You’ve decided you want to learn more about product ownership.
You may be new to a product owner role. You may have recently done a personal retrospective and identified learning more about product ownership as one of the things you wanted to start doing.
There are a lot of options out there, So Where do you start?
Courses are always a good option, but they tend to cover a wide range of topics. That can be good if you are new to a role and need to learn a little about a lot of things. For example, if you’re a product owner who needs to know how some techniques to get a better understanding of stakeholders, context, the problem you’re solving and your solution you may find Analysis Techniques for Product Owners helpful.
But in a lot of cases, courses like that, while excellent (yes, I’m biased) are just-in-case learning. They cover a lot of material some of which can be helpful right away, some that you won’t use for quite a while, and probably forget.
You need just-in-time learning that focuses on the things you need to know right now.
If you are new to a role, or don’t know what you don’t know, it can be hard to determine what that is.What you need is some way to help you identify the areas where you need to focus.
Here are four product ownership assessments that you may find helpful for identifying where you need to focus.
Growing Agile Product Ownership Assessment
Sam Laing and Karen Greaves put together this Product Ownership Assessment for a group of new product owners they were working with. You can use it to see where you currently are with respect to typical product ownership activities.
Karen and Sam identified six groups of areas that are common to all the product owners they worked with:
- Team collaboration
- Decision making
- Product market fit
- Stakeholder engagement
- Time management
In each group they listed three areas with some statements reflect what a 10 out of 10 looks like.
For example, one of the areas in planning is release plan. You could score a 10 on that if you update it each sprint, your release plan is visible and understood by everyone, and your release plan is based on team estimates and velocity.
Go through and rate yourself in each area. Those areas with the lowest scores are the areas you should focus on, assuming those areas are also important in your organization.
This assessment has a simple structure and is easy to follow, so it’s something you could pick up quickly and run through for yourself. You may find it difficult to determine how to rank yourself if you don’t think you’re a 10 because only the ideal is stated. As long as you don’t obsess over whether you should be a 5 or 6 on something, you shouldn’t find that a problem.
I find that I have a slightly different perspective on some of the definitions of what makes a ten, but those differences are probably due more to personal preference on how to describe those areas rather than absolute disagreement.
Bob Galen’s Product Owner Extension of the Agile Journey Index
When Bob Galen published the second edition of his book Scrum Product Ownership: Balancing Value from the Inside Out*, he also released a product owner assessment framework loosely based on Bill Kreb’s Agile Journey Index.
Bob identified four areas of focus for Product Owners and a set of elements for each:
- Table stakes (product owner, user stories, product backlog)
- Basic practices (estimation, valuation, goal-setting)
- Communication (sprint review, communication, listening)
- Steering (product mentoring and community of practice, envisioning, release planning & road mapping)
For each element Bob, provided a thorough description of the element as well as a scale from 1 – 9 (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) along with a description of what each level means.
The premise is you go through each element and rank yourself on the scale guided by the descriptions. Those elements with lower scores are the areas on which you should focus – again assuming they are relevant and important in your organization.
This assessment is very thorough and provides good guidance with specific descriptions of different levels in the scale. I like that this assessment includes skills, behaviors, and organizational considerations.
All of the detail that’s included in the assessment reflects Bob’s approach to describing agile in general and product ownership in particular. That’s only an issue if your organization has a distinctly different way of approaching it. As with the previous assessment, I disagree with some of the descriptions, but the disagreements are more semantic than substance.
The only real downside to this assessment is that it could be very easily used for nefarious purposes. Bob recognized this and calls it out when he explains why he created the assessment:
So that you have a baseline of practices, techniques, or approaches that are important for a well-rounded and balanced Product Ownership practice. Not for grading or comparing one PO against another. Please don’t do that.
But simply as a tool for establishing what good might look like in your organizational context and then using it to drive continuous learning and continuous improvement across your Product Owners.
Because he titled the post Measuring product ownership – what does “good” look like? There are going to be people who use it for that purpose.
I’ll repeat Bob’s admonition: Don’t do that. Just use it to identify where you or other product people in your organization could use just-in-time learning.
A Product Owner Self-Assessment
Barry Overeem shared two exercises he included as part of a product ownership workshop. One of those exercises was to lead a discussion about Geoff Watts’ traits of great product owners and then ask all the participants to self assess on those six characteristics.
Geoff introduced the acronym DRIVEN to indicate the traits of a great product owner:
Barry led a discussion with the people in the workshop about each of those traits with questions intended to identify the importance of those traits in the attendee’s organization and to provide some examples of that trait being practiced well and poorly:
- What is an example of this trait being used in a good way within the organization?
- What is an example of this trait being used poorly within the organization?
- What rate would you give this trait on a scale from 1 – 10?
After that discussion, he asked each attendee to rate themselves on those six characteristics and identify one area for improvement.
The nature of this approach to self assessment is certainly one that is better suited for a workshop environment rather than individual work.
I mentioned it here because I like that it incorporated the DRIVEN traits, and because it provided a mechanism for identifying assessment elements that were relevant to your organization. Because you discuss the importance of the trait to your organization and relevant examples, you have a better perspective on that trait. Afterall, if you’re weak in a trait or skill that is not considered too important at that organization, is it something you should work on?
Online Product Owner Assessment
Ruud Bruls views product ownership as requiring multiple skills and may possibly buy into the idea that product ownership is a team sport. He identified the following roles as a way of grouping those skills together:
- Product owner as a product manager
- Product owner as a business analyst
- Product owner as a systems analyst
- Product owner as a project manager
- Product owner as a product owner
To help you identify where your strengths and weaknesses lie, Ruud put together an online product owner assessment that asks you to answer a series of questions from the standpoint of whether you are a novice, advanced, or expert in that particular activity.
After answering those questions the assessment asks the target group for your product (customers, business users, internal users) and asks the size of your project. Then when you provide your email address you’ll get a summary of your score for each role and a recommendation, along with some training references. The higher the score, the stronger you are in that particular aspect of product ownership.
This online assessment is doing exactly what I like using assessments for – to identify opportunities for further learning. It’s also handy to have it online. Even though there are over 60 questions, it only took me about 10 minutes to take and it seemed like a full list of criteria. It’s also nice that the assessment provides back some concrete actions, though I’m not sure if I were to take the assessment again and provide wildly different answers if I’d get different recommendations listed in each role.
Splitting product ownership into five different roles is a unique choice of categorizing skills and activities compared to the other assessments I took a look at. The roles included make sense, however I suspect using roles opens this assessment to the ongoing argument of product owner vs product manager vs business analyst vs…
Another downside is that you don’t get back your actual answers and you only know how your score at the high level of roles. This fairly high level feedback leads to fairly high level course recommendations which from the look of things I’d describe as just-in-case coverage of a topic (ie what you need to know to do project management). It’s a little difficult to focus on the specific areas you need to concentrate.
All that said, I still think this assessment can be helpful because it helps you identify the other product roles where you may be strong or weak. The results can be somewhat surprising.
Thanks to Sam, Karen, Bob, Barry, and Ruud for sharing their product ownership assessments so that anyone can use them for guidance on where to focus their learning journeys.
A key thing to remember when considering these assessments is that the author had to organize them in some fashion and there are many different, equally valid, ways to organize an assessment. If you’re looking to use one or more of these assessment, consider how the author organized the elements and find the assessment that seems to coincide the closest to your understanding of product ownership.
All of these assessments are helpful and worth taking a look at. If you would like to apply some focus to your product ownership learning journey any of these assessments will help guide the way.
And if you’d like some help with that journey, let me know. KBPMedia is focused on helping you become a more effective product person through getting the right just-in-time learning.
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