Business as Usual Product Ownership (and why it doesn’t work any more)

Finish bannerWhen times are good, you can go through the motions with Product Ownership and be reasonably successful. If your team is working on something at least vaguely valuable and if you’re getting things done every sprint or two, you’re probably going to benefit from the economic rising tide lifting all boats. It’s like seeing your home value go up when all home values are going up. You didn’t really do anything to create that value. You just had to avoid doing something stupid to undermine it.

But when times get tough, the game changes. Business-as-usual product ownership means your results decline with the rest of the market (which, of course, you don’t want).

So, what do product owners do instead if they want to win in tough times?

  1. Identify customer pains that are still painful enough to spend money to solve, even when money is tight. Or find ways to make spending on your product correlate in clear, obvious ways to profit for your customer. When your target customers are cutting costs, you want to be the last thing that gets cut. This means getting good at customer research. Understanding your customer’s needs, maybe even better than they can articulate them.
  2. Relentlessly slice every large item to focus on the core value. Every initiative, feature, or user story has its high-value parts and its low-value parts. There’s often an 80-20 or Pareto pattern; 20% of the work accounts for 80% of the value. When resources are scarce, you can’t afford to build the low-value parts. The opportunity cost is simply too high. Save that time for building the high-value part of something else.
  3. Collaborate closely with your team so they actually build the thing you need and do it well and quickly. Communicating with your team doesn’t mean writing it all down in a tool somewhere. When times are tough, you can’t afford to waste time throwing documents over the wall (even if those documents are labeled as “stories” in your backlog tool). Your time is better spent working directly with your team as a collaborator, building alignment around shared goals at every level of detail.

Does this sound like the kind of product ownership you’re used to? Do you feel equipped to bring these skills to the table every day?

If not, our Certified Scrum Product Owner workshop is a way to shift from business-as-usual product ownership to the kind of product ownership that can create big wins in tough economic conditions. We don’t talk much about Scrum. Instead, we focus on practical skills like the ones described above, so you can create better outcomes for your team, stakeholders, and customers as soon as you get back to work the next week. There’s still room in our upcoming workshop—join us and get those wins as soon as possible!

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