Both are junior members of staff without much prior experience. Mario is taking on his first role as a Product Owner and Julia is a Developer.
How are they both supported and trained when they join their agile squad?
Julia joins a team of experienced developers, and she can spend some time shadowing other team members and learning the new technology. Her work will constantly be checked by other team members during code reviews and product demos – which will give very useful feedback to help her improve.
Mario, in contrast, has been allocated as the Product Owner for an existing development team. He’s the only Product Owner on the team, and doesn’t have anyone to shadow. There are other Product Owners in other teams, but they’re working on different projects. There’s also no mechanism for other Product Owners to provide feedback to Mario on how he’s doing.
Does that sound familiar?
All too often organisations hire inexperienced people to be Product Owners in order to save money. And without a structured support and mentoring arrangement in place they can often end up feeling abandoned on their own.
Supporting inexperienced Product Owners
One of the best ways to learn a job is to observe someone else doing it. And that means placing an inexperienced person with someone who knows how to do the job.
All too often hiring managers are only concerned with placing bodies in teams to meet their resource goals. Whereas in an ideal world a person that’s new to being a Product Owner should not be allocated to any team. They should be placed with another Product Owner for a few months to learn the ropes, before they are sent off to operate in their own team.
Better still, the new Product Owner should be given the opportunity to shadow a number of different experienced Product Owners, to observe different styles and approaches to writing stories and interacting with the team and external stakeholders.
After all, so much of this role is about soft skills. You don’t have to be highly technical, but you do need to know how to communicate and manage expectations. You need to learn when to shut up and let the rest of the team talk, and you need to know when you need to intervene to bring some order.
Those are the kind of skills that aren’t taught very much in an academic context, and often need to be learnt in the workplace.