Why is a strong product ownership stance important for agile leaders?

Why is a strong product ownership stance important for agile leaders?

Agile leaders need to set a strong, inspiring vision that really lights a fire in the bellies of the people and teams who create products, features, and services within the organization.

I often recommend that agile leaders and product owners cocreate the direction of travel for the product development teams, so that everyone in the organization really buys into the product goal, the product vision, and the mission.

Think of it as a powerful rallying cry that inspires everyone on the team.

Why is there a great link between product ownership and agile leadership?

  • Product owners talk to customers and stakeholders. Agile leaders need to do the same.
  • Product owners engage with the team to understand the challenges they face, what obstacles and impediments are preventing them from succeeding, and how they are making progress on objectives that matter. Agile leaders need to do the same.
  • Product owners take a long-term view of the product, and actively seek ways to optimize the creation and capture of value for both customers as well as the organization. Agile leaders need to do the same.

These are some of the critical elements of product ownership that align well with agile executive and leadership team’s responsibilities.

An agile executive needs to balance the short-term goals and objectives with the long-term goals and objectives of the organization.

There is so much focus on the short-term goals and objectives, on the next quarterly results, that we often miss a trick. We aren’t searching for the next Billion-dollar idea. We aren’t searching for the next big opportunity that will allow us to grow new opportunities, revenue streams, and customers for the organization over the long-term.

Product ownership focuses a great deal on knowing how value is created or captured. It’s knowing what value looks like and how value streams within the organization deliver value to customers.

That is incredibly important for agile leaders to know.

So, there is a lot of overlap between agile leadership and product ownership. Developing strong skills and knowledge in product ownership will prove invaluable to agile executives and leaders.

Knowing the value of:

  • Experimentation
  • Negotiation (teams, customers, product stakeholders, internal stakeholders, etc.)
  • Talking to customers and understanding what most matters to them.
  • Talking to teams and understanding their problems, needs, and wish list.
  • How value is perceived by customers, stakeholders, and internal stakeholders.
  • Treating learning as the first citizen. Recognising the value of empiricism – transparency, inspection, and adaptation – and how that process allows us to navigate complexity.

And so forth, allows an agile leader to make better decisions and navigate uncertainty, complexity, volatility, and ambiguity.

A singular focus on value.

In my estimation, and in alignment with several studies and surveys conducted in the industry, anywhere between 60% and 90% of things that are built should never have been built.

We have such a strong focus on productivity, on output, that we don’t think about whether the work we are invested in is going to create or capture value for the customer. Whether it will create or capture value for the organization.

We simply look at the numbers, metrics like velocity, and feel secure in the knowledge that the team are busy and consistently delivering products and features.

We need to step back and ensure that we are working on the most valuable product/feature or solving the most compelling problems. A focus on being effective rather than efficient. A focus on creating value rather than being a feature factory.

Discovery and Experimentation

A great product owner will work with teams to develop a hypothesis, and run cheap experiments, to discover whether the thing that we are thinking of building should be built.

To discover whether the product or feature will be valued by customers and stakeholders.

In many instances, items that make it onto the product backlog are either placed there because of political pressure within the organization or because an internal expert decided that it should be built.

Often, there is no evidence to support their hypothesis. No evidence to support that there is a viable, profitable market for the product or feature. It’s simply added to the backlog and built.

Agile leaders need to work with product owners and product development teams to ensure that we are building the most valuable product or feature, at the most valuable time, in the most valuable way.

An example of production line mentality

I once trained a product owner who was responsible for managing and prioritizing a product backlog for a large firm.

He told me that he regularly removes items from the backlog and simply discards them, and the reason he did so is because it was being filled with junk, unnecessary features, and items that would be a waste of the team’s time and expertise.

When I asked him how he got away with it, he responded that nobody ever noticed.

In all the time that he had been doing it, only one person queried where their item was in the delivery pipeline, and so he simply added it back in and ensured that the team built the feature.

The rest simply went unnoticed because it had no value to anyone, including the person who insisted that it be added to the product backlog.


Sometimes, people are so invested in being busy and hitting their productivity targets, that we fill the pipeline with useless items that don’t create value for the organization or the customer.

It’s just stuff. It’s just there to ensure that we move the needle on a metric that someone identified as important.

A great agile leader needs to work with the product owner and the product development team to ensure that we know what needs to be built and what shouldn’t be built. To be invested in discovery and experimentation to ensure that we have data and evidence to support our decision-making.

For these reasons, I would strongly encourage executive and leadership teams to acquire product ownership knowledge, skills, and capabilities to strengthen their agile capabilities.

About X Agility

John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #organizationalagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.

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Executive Agility,Product Owner
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