Why hire a product owner?

The product owner is one of the key roles in a Scrum project. (The product owner role is actually important in almost any type of project – be it RUP-based or anything else – it’s just has different names in other methodologies.) There are a lot of good resources on the Internet that explain what a product owner is and the responsibilities that go with the role. If you Google the term “product owner” you will find masses of well written information on the subject. On the other hand, you will not find much information about whether you should recruit product owners internally or externally. Most resources will simply assume that you assign the role to an existing employee.

The problem many companies face when starting a project is that they are unable to find an employee that can fill the product owner role well enough. The company simply does not have anyone that combines a broad knowledge of how the business works, understands software development and not the least: has enough time for the task. It is not surprising that many projects report that one of their biggest problems is that the product owner is not able to fill the role in an adequate way.

When I am hired as a product owner I have three main advantages and one big problem:

So how do I compensate for the fact that I am external to the business that my role should be an expert on? The first thing to note is that very few companies have one single person that is an expert on all relevant aspects of the business. Domain knowledge is typically fragmented throughout the organization. The people that have the best knowledge of how things currently work usually know relatively little about the high level goals that a new project is supposed to satisfy. To be a good product owner one must be able to gather information from many sources and find solutions that benefit the business as a whole on an optimal way. My extensive experience as a product owner in a range of different organizations helps me quickly get a grasp on the most important issues. I always work closely with the people in the organization that master their part of the business. The most important part of learning is appreciating what you do not know. Finally, being an outsider, I am not partial to one part of the business. As a product owner I often have to balance conflicting interests. I can use the fact that I’m not part of the organization to give more weight to the impartiality of my decisions.

Posted on 2009.04.24 at 14:00

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About Niklas

Born in Sweden, grew up in New York, lives in Norway. Yes, I have problems with identity, but I do think that my background helps me see things from a different perspective.

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