Product Owner.. So, what do you do?

Bassem Elhawary
5 min readFeb 4, 2020


This is a not-so-easy question actually. I bet that different product owners would give different answers to this question.

It depends on the company, the team, the business model (B2B/B2C/Product/service), the project, the management, etc.

Yet, given all of the differences, I see some commonality.. Surely as long as you don’t work as a secretary for management just executing what they demand, in that case it’s a fake title anyway.

So, what does a product owner actually do?

That’s not true ^

I see that the product owner role is mainly a role of a problem solver. We get paid to solve problems. Sometimes the problems are very easy, sometimes they are extremely hard and most of the time they’re in-between. But they are problems that need to be solved and we’re the people in charge of having them solved. That’s it, that’s how I see it.

Kind of :)

What problems?

  • I want this, I’m the boss, do it 👊🏼
  • This is the most basic and stupid idea I’ve ever heard 🤓
  • It is gonna take us 3 weeks to build this PoC for this🙂
  • This design is like shit, I vomit 🤮 when I look at the interface, give my feedback to the designer 👋🏼, with love ❤️
  • You’re not the user 🖕🏽
  • Are you challenging my estimate 🤬? Wait, Don’t you trust me 😢?
  • Do you have data to prove this 🙂?
  • I have a new great idea for you 💡
  • You’re not the user 😛
  • Why do you keep ignoring our requests 😭?
  • The stories are too detailed, there’s no room for our creativity 😑?
  • Is that a user story, where are the requirements 😐?
  • You’re not the user 💃
  • We have to turn profitable this quarter, show me the money 💰
  • Active users dropped by 5% since your last release, what did your team fuck up? 🤔
  • Advertisers aren’t gonna buy unless we do this feature 🙄
  • These timelines are not realistic ⌚
  • I need it as soon as yesterday 🕒
  • Why doesn’t this work 😳?! (asking yourself)
  • etc.

In each of these scenarios, we have to solve a problem. Be it a problem of miscommunication, a problem of listening, a problem of ambiguity, a problem of lack of data, a problem of a minor bug fix that caused weeks of trying to figure out what brought the revenue down. Just a problem that needs to be solved.

AND We don’t manage the team, we don’t ship work out of authority. This job wouldn’t make you happy if you like to work with an authoritarian approach, and remember that if you’re always calling big daddy that makes you a child 😉

But we’re lucky, aren’t we?

Most of the time we’ve got the people and the tools that help us solve the problem. A good technical team helps by asking the right questions and designing the good architecture. A good designer helps by paying attention to details and by discussing feedback with an open mind and heart, so UI reviews become seamless and fun. A good manager helps by giving you trust and support, and a good QA engineer helps by figuring out the cases that you forgot to cover in the original story.

It’s not always that fluffy, sometimes we lack some good tools and/or some good capabilities in our teams. Again, that’s a problem that we have to get solved 😉

What is a bad PO?

A bad PO thinks that the success is his own and that the failure is because of others. A bad PO is afraid of giving credit to people for their ideas. A bad PO is afraid of being challenged. A bad PO says yes to each and every request they get from the above. A bad PO thinks he’s learned it all and there’s nothing more to learn. A bad PO thinks that the soul purpose of his job is to write down user stories (although it’s an important part of the job 😉).

A bad PO is a PO who doesn’t want to solve problems 😉.

How to become a better Product owner?

  • Learn how to listen
  • Listen carefully to the proposed solution, but insist on knowing the problem
  • Learn to say No
  • Collaborate, literally with almost every capability in your organization, you will never make it alone
  • Use and learn from other apps, even non direct competitors, there are a lot of great minds in each field, and a lot of bad user experiences that you should avoid ;)
  • For God sake, be calm, the world doesn’t need more grumpy angry loud product owners cause that’s just a form of stupidity
  • Have empathy, I don’t mean “show empathy”, no, HAVE empathy.. Try to feel the pain of the other person/team/ customer
  • Don’t be an asshole
  • Insist on representing the user, if you don’t speak up for the user don’t expect it from anybody else
  • Read my blog, haha, just kidding, I meant “Don’t lose your sense of humor 😁”
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Give help when you can, in many cases I have said “Given the limitations you mentioned, I can’t help you cause this will need a release, but if I were you I would consider doing abc or xyz, and that was useful for more than once 🙂
  • This is a very subjective one.. But gonna say it anyway.. Be humble, this helps you learn, continue learning, and admit your fuck ups
  • Read 🙂 (not necessarily my blog posts 😜)
  • Learn from other POs
  • Remember you’re a problem solver, help the company make the best value out of your value

How to become a great PO?

  • Help me by sharing your experience in the comments
  • Share that post with your fellow POs, I believe we love learning, whining about our suffering, and having group therapy sessions 😅
  • Again, never lose your sense of humor 💪🏼^😉

Ciao 👋🏼



Bassem Elhawary

I’m passionate about working with awesome teams on building kickass products. I write about my learnings & other stuff.