Product Owners Need Sleep Too

Nate Canada • Oct 10, 2019

It’s not easy being a Product Owner. You are responsible for ensuring that your products provide real value to your business and most importantly, your users. You have deep knowledge of the business strategy and market in order to help outline the product requirements for the team. You are the point of contact for almost everyone involved or interested in the project, and that can be overwhelming. How can you stay engaged, support the development team, keep your stakeholders up to date, and ensure the success of the project while still having time for, you know, sleep and eating? That other important stuff.

Well have no fear because we’ve got your back. Below, we’ll talk through a few tips and tricks that our busy product owners could use to make sure their time is maximized.

1. Detail the “What” not the “How”

With your limited time and energy, it’s more important to focus on defining “what to do” rather than “how to do it”. As a subject matter expert who knows the product, the team, and the business requirements, it’s understandable that you may want to help define how something should be done. Avoid giving in to this feeling. You have a team who will be doing the work and they need to be the ones to focus on how they’ll complete something. Your company hired them for a reason after all. By keeping your focus on what needs to be done, and allowing them to work through how it will be done, you empower the team while giving yourself the time you’ll need to deliver a complete backlog with effective prioritization. And maybe try that new taco joint you’ve been eyeing for months.

2. Provide Detailed Acceptance Criteria

Believe it or not but most people can’t read minds. As the rockstar Product Owner you are, you know this and should try to communicate as effectively as possible. The team needs to know what you require from each feature rather than making their own assumptions. (Didn’t someone say something about how assuming goes poorly?) If acceptance criteria are unclear, features may be implemented incorrectly, which never leads to good outcomes.

How can you ensure you’re providing all the needed details? Here are a few thoughts

  • Ask to add acceptance criteria review to your planning meetings. Take time to talk through each feature and what you think it needs in order to be complete.
  • Ask the team for help because it’s often easier to define what you want if you’re able to hear their perspective. Don’t be shy to ask if they’re able to supply you with their suggestions for acceptance criteria for any features you’re having trouble defining.
  • Ask one of your QA folk to review the stories. They’ll be testing them and can often provide invaluable feedback on how to write and provide better acceptance criteria.

3. Attend Scrum Ceremonies

Attending Sprint Review, Sprint Planning, and daily standups with your team is necessary for you to fully understand and be aware of the project’s current state. You need to be in the room to communicate with the team that a feature is truly “done” so that the team moves on from completed work, and does not linger on completed features. You will also know what is happening with the project and be able to effectively communicate current status, priorities, and next steps to stakeholders.

But what if you can’t attend every Scrum ceremony? It happens. In that case, here are some suggestions to make the best of your busy schedule:

  • Identify a “sub PO” and make them available to the team for day to day needs and to help get questions answered. Make sure you give this individual the authority to make decisions and the background to make sure those decisions align with your vision.
  • Ask your Scrum Master to group questions and needs from the team and set up a weekly meeting with you to review. Setting up a weekly time for you and the team to meet and review every week can make your life easier if attending the ceremonies just isn’t doable.

4. Having Your Cake and Eating it too

Product Owners are busy and with good reason. You’re responsible for ensuring the delivery of the right product at the right time, answering to the development team and to other key company stakeholders, while generally managing other responsibilities as well. In a perfect world, you would be available to your development teams at all times, but that is rarely possible. Life is busy and we’re all trying our best. But with a focus on attending scrum ceremonies, providing detailed acceptance criteria, and maintaining a clean backlog, you’ll be well on the way to ensuring the development team is provided with the information they need to help you deliver an outstanding product. And maybe even getting to finally take that vacation you deserve.