The Biggest Reason Product Owners Fail

If we are using Scrum as the foundation for our agile process, then we have a Product Owner who is out there discovering and prioritizing the things that continually deliver increasing value to the business and it’s customers.

So, why do they fail to deliver value to their business and customers? I’ll give a super simple answer. They don’t know the customer.

I have been working on teams and for start ups for years, and there has never been a Product Owner who spoke with their customers. They spend time googling and researching their competition for feature sets, doing triage on customer support requests, and if they are very ambitious, have someone from sales or marketing organize a survey. Its fascinating to me that in agile we believe in “People and interactions over tools and processes,” but can’t extend that courtesy to the very people whose problem we are trying to solve.

So here’s a way to fix it. I’ll go very heavy handed on this one. Require that a customer be present as a stakeholder during review and planning. Let the whole team see and react to the customer as they see what was delivered. Let the Product Owner make the final call as to what is important after hearing what everyone says. Let the arguments happen. They are all arguments for the right reason.

I have worked with Product Owners who have insisted that there aren’t normal customers for the business. If this happens , just ask, “Who pays for our product?” If they still insist that there isn’t one then find a customer’s contact info for the Product Owner. I’m sure its in a database or Salesforce. If they still insist that there isn’t a customer, then fire them.

If a Product Owner doesn’t truly know their customers then they cannot truly deliver value to them.