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An article from Harvard Business Review reminded me that becoming an effective Product Owner (PO) requires a lot more than interpersonal skills, empowerment, capacity and even product knowledge. In the article, the authors explained that leaders having a high level of Organizational Intelligence (OQ) stand a better chance of getting the organization to do what they want.

How can having a high OQ help a PO?

  • They are able to see beyond titles or hierarchies to understand which stakeholders possess the real power when it comes to influencing product directions.
  • They have a good grasp on the company’s strategic objectives which makes them able to “send messages that reinforce the strategy — and minimize other messaging.”
  • They have a deep understanding of the core values and culture of the organization which helps them “foster an understanding, or ethos, of “who we are.””
  • They will be more successful at influencing change vertically because of their understanding of how things get done. They know which battles are worth fighting and which are not. This can be especially crucial in the first few years of a shift to organizing around products.
  • They will be better at helping the delivery team to connect the dots. Having a deep understanding of how teams within the company interact will make it easier for the PO to educate the team on the rationale for key decisions.
  • When issues emerge, they are more likely to have built up goodwill with internal stakeholders to get their support in resolving the issues quickly.

This is one of the reasons why it is can be extremely difficult to fill the role well with someone who is external. A consultant or new hire might possess deep knowledge of the product and business domain, they should definitely have sufficient capacity to handle the heavy workload and they might even be exceptional at soft skills, but if they lack sufficient awareness of how things get done within their client’s organization, they are unlikely to be as effective as someone internal who might be lacking in the other areas.

Sometimes there may be nobody internal available who has sufficient capacity. If so, it is better to bring in an external player to back fill the “right” PO’s normal responsibilities. And what if you don’t have anyone with sufficient product knowledge which could be the case if the product or service is new to the organization? In such cases, it might be better to have an external player to support an internal PO while they are developing the necessary domain knowledge.

Building the right product requires a coalition of support across an organization, so don’t skimp on OQ when it comes time to pick a PO.



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