What’s the ideal background for an Agile Product Owner and where should I look to find them?

The Agile product owner is a hybrid role that’s part surrogate user and part product expert. The ideal product owner has strong expertise in the following areas:
  • The job of the user — what they do, why they do it, how they do it and how they’re measured (on their performance review)
  • How people use your products to do their job.

The ideal career path into the product owner role is as follows:

  1. Starting Point: A practitioner at a customer organization that uses your products to do his or her job.
  2. Next Move: Hire those customer practitioners into a client services manager role in your organization. They have great domain expertise, decent product expertise and gain valuable knowledge implementing your products in a variety of customer environments.
  3. Next Move: Product Owner. Go directly to your client services organization to get the best product owners. They’ve been there, done it and seen it in many environments. Who’s better qualified to lead your Agile teams? Even if they haven’t come from a customer practitioner role, they’ve essentially acquired much of that same knowledge through the course of implementing multiple customers.

Organizationally, it’s a good business practice to use your client services organization as the product owner breeding grounds. The client services role a high stress job, and in many cases, involves a lot of travel. That makes for high burn-out. The career path into a product owner role is a great way to keep good people and leverage their vast domain and product knowledge. Client services managers also love going into a role where they can directly influence the product, as they are keenly aware of issues that impede customer success. It’s a win-win.

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