What is the product of the product owner?

This is an originally german article, translated with DeepL.

The question sounds trivial at first, but nevertheless many product owners have a problem with it. With the following lines, we would like to contribute a little to bringing a little more clarity to the term “Product”.

The simple case

If you are a Product Owner responsible for developing or enhancing an IT product, then the answer is probably simple. This IT product is your “Product” and you will fill your Product Backlog for exactly that purpose. It doesn’t matter whether this is a new app for smart devices or whether you are developing a complex product for marketing to medium-sized businesses, government agencies or large industrial companies.

Terminologically, it’s a bit more difficult if the word “product” doesn’t appear in your world, because you’re developing an IT application for internal use in your own company and perhaps you’d rather talk about your “CRM-system”, or your “system for managing free seminar rooms”. Whether you call it a “system” or a “product,” it’s your “product.”

More complex cases

Your challenge may be to optimize the business processes of an entire department (e.g., to cut costs by 20%, or to “speed up” operations by 30%, or to increase customer satisfaction to 90%. In accomplishing these tasks, you may need to not only examine and optimize business processes, but perhaps adapt, better integrate, add new features to, etc., several different IT systems. You realize: now you’re not just changing one product, but perhaps many. In the agile sense, the whole department (with all supporting IT systems and all human processes) is your “product”. But maybe you don’t call it that, but talk about your domain, your department, or something similar.

The same applies to product owners who are actually product line managers. You may be overseeing not just one product, but a whole family of related products, such as manufacturing transmission control systems for different manufacturers, in different levels of expansion and performance, delivered to different countries around the world in different configurations. This product family or product line is now their “product”.

It also becomes more difficult when the result of your work is not marketable on its own. The word “Product” always suggests that it can be bought and used, or - if it is not marketable - at least used. However, your users are not always end users. If you are responsible for developing a library or framework that is intended to take a lot of work away from other teams for reasons of reuse and consistency, your “product” may never have end-users as customers, but other projects that incorporate your result into their own systems or products. From the point of view of end users, your results may be totally invisible. Nevertheless, such a framework is your “product”.

Summary and recommendation

As you can see, the term “product” has many facets. In req42, we clarify the question “What is my product?” fairly early in the project by defining the scope and delimiting the interface to the context. Never start your work as a Product Owner without completing this important task. Read the blog post “Scope is not equal to scope”, which explains how to do this and how to make sure you don’t suffer from requirements creep all the time.

Have fun working with your “product”.

Product Owner