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A Guide to Finding and Onboarding the Right Product Owner

The role of a Product Owner (PO) is indispensable for any product development team. But what happens when your team doesn't have one? What qualities and where can you look to fill the role. Navigating these waters can be challenging, but with the right strategy, you can find and onboard a PO who will steer your product to success. 


The Role of the Product Owner: A Pillar of Value Creation 

The Product Owner is a key figure in the product development team. They represent the customer, the business, and the stakeholders in the Scrum Team. They ensure that the product vision is translated into actionable work that delivers value. The PO is also responsible for defining, prioritizing, and refining the Product Backlog, making decisions on feature development, and ensuring that the team is always working on the most valuable features. Not having a Product Owner is an expensive proposition. Without a PO, your entire team of developers might be idle, working on the wrong thing, or worse, working on non-value generating activities. The PO ensures that the actions taken by the developers aligns with the overall product strategy and delivers maximum value to the customers and the business. 


The Essence of a Product Owner 

It's important to note that a Product Owner should always be an individual, not a committee. This is a case where too many chefs spoil the soup and create confusion. A single person must be accountable for the product decisions to ensure clarity and consistency in direction 


The First Steps: Assessment and Training 

Many organizations end up with an infective PO because the wrong person was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Before you start the search for the perfect PO, it's important to assess your organization and teams. Identify the gaps that need to be filled and determine the specific skills required for the role. This ensures that you’re not just filling a position but finding the right person to propel your product forward. A thorough assessment can save you time and money by avoiding the pitfalls of hiring the wrong person. Your developers, stakeholders, and leadership are a good source of information to understand the challenges they are facing and what they’d like to have the PO address. 

This information will allow you to search for a candidate with the relevant knowledge and experience. A well-crafted job description is crucial in this process. Make sure it clearly outlines the required skills, experience, and expectations. This will not only attract the right candidates but also help you evaluate them effectively. 

Training your team in the process will give them clarity on what to expect from each other and from the Product Owner role. Too often, the lack of understanding about the role’s responsibility leads to onboarding the wrong person, such as one with a lot of leadership skills and not enough process knowledge. This step not only helps in identifying the right individual but also sets the stage for a smoother onboarding process. When team members know what to expect from a PO, they can better support and collaborate with them. It also has the advantage of identifying potential individuals that have an interest or that are ready to graduate to a PO role. 


Look Within: The Benefits of Promoting from Within 

Many organizations overlook the talent they already have. Promoting a current team member to the role of Product Owner can offer several advantages: 

  1. Lower Risk: An internal candidate is already familiar with your company's culture and dynamics, reducing the risk of a poor fit. 

  1. Reduced Onboarding Costs: The time and resources needed to onboard an internal candidate are significantly lower than hiring someone new. 

  1. Faster Time to Value: With their existing knowledge of your product and processes, an internal candidate can start adding value more quickly. 

  1. Career Path: Offering a career path to your existing staff fosters loyalty and growth within the organization. 

  1. Cultural Fit: They already understand and are a part of your organizational culture, which is crucial for seamless integration into the role. 

Training and coaching existing staff to become a Product Owner is always a worthwhile consideration. Investing in your current team can yield long-term benefits and foster loyalty and growth within the organization. 


The Interim Solution: A Temporary PO 

Sometimes, the perfect candidate isn’t immediately available. In such cases, consider appointing an interim Product Owner. This could be an external consultant with the right expertise or a current product leader who can temporarily dedicate themselves to the role. Remember, having a PO, even on an interim basis, is better than not having one at all. 



Finding and onboarding the right Product Owner is a step that requires careful planning and consideration. Whether you promote from within, hire externally, or appoint an interim PO, the goal is to ensure that the role is filled by someone who can truly drive your product's success. Remember, the right Product Owner is out there. It just takes the right approach to find and onboard them effectively. Starting with an agile assessment, training, and coaching might be just what you need. Don’t wait until the position is filled to start these steps—by then, it might be too late. 



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