Hiring an effective product owner and first coaching plan

hiring an effective product owner

Last month, one of my friends asked me to help their startups hire the product owner’s process because hiring an effective product owner for him is so important.

In this article, I’ve tried to carefully record my lessons to learn in this process and my action plans from zero to the end. The main aim of this text, saving my new getting knowledge for the organization and be a useful guide to other companies that want to hire a Product Owner.

In my opinion, this guide will help people who want to get a Product Owner job too.

Their startup is first specialized in the transportation field and getting their investment from the venture capital.
Previously they had an unsuccessful experience of hiring a Product Manager to their team and decided to hiring a Jr. Product Owner and coaching him to grow and fit in this position. Their expectation is this person capable of Mid-level Product Owner in the next six months.

Zero Step:

Our Steps to hiring effective product owner

Review the received resumes and initial refinement of them. Five people had reached the shortlist and setting the interview session by candidates.

First Step: Specialize Evaluations

During the interview, each candidate should demonstrate sufficient ability in specialized areas related to the product owner job. 

Based on my experiences as a product owner/product manager, scrum master, and Agile coach, some of the skills are needed for this role in an Agile startup/company as bellow:

  • High-level understanding of the role
  • Product Vision
  • Product Success
  • Prioritizing
  • Understanding the customer and discovering their needs
  • Working more with others
  • Growth
  • Working with legacy
  • Asking for help, Knowing his/her limitations and Self Awareness
  • Personal Development
  • Questions that explore the potential in gaining customer empathy and technical awareness
  • listening and understanding

These questions were designed to help me, in addition to understanding the level of mastery of the interviewee’s specialized skills, including other skills such as:

  • Readiness for interview
  • Knowing the product and our target audience
  • Knowing the product market size
  • Problem-solving
  • teamwork
  • Communication
  • Leadership abilities
  • Influence
  • Data-Driven decision making
  • Work on uncertainty avoidance
  • Ability to reception and provide feedback
  • Motivating team members
  • Resolve conflict
  • Separated Scrum’s roles and responsibilities
  • Self-control in high pressure
  • Order in response

Also covered.

By preparing an excel sheet, I rated my perception of each interviewee’s proficiency in the areas listed above on a scale of one to five. The number three meant expected and suitable for this position, the numbers less than three or more than it meant lower than anticipated, and the higher three is overqualified.

By weighting each area of expertise and calculating the points earned for each person, I could better decern which candidates are more qualified to take this position.

Importantly, lower points generally failed to demonstrate their passion for learning, and overqualified people couldn’t have job satisfaction and the likelihood of leaving the organization quickly.

Some of the questions that I asked of the candidates in this step were:

  • What is your definition of the Product Owner role?
  • What does the Product Owner do to help the team get a strong sense of purpose?
  • What level of technical insight/awareness do you think a Product Owner should have?
  • What makes a good product vision?
  • What does the Product Owner do to help the team understand the vision?
  • How do you translate the vision to a roadmap or backlog?
  • What does success mean for a product?
  • How do you measure product success?
  • Who is responsible for the success of the product?
  • How do you prioritise between defects, new features, technical debt, and learning activities (e.g. hypothesis validation)?
  • What do you do when the team gets stuck in a prioritisation discussion, or there are two or more people who can’t agree?
  • How do you prioritise your backlog?
  • What are some of the purposes of using personas?
  • How do you engage the team better understand the users and customers?
  • What is a product discovery, and why is it important?
  • What is different about leading in product discovery and product delivery?
  • Why are short feedback cycles important in product discovery and product delivery?
  • What can the Product Owner do to help create short feedback cycles?
  • How do you plan and arrange work for a cross-functional team that both do product discovery and product delivery?
  • Why is empathy essential? How do you create it?
  • What is cycle time, and why is that important for you and the team to know?
  • Tell me about a time your team didn’t meet the organisation’s expectations in terms of delivery or impact and what you did.
  • Tell me about a time when you failed to engage or include the organisation in the work you and your team was doing, and what happened.
  • What do you need to or want to develop within Product Ownership?
  • How do you stay up to date in Product Ownership?
  • What is technical debt, and why is it vital for you as a Product Owner to be aware?
  • What happens if you don’t reduce technical debt?
  • How much technical debt should you remove?
  • Isn’t it just better to deprecate/close an old system that has a lot of technical debt and build something new than to remove the legacy?
  • What can you as a Product Owner do when technical debt is slowing your team down?
  • How does Agile try to avoid technical debt from occurring?
  • Tell me about a time when you didn’t know how to do something.
  • What do you feel personally responsible for doing in the team?
  • What is your definition of the Product Owner role?
  • What problem does the Product Owner role solve (or what value does the part bring)?
  • What do you imagine will be easy and challenging for your personal with the Product Owner role?
  • Who is responsible for the quality of the product?
  • What does it mean to work as a team as opposed to working as a group of individuals?
  • What are the advantages of working as a team?
  • What does success mean for a product?
  • How do you measure product success?
  • Who is responsible for the success of the product?
  • Give me an example of how you have developed the past year?
  • How do you learn/prefer to learn?
  • What are some recent books you have read?
  • What is some recent feedback you have received about your leadership style and how have you changed as a result of it
  • Tell me about a time you had to adapt to changing conditions?
  • Tell me about a time you put your work or needs aside to help the team out.
  • What are some points in your career when you have made a noticeable change in your style, mindset, behaviour?

Second step: Last review

After that, the business managers held the next session to review the score of the selected candidate and adjust their requested salaries. After that, we picked one of the candidates as a new teammate and invited him to sign a contract.

Third step: Complete the job description and our expectations

We prepared the next step by reviewing our job description and our expectations of this role which aligned with the abilities of our new teammate.

The prepared document included.

  • introduce the goals, values and priorities of the company
  • Job description and
  • Our expectations from the owner of this job

We also wrote a dedicated coaching program for our new colleague and developed a quarterly plan for coaching and improving this person’s knowledge in their job position.

The program also sought to involve new employees in career development goals.

The first working day of our new colleague

On the first day of work and after welcoming and the initial onboarding, in a one-on-one meeting, we explained some of the company’s business procedures, our wiki, useful tools, and services, telling the result of our evaluations of his interview session and the points earned by him.

Then, by defining the document prepared in the previous step and our coaching programs, we selected our measurable goals and evaluation metrics from his progress and presented it to him as an agreed document.

Our coaching program consisted of a quarterly plan, and four weekly schedules clearly explained which values and metrics agreed to us and evaluated him by that. But how to achieve these metrics was left to him.

Some of our expectations at the end of the first month were:

  • Be able to understand organisational relationships better.
  • Corporate Culture
  • How to do things
  • Identify pain points
  • Product backlog review
  • Write a few examples of user stories based on product roadmaps.
  • Identify key stakeholders

And he was accompanying the product manager in meetings with stakeholders.

Many companies are looking for scrum product owners or product managers and don’t know their problems in this way. Based on my experience, these companies couldn’t explain their expectations and lack of awareness.

They are looking for someone who can join their business as a superhero to solve their problems with a magic wand.
They don’t conduct interviews properly; decisions are tasteful and far from the truth. They bring the wrong person into their company as a result.

Not only do they not have a specific plan for evaluating the hired person, but they also do not clearly state the expectation of their movement and growth in the organization.

Before entering the recruitment phase of a product manager or product owner, you must think about your organization’s capabilities to grow, train and guide the new person, and then smooth the career path and create transparency in this path.

As a coach, you need to tell them what support they have in this area and how fast and at what times this person’s career growth and development in the organization are happening.

Remember that the goals you choose for your product owner or product manager must be with their cooperation so that this person’s commitment to implementing your plans will happen in the best possible way.

In the end, you can see these useful articles as listed below:

In addition, you could contact me or schedule an online meeting for a free consultant session via the contact page.

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