Tips for product owners – new and tenured

I stumbled upon a product owner talk with General Assembly. If you haven’t heard about General Assembly, it’s a great resource for free meetups and chats. They also have courses geared towards experts and newcomers to different industries.

This past Monday, Trevor Bruner, author of A Quick Start to Product Management, gave a fireside chat about all things product management. His book is geared toward product owners who are just starting out. He wrote the book because it’s filled with advice that he wished he knew 10 years ago when first starting as a product owner.

So, here are some of my key takeaways from the chat and some tips for product owners who are just starting out, in the middle of their careers, or project aficionados:

Judgement is key.

Many experts will tell you that communication is key when it comes to product management. And while that is important, this chat with Trevor and other industry experts really shines a light on the value of judgement. As a product owner, you are going to make judgement calls every day. You’re going to have to decide what’s important to communicate and to whom. And you also need to choose how you’re going to craft your story based on your audience.

Making judgement calls for your project and choosing what your team needs to prioritize is also crucial. And when your organization is getting off track, it doesn’t matter how great of a communicator you are if you don’t have the judgement to know what to do in a situation.

At the end of the day, you’re going to have to make a decision for it to eventually be a good one. If you make a decision and it turns out to be wrong, someone will course correct.

Enhance your communication skills.

Okay, okay I know what you’re thinking. I just said that judgement is key, but communication is still important. And you don’t have to be an extrovert to be a great communicator. You just have to work on becoming comfortable speaking in front of people. And once you’re comfortable doing that you want to develop a presence that makes people want to listen to you.

Communication can even help with those crucial judgment calls. You’ll have plenty of people coming forward with wants and needs. It doesn’t stop with just simply making the decision on what takes priority. It continues with communication and how you present your decision – essentially it’s how you might tell someone “no.” Being able to communicate effectively keeps your team on track and helps them understand the reasoning behind your decisions. We’ll dig deeper into the art of “no” further down, as that is a whole different beast!

Assume your company knows what it’s doing.

This is especially important for those joining a new company. Whenever we start working somewhere new, we instantly start thinking about what we can bring to the table and how we can make waves and changes. But that’s not always what’s best. Sometimes your company has its processes because it’s what’s best for them. So, before you know all the major players and processes, pause your opinions and assume that your company knows what it’s doing.

Don’t say yes or no…at first.

Imagine this: you’re giving a roadmap presentation to your customer or organization leaders and at the end of it they say, “That’s great, but can we add this?” or “That’s great, but I was really thinking this.” Now, while we want to make everyone happy, you can’t say yes or no right away.

According to Trevor, the best response is, tell me more. Tell me more allows for you to gain more insight. And it enables you to decide if their wishes are something you can actually accomplish. Because you want to say yes and make everyone happy, but if you can’t accomplish their addition to the project, it’ll only lead to disappointment in the end. This also helps you manage your customer’s expectations.

And after they explain, and you know that it’s not the right option for them, explain why. Utilize your knowledge and your awesome communication skills to explain your process.

Learn by doing.

Enrichment is important. Taking courses, watching videos, reading books about product management is valuable. But getting out there and doing is where you’ll really learn. If you’re just starting out in the field, put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everyone messes up. You’re not going to be a great product owner until you make some mistakes and learn from them. The sooner you get into the field the sooner you’ll learn.

The power of admitting when you don’t understand something.

More often than not, when we’re in a meeting or even at a dinner with friends and someone is talking about something we don’t understand, we nod our heads and let it go in one ear and out the other. But that doesn’t help us in the end, especially in the workforce. And frequently, when we don’t understand, we can get defensive and put the blame on the presenter. Trevor recommended using the phrase, “I still don’t understand.” Instead of placing the blame on someone else, it states that you just need a little bit more clarification to better grasp the situation.

I think sometimes we’re worried to ask more questions because we don’t want to waste time. We want to move on to the next meeting, move on to actually working on the project. But in reality, when we admit we still don’t understand, it’ll take someone a couple more minutes to explain instead of the inevitable extra meetings that are going to come when we try and operate without full understanding.

Learning from experts in the industry is something that I love doing because it helps me better serve my candidates. And at the end of the day that’s all I want to do. So, if you’re looking for a product owner job or wanting to break into the field, feel free to reach out! I’d love to chat.


About the author

Julia Nelligan is a Recruiter in our Atlanta office. She has been with Synergis for one year and recently got promoted from Associate Recruiter to Recruiter. Her goal is to dive deeper with candidates to understand their passions, experience and what makes them tick. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from the University of Georgia. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the city of Atlanta! She loves everything the big city has to offer; endless options to feed her appetite, the fun spots on the beltline, a vast piedmont park, and a beautiful skyline. When she’s not exploring Atlanta, she’s exploring new places as she also enjoys traveling.



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