Ownership is the most important factor to be successful as a product owner

What does ownership mean?

Typing this question into Google, I get a page from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development that defines this term as follows:

“The English term ownership literally means “ownership”. It is used in the development policy discussion to describe the identification of people with a project that affects them. Ownership is also the responsibility that target groups and partner organizations assume in development cooperation. It is considered an important precondition for the efficiency, sustainability and success of interventions.”

This definition applies very well to the role of the Product Owner in a cross-functional Scrum team. As a Product Owner, you broadly own a software or hardware product and are responsible for the success of your product. Great products often involve teams made up of people with different skill sets. As a product owner, you are responsible for ensuring that this team identifies with the product and the project. Just like in development cooperation between countries, ownership is the most important factor for a team to lead a software or hardware product to success.

For this reason, I listened to the book “Extreme Ownership – How Navy Seals Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin on Audible during my last vacation. Since this book made me think a lot about my leadership role as a product owner and I would like to revisit some chapters, I even bought the book in a printed version.

The two authors are elite soldiers and were deployed on various wartime missions with the Navy Seals. The leadership principles they applied on a mission can be ideally adapted to leadership roles in business, especially product management. These principles can help you as a product owner to make your team successful.

There are 12 principles presented in the book. The three most important principles for me are presented below.

Principle: Extreme Ownership

The first and most important principle is “Extreme Ownership”. Put simply, this means: If your team didn’t make it through the last sprint and couldn’t implement some stories, as a product owner you take responsibility to your superiors and your teammates’ superiors for that failure. As a leader, you are responsible for everything that happens in your world. The fact that your team could not complete all the stories from the previous sprint is your fault, not your team’s fault. As a product owner, you need to acknowledge your mistakes and admit your failure. Ask yourself the questions about how your team can implement the sprint as effectively as possible so that the sprint goal is achieved and you are one step closer to realizing the product vision.

You need to analyze the mistakes made and develop a plan to make the next sprint successful. As a Product Owner you are responsible for:

  • an understandable sprint goal,
  • the correct prioritization of the stories,
  • the number of stories in the sprint,
  • the understandable formulation of the acceptance criteria of the stories,
  • the location of the team so that they can properly estimate the stories,
  • the appropriate cutting of the tickets,
  • the removal of roadblocks,
  • etc

If you lead by example as a Product Owner and apply “Extreme Ownership”, this culture will develop at every level in your team.

Principle: Cover and movement

The second most important principle for me is “cover and move”. In the book “Extreme Ownership” the principle is described as the only tactic. Actually, it is nothing more than teamwork. All members within the team must pull together to achieve a specific goal. Translated to your role as a product owner, this means that all members of the Scrum team and potentially involved departments, such as sales, marketing, user experience and SEO, have to pull together. I know it myself from my experience as a Product Owner that people like to point to other departments for some problems and the respective department has to solve a problem itself.

Sales points to product management when sales numbers are not achieved. Product management points to marketing if a certain marketing campaign was not successful and so on.

The Cover and Move principle is all about solving these problems. Once you apply Extreme Ownership and identify a problem, you need to reach out to the departments involved. Bring the parties to the table so that a solution can be worked out. The common focus must be on achieving the main goal of the company. Only when everything is aligned with this goal can it be successfully fulfilled. It does not help the company if the parties point fingers at each other. Your Scrum team can only be successful if you manage to align other departments of the company to pursue the same goal.

Principle: Planning

Another important principle is “planning”. As a product owner, you are responsible for ensuring that a mission is developed and that the goal of the mission is transparent to all stakeholders. It is important to make sure that a goal is clear and easy to understand. In my career in product management, I have violated this principle a few times. It was not clear to my team, for example, whether the conversion rate should be improved or the number of users of a certain feature should be increased. In some cases, the goals are contradictory and therefore only cause confusion among your team. As a product owner, you need to involve all stakeholders in the planning process. Only then can you ensure that your common goal is understandable and the strategic intent is understood. If software developers, user experience designers, researchers, and analysts are involved in the planning process, they also begin to take responsibility for their tasks and the goal. Create a forum where any involved person on the Scrum team and outside the Scrum team can ask questions about the planning and receive assignments.

My conclusion

As a product owner, you take responsibility for the success of the product. Even if you have strong dependencies on other departments, you have to make sure that everyone involved pulls together. The book also introduces other principles, such as the principle of “leading within the chain of command”. This is about how you implement upward communication to your leader and downward communication to leaders on your team. This is also a very exciting topic, especially when it comes to roadmap and product vision.

I highly recommend this book if you want to develop yourself and your team to build great products.

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