In one of my previous articles (Project Managers: Nurturing vs. Hiring?) I've written on why we prefer to nurture product owners (we call them feature owners) internally, instead of hiring newcomers. Quite some time has passed since we decided to try this approach, and it has yielded good results mostly. It's safer and more reasonable to have several competent people involved in the product-related decision-making, instead of one person who is held accountable for everything. All the people in our company — QA's, developers, designers, marketing and support people — are engaged in educational activities one way or another. These activities are always intertwined with work. Home-made product owners are educated with the work, too, and we've come up with some sort of syllabus for them. This syllabus emerged from the real-life needs; it is a composite of skills and knowledge actually required to manage our product.
We are not putting a "certified Targetprocess Product Owner's" training course tag on that syllabus, but I intend to write a series of articles that would provide some sort of "homeschooling" for novice product owners. Quite often formal training courses are too brief (2-3 days), cost money and fail to give that universal knowledge that a product owner needs (poke me if that's not true). A formal course might be limited to a single "brand" or "label" from a certain domain, while the needs of practical software development require out-of-the-box, labelless thinking. That being said, a product owner still will want to be familiar with the major trends in the agile domain, and to switch between the brands and labels easily, depending on where a product is meant to go next.
Here's a summary of this homeschooling Product Owner's Syllabus. The mind map only gives a descriptive outline of the syllabus, as an intro to the upcoming articles. Click to enlarge:
We educate our feature owners in the 4 main areas: Agile Domain, Marketing, Product Development and Backlog Management. Targetprocess 3, our visual project management tool, is the practice material for these studies.
Let me re-iterate, that first and foremost a Product Owner is someone with a curious and agile mind. The way we orient our feature owners/product owners is free from prescriptions. The main disadvantage of taking a training course that bears some "label" would often mean that students are pushed to operate within the limits of this label forgetting that there are other practices that can work better in this particular case. As an example, if there's a course that trains Product Owners in Scrum only, this will be limiting, because their work might demand switching to Kanban, or maybe to Multiban, or to waterfall (which is now clad in the toga of SAFe). This freedom from frameworks and labels is the most important prerequisite of a product owner's success. Practices are only practices. The first question that a product owner should ask when introduced to a technique or a practice is: "What problem does this practice solve?" and not: "How do we tweak our product development to fit it to this agile practice?"
Another meta-skill applicable to all the areas is the ability to measure, analyze and make decisions. We measure feedback, we measure customer satisfaction, we measure the value of features. Most decisions are made based on the measurements and their analysis. The upper tier of product-related decisions (which feature will be developed next) is done by a group, the product board, and feature owners are a part of this board. Then, decisions related to a product feature are in the realm of power of a feature owner. The air of learning and sharing is maintained throughout the whole product management process.
That's how it looks, for starters. I will cover the subjects included to this syllabus in more detail in the future articles.