often multiple stake-holders to satisfy, update and manage expectations - all of whom are understandably eager for delivery and results. On the product team front you are keen to keep your pod motivated, energised and high performing and are mindful of the impact pressurised sprint deliverables can have on them as a team, and as individuals.

‘Lonely’- At times the Product Owner role can be a lonely existence - caught between these two forces. The stake-holders are not always cognisant of the stress on the Product Owner and their team, and the team themselves can be protected by a strong and effective scrum-master. I think most Product Owners in a sprint planning session at some point in their careers might have left it feeling like they were stuck between a rock and a hard place.

So how do you combat this?

- Be one team - don’t alienate yourself from your product team. I always try to aim for being just another person in the team, but providing leadership from a product vision perspective and the one to make the call if we can’t agree or there’s doubt and the person to give a steer if the team have a product question on what we’re building. I think there are two simple visuals which sum up when it can go wrong and when I have found it works well. Being available to your team is important (so long as you still give them the space they need) and in turn it helps you feel very much part of it.

Throw in a trip to the pub and you’re on the right track :)

Lonely shock absorber

- Be transparent - something that elicits positive feedback from product teams I have worked with is being open and transparent with them I make a point of sharing what I am doing and my own daily goals, even if it isn’t directly connected to the work the team are doing. And I like to give the team line of sight as to where we’re headed and why, and the sharing of data is always well received. Being open and transparent is one thing, but care is needed around over-sharing - especially with your own emotions. The team can become unsettled if their Product Owner is outwardly over-worried (there you go, that need to be a shock absorber kicking in again).

- Be an educator - managing stakeholders can be a tricky business, but you can use your role as a Product Owner to educate not just update on time-scales and deliverables (remember a Product Owner is not a Project Manager). The same rules apply here as with the product team - be open and share. Be on it with your updates, make them regular and walk them through how you got there, what you’ve done, the challenges you’ve faced along the way and how you’ve overcome them or going to overcome them, what you’ve learned and what’s up next. Making them visual, a screencast is ideal, helps make this a more engaging process.

- Build your support network - the developer community is well established, more so than perhaps the product owner discipline but we can learn from them. Seek out support from others in the same role both internally and externally, to share ideas and solutions to common issues.

- Build ambassadors - there are always keen people in your business who take an interest in new things and want to get involved. Keep your eyes peeled for this and feed their hunger for information about what you’re building. They could well be key into spreading the word about your product mission and be up for a spot of user testing when you need it! In turn it will again help you connect to a wider cross-section of the business.

Not so lonely?

And indeed, it doesn’t need to be. A healthy approach is a collaborative and open one, widen your network and remember to lift your head up from out of your product roadmapping and Backlog management:)

I’m interested in hearing others take on this.

Tags Product-Owner, Product-Management