I came across a rewrite of the product owner’s role definition where references to product had been removed and replaced by the word ‘feature’. This might seem like splitting hairs since all products have features, but this subtle difference substantially alters the remit and behaviour of the product owner.
“The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Development Team.”
The intent behind agile frameworks such as Scrum is to deliver value as early as possible, as opposed to, an efficient way for developers to churn out feature after feature whether the feature adds value or not.
Focusing on delivery of features usually entails:
- A list of must do items to be included and it cannot ship until all of those items have been ticked off.
- All items will be completed regardless of the value they add based on assumptions made when the item was first added to the backlog.
- The order in which items are developed is arbitrary. Since all items will be delivered, it doesn’t matter which items are done first.
- Success is measured by completed delivery of the feature.
Focusing on the product:
- Prioritising the order in which items are delivered is the primary tool to delivering the most value early in the lifecycle.
- Gathering feedback from users, customers and stakeholders frequently to affirm the thing being delivered is the right thing.
- Measuring value and checking key performance indicators (KPIs) to validate assumptions of what is value.
- Success is measured by improvement to a KPI.
All products exist for a purpose and there should be clear statements of what success looks like. If you own “checkout” for a shop, then you’ll be interested in reducing dropout rate and maximising users who register account details. If you own a meditation app you’re interested in increasing installs, app store reviews, user stickiness and perhaps how chilled the users are.
Most products also have some sort of vision or true north that describes what kind of product it is. It’s usually simple and easily understood by everyone on the team. An example from slack nicely illustrates the point, “Fewer meetings, less internal email, all your tools integrated. That’s Slack.”
Product owners still deliver features. Within any product backlog there will still be a list of items that collectively can be called a feature. Each of the items should independently deliver a small amount of value. The skill of the product owner is to align with the product true north while ensuring each item they deliver brings them closer to delivering value.
This gives the product owner flexibility not to deliver items on the backlog if they decide it does not drive a KPI.
By focusing on value, the product owner has more flexibility on when to ship. It forces the product owner to test their assumptions early by testing the market. They deploy and gather feedback. Focusing on features reduces the need to ship. It creates a ‘ship it when it is all there’ attitude.
“Products only accrue benefit that are being used.”
Focusing on delivering features is disempowering. “Here’s a list of things someone else has decided upon. Now make it happen”.
Focusing on value make them product owner accountable and is empowering. “Hey, you’re intelligent, we need to reduce dropout. How will you do that?”
“The best way of increasing the value your teams deliver is by not delivering items that have low value.”
Why not improve the productivity of your organisation and transform your feature owners into product owners.