January 11th, 2019

Throughout my years at LookThink, the best projects have had one thing in common – great product ownership. Great product owners are inspired – they breathe life into a project and elevate everyone on the team to be better. They allow creativity and solution-oriented design to thrive — resulting in products that increase revenue, engagement, and productivity, and decrease training time, frustration, and data loss.

Product owners are critical to the success of a project. Through our experience, we’ve found certain characteristics of product owners that lead to amazing software products.

Comfort with a big responsibility

A product owner is the key stakeholder on a project, and as such, needs to establish the vision for the product and convey it with confidence to the rest of the team.

Ability to coordinate many moving parts

Product owners are the conductor of the delicate product development orchestra. From budgets to requirements to roles to ROI — product owners must keep track of every high- and low-level detail, while keeping the team motivated, through every release cycle.

Flexibility from start to finish

Product owners must be able to deal well with adversity. Features will change, the landscape will shift, the API will break. A good product owner can keep the team focused on the vision while identifying viable workarounds when roadblocks arise.

Command of the marketplace

Product owners must understand the marketplace they are entering and the conditions surrounding their product. This proficiency allows a product owner to act as the mouthpiece for the users when informing the design and development teams — so that teams can pivot quickly to keep with the market.

Appreciation for good design

Because they know how much bad design is costing their company, great product owners champion good design and usability. When LookThink came onto a call center project, the training time was upwards of 4 days. In a field with 30-45% turnover rate, that meant real dollars. And the product owners knew better UX could change that. By the time we left the project, the training time had been reduced to one day or less. Across hundreds of call center employees, that savings is enormous.

Understanding that perfect is the enemy of good

By releasing minimally viable features, great product owners allow users to react to what was created to inform future iterations. If you wait until all the bells and whistles are on every part of your application, you may waste half your budget on unnecessary features. Build, test, learn from users, and iterate and you’ll wind up with a much more successful product.

They champion the needs of the user

We encourage product owners to open the lines of communication between our team and their users. This ensures that the users' voice is heard and stays in the forefront of the product. The worst thing a product owner can do is assume that their needs are a substitute for the end user. Instead, a product owner should champion the users’ needs and use their voice to speak on behalf of the user. When it comes to driving new features, they look to what the users need and use that feedback to inform the roadmap. We encourage product owners to continually test our progress with end users to help us find hidden opportunities. That feedback ensures that our roadmap stays relevant and helps us clear the backlog of unnecessary features.

Ability to assess costs vs. benefits

Anyone can build a product backlog. But great product owners know how to manage that backlog against what adds the most value to users while being considerate of time and budget. We work with product owners to maximize their backlog planning so that every enhancement truly moves toward achieving business goals.

Wrapping it up

Being a product owner is a big job — and we relish the chance to work right alongside product owners to set a vision and manage against it throughout the whole product lifecycle. We know your success rests in the satisfaction of your users — and help your team stay laser-focused on those outcomes.

Furthermore, we really, truly like to empower product owners to be successful. This means means we engage in projects in a way that most consultancies would not. It means that we must embody these same traits as a company.

Whether you’re an organization of plant scientists looking for a new platform to drive engagement, a for-profit healthcare organization looking to streamline processes, or a multinational hotel chain looking for a call center application, the principles of good product ownership stay the same.