Becoming a great product owner – book review

The product owner role in agile delivery teams has been one of the least understood and even most criticized. How can one person represent all the business stakeholders, customers and end users? But if we don’t have a product owner, who gets agreement from all the different perspectives and brings the advance clarity we need to know how a new feature should behave?

Those are some of the reasons I was keen to read Geoff Watts’ new book, Product Mastery: From Good to Great Product Ownership. Another reason is that I’m a long-time fan of Geoff’s work, and have learned a lot from his other books like the Coach’s Casebook.

As a tester, I work so closely with product owners, we depend on each other. Learning more about the skills POs need helps me improve how I work. This book is a valuable read for anyone on a software delivery team. If you’re currently a PO or aspire to grow into that role, it’s a must-read.

My Review: Product Mastery

Being a product owner is in some ways an impossible job, but it IS a job, and people need to know how to do it. Geoff applies his “DRIVEN” model to explore what makes POs good – and great.

As I started reading this book, I was a bit taken aback by Geoff’s “DRIVEN” model for POs: Decisive, Ruthless, Informed, Versatile, Empowering, Negotiable. “Ruthless” is not a term I associate with Geoff and his work. It strikes me as a negative term. But as I read on, the concepts all came together and made sense. Geoff presents a bold vision of what a PO can be, and what she can contribute.

Learning by example

The fictionalized, but still real-life, stories provides a great learning experience. Like many people, I learn best by hearing from people who had the same problem I have – and how they solved it. The stories illustrate the problems and cognitive biases that trap us.

I especially like the powerful questions sprinkled throughout the book. This book will make you question and think about how you can best serve your customers. I appreciate that it delves into common problems such as imposter syndrome. Geoff encourages POs to be brave and believe in themselves. He explains ways to approach difficult conversations.

Models for POs

As a fan of models, I found the ones presented here useful, such as the decision-making matrix, and the matrix of influence. The book also introduces techniques I’ve found extremely helpful, such as the Perfection Game from Jim McCarthy‘s Core Protocols, and user story mapping from Jeff Patton.

An especially interesting part of the book is on difference between customer feedback and customer data, and how to use it. We need to sit up and take notice of the analytical data available to us now. Geoff provides help with leadership skills, what styles are helpful in which situations.

Experiment to learn

Readers will get ideas for experiments to help their delivery and customer teams achieve shared understanding of features and stories, and find innovative ways to deliver value to the business in a timely way.

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