I have been an innovation coach for over a decade, when one of my friends, a senior Agile coach and trainer, asked me if I wanted to be their product owner (PO). I laughed and thought he was joking as I didn’t have an IT background. I responded with an empathic ‘no’ even though he promised I could do it.
But, to understand why my friend presented this seemingly crazy idea to me, I spent years learning Agile and even obtained a couple of certifications in the process.
Now, I know he was right. I won’t just be a product owner; I’ll be a great one. Why? Because after years of doing innovation, human-centricity is deeply rooted in my thinking.
And that is the key to building a great product.
From many of our previous articles, you’ll know that Design Thinking is one of the most well-proven human-centric methodologies. But as a PO, do you truly understand how Design Thinking can help you create a better product?
Do you wonder if you always need to facilitate a Design Sprint following those five steps with lots of tools under each step?
I doubt many product owners have the time to do that. So, how then can Design Thinking support product owners?
To answer the questions, let’s look at what the key responsibilities of product owners are:
1. Learning the market and customers' needs, even anticipating client’s needs
A successful PO will be an expert at understanding their customers’ needs to more effectively manage the development process. A solid empathy research could help do the magic. Various tools could be used here, such as an empathy map, interview techniques, social listening and others. Personally, I like to use the user journey map to predict what my client needs.
2. Defining the product vision
As a PO you should keep the products in line with business goals to create a successful product roadmap. A stakeholder map could help you align teams and stakeholders across the company. A vision statement can answer the question of why you’re creating the product and what the company can hope to accomplish with it in the future.
3. Translating product managers' strategies and customer needs into tasks for development
It’s easy to say that this is the strategy or need. It’s also easy to develop a task. As a PO, the difficult part is how to translate the needs into tasks that developers can work on during each sprint. The PO doesn’t need to have all the answers. Applying collective effort and expertise through the team to help you generate ideas will likely have better results than a PO’s individual activity. Various brainstorming tools and techniques will make the PO’s job easier here.
4. Managing and prioritizing the product backlog
The PO owns the Product backlog on behalf of the stakeholders and it’s easy to manage a static to-do list. Unfortunately, the backlog as a dynamic and living document requires constant evolvement based upon feedback, technological advances or changes. Iterative prototypes and tests could help the PO collect quick and real feedback to have better analysis in order to refine the backlog when it’s needed.
It should be clear by now that the function of the PO is intimately intertwined with a strong ability in user-centricity. Indeed, a PO who lacks the ability to understand the market and respond to its many, fluid changes will struggle. With Design Thinking, the PO’s box of tools will be greatly enhanced toward the fulfilment of their customer’s desires and the company’s needs.
Of course, the list of Product Owner responsibilities could go on and on. Design Thinking is not the only methodology the PO should know. However, with the Design Thinking mindset, you can ensure you are building the right product your customer wants, which is really what every business needs to do. The last thing a PO wants to happen is to build a wonderful product no one uses.
Unfortunately, this happens more frequently than it should. 47% of product launches fail because the company and by extension, the PO built a product the market didn’t need or already had that need fulfilled. Fortunately, it’s something why innovation! has expertise in and can help you with.
Hopefully, this article has adequately explained why Design Thinking is important to product owners and how it can help you develop a great product your customers will love.
If you want to learn more about design thinking, such as the tools and use-case scenarios, don’t hesitate to contact us!