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Keys to Success: Enabling Product Owner Success

Keys to Success: Enabling Product Owner Success

Publicado por Jeff Sontheimer em

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This is the first installment of what I hope is a series of posts that outlines keys to successful Guidewire system implementations using the agile methodology. This installment focuses on a role in our agile implementations, the product owner.


When counseling customers on what they can do to ensure project success, one of the first pieces of advice I always give is, "Make sure you select the right product owner." The role of product owner on an agile Guidewire implementation is often a new concept for many of our customers. The product owner role is a confluence of responsibilities that are often scattered throughout a variety of roles on traditional projects. The product owner is responsible for defining the scope of what is being built and ensuring that the best version of that scope is delivered.

The sections below help to define the attributes and characteristics of successful product owners and also how project sponsors and leadership team members can enable their success.

What to Look for in a Product Owner

A product owner must have deep domain knowledge and a keen understanding of current business operations. However, this is not enough. They must also have a vision for the future as it relates to their domain area. They must understand the challenges that are limiting the business by their current core system and also realize the opportunities for improvement presented by implementing a Guidewire core system. The product owner's vision cannot be implemented and defined in a vacuum, as there are many other stakeholder groups and organizational priorities that need to be taken into account. Therefore, product owners need to be deeply connected within the organization and have access and visibility into the various stakeholder groups and organizational priorities. Product owners must be able to leverage these connections and balance the other organizational priorities in order to define and implement a core system vision that satisfies all stakeholder groups and maximizes organizational priorities.

How can Project Leadership Enable their Success?

Simply finding a product owner candidate that matches the criteria above is not enough to declare victory. Project leadership has a responsibility to enable them for success. First off, the product owner’s manager must commit their time to the implementation. Being a product owner is a demanding role and project leadership must ensure that the product owner's singular responsibility during their time committed to the project is their role as product owner. The product owner also must be empowered. Any project is going to be bounded by constraints such as duration and cost. However the product owner should be free to quickly and efficiently make the decisions necessary to implement their vision within the confines of those constraints. They may not be able to implement their entire vision and it may extend into subsequent releases, but they need to be empowered to make those decisions on their own.

Above I mentioned the need for the product owner to have connections and visibility to stakeholder groups and organizational priorities. Unfortunately, this is not always possible without the help of the project sponsors and leadership. Therefore it is the responsibility of the project sponsors and leadership to help the product owner establish and cultivate these connections and provide them with visibility into organizational priorities. Finally, the product owner must have the support of the project sponsors and leadership team. Being a product owner demands strong decision making capability, as product owners often have to make difficult decisions that are not always unanimously popular throughout the organization. Therefore, it is often imperative that the product owner knows they have the support of the project sponsors and leadership teams so that they can perform their role with confidence.


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