Five Rules for Keeping Your Product on Track

How, as a product owner, do you cope with all of the unexpected tasks that come up, without veering off

There’s no denying that product owners face a host of challenges in prioritizing tasks, while endeavoring to accommodate the various stakeholders in the company, senior management, the operations team, the sales team,  customers, etc.

However, it is the product owner’s responsibility to create a road map, and to plan the progress of his or her product, at least a few months ahead. From personal experience, I can attest that all too often, having prepared a short road map for the upcoming quarter, when the time comes to put the plan into action, suddenly everything changes.

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Disruptions can occur for a variety of reasons, for example the company’s most important client has an urgent request, the sales team wants to sign an important new prospect that will only come on board if we make certain adjustments, and so on and so forth.

So the question is, how, as a product owner, do you cope with all of the unexpected tasks that come up, without veering off course? I’ve found the following five rules to be incredibly helpful in keeping me on track; stick to these guidelines, and you’ll never get knocked off target again:

Communicate your plans

Make it very simple for all the stakeholders to know what you are planning for the next few months. Build an accessible, easy to understand road map or story map, whichever tool you prefer, and share it with all stakeholders. This way everyone will know what you’re up to and why.

Establish the value

Always make certain that the proposed idea or task has a strong business logic, real added-value, and an explicit ROI. Ensure that it is aligned with the company goals, and if it isn’t, make sure that you are the one to point this out.

Convey the cost

Try to communicate the costs of the newly proposed task. Sometimes, the person approaching you with a new idea or a requirement believes their request to be minor and comparatively simple, while this is not actually the case.

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Understanding the true cost of requests will help to hold off some of the petitioners. Even a simple sizing scale of ‘small’, ‘medium’, and ‘large’ will be useful during this process. Note that this requires a high level of understanding with regard to the product and some technical know-how.

If you don’t have the necessary technical knowledge or deep understanding of your product, you can consult with the relevant person, who does.

Present the tradeoff

When working in a scrum, if one task comes in, another will have to go out. What are we, as a company, willing to give up? More frequently than not, people want to have their cake and eat it too. The way I see it, it’s the product owner’s job to say that every addition to the product road map comes at the expense of something else.

By keeping a clear and organized backlog, which brings us back to the first rule, you can always present the features that will be set aside with the inclusion of the new requirement.

Protect your process

No matter which development methodology you’re using, don’t make it too easy to interrupt your process. Of course, as a product owner you have to be available for questions, and open to new requests and fresh ideas. Clearly, I’m not suggesting disregarding your company’s top management; this will not get you very far.

However, as long as you keep your prioritization process organized, limiting disruptions to specific time slots, for example weekly meetings with the different stakeholders, keeping on track will be much easier.

So what’s the bottom line? As the product owner, it is your responsibility to use every tool available to you, to keep your ship on course and navigate a clear path ahead through the sea of inevitable disruptions coming your way.

This article was written by Tomer Rubinstein, Product Manager at Techfinancials.

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