Be an Educated Consumer

How to be a savvy product owner

3 July 2014

Gene Gendel
Global Investment Bank


You just bought a house and decided to renovate. You brought in a contractor to estimate the work that you want done. What is your biggest fear? Here are a few possibilities:
  • The work will not be done.
  • The work will not be done on time (winter is coming and you need wall insulation before it gets cold).
  • The work will be done on time but it will cost you much more than you can afford and more than this job really costs. The contractor is charging you more than he should; he is taking advantage of your ignorance.
  • The quality of the work will be poor but, unfortunately, you will not know this until all of it is finished and you have to move in (after you pay in full).
Why is this happening? Because you lack expertise as a consumer. Because you don't know the market you are in. Because you don't know how to look for the warning signs of an agreement gone bad. You are not equipped with knowledge. You are not an educated consumer.

You must be an educated consumer. From the moment a contractor walks in your house, he must know that he is dealing with someone who knows what he wants, when he wants it, and for how much. A contractor must know that you will be able to tell an economically sound, timely job of high quality.

You are also going to be very much benefited if you work out a deal with the contractor to have the work done incrementally, as well as paying for it incrementally. Agreed, many contractors will not work this way, but there are some who will. Look for those. All-or-none, one-big-bang deliveries are not good anywhere, including in construction.

When it comes to software development, being an educated product owner is very important. Not only should you be able to validate the work quality that gets delivered to you but you should also be able to understand and speak to other things that happen before the work gets done. Learn the language that teams use to communicate with each other and you when they discuss their progress on sprints and releases. Learn the jargon, speak the jargon. Learn Agile collaboration tools, learn Agile reporting, and learn the meaning of various Agile metrics, tools, and techniques. This will help you, as a product owner, intelligently discuss with your teams the sprint velocity and release scope, monitor gradual delivery of work (or the lack of such), gauge the accuracy of forecasting, and understand the importance of strategic planning.

Collaboration is always much more effective when both parties take each other's knowledge and expertise seriously and with respect, when each party understands that another party cannot be fooled by unrealistic promises and unfair deals. If you are consuming a product or service, you must be an educated consumer -- this will both make your life easier and protect your relationships with service and product providers.


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