I attended my first Open Space conference this past weekend and really enjoyed it. It was based around agile leadership challenges and I was most interested in a session with people discussing how to find the right product owner, and how to determine if you are working with a business or technical product owner.
There seemed to be a consensus in the room that it’s OK to have two product owners, one for the business and one for the technical items. I tried not to be overpowering in my attempts to say “Don’t do that” but fear my biases may have leapt out. Having two product owners, or a product owner and product manager share the responsibilities or decisions for the backlog/vision/roadmap leads to conflicts and other undesirable outcomes. A single product owner should decide what to work on, they should talk with both the business side and technical sides of the house to make sure nothing is missed. This helps to focus on the most important thing to work on next. Having one person make the decision with the best information from the larger team(s) is the best setup.
One of the interesting things that came out of the discussion was “What type of product do you have”. The examples that I thought about were Slack and Docker. If you need a product owner for either of those two products, does it matter what background/interest your product owner has? Slack does really well on the workflow, design, and business fit for their product so I imagine their PO is more focused or comfortable on that side. The PO for Docker is likely someone who helped create that technology and has people that work with them on the business side to push out into their market.
It’s just a theory at this point and I’d love to hear from PO’s who consider themselves more business or technically inclined and if that lines up with their products purpose. Might make for a great discussion with PO’s with different products and goals on Deliver It Cast.