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Issue 115

Interview with Joanna Tivig and Peter Monkhouse about the new generation of Product Owners

Iulia Ștefănescu
Marketing Manager @ Colors in Projects
INTERVIEW

What triggered you to write (and successfully launch on Amazon) a book about product ownership?

We are both senior instructors at the University of Toronto. During one of our collaborations for course development, we started talking about some major challenges organizations have: executing their strategy and adapting the product development to the constant changes in the market. Everything circled back around the role of the product owner. We believe the product owner role is key in changing business mindsets and focusing the organization on strategic priorities. So, we decided to write about it. We built these arguments in what was to become a best-selling book Gen P: New Generation of Product Owners Who Care About Customers. It is a book that aims to inspire the new generation of professionals, to transform their ways of working and the customer-centric mindset.

The title of the book is: Gen P: New Generation of Product Owners Who Care About Customers. Why do we talk about the new generation, what happened with the previous one?

In our experience, we noticed two types of product owners in organizations, more like two generations. The first is those product owners who are in the marketing departments. They are focused on sales, immediate customer engagements and typically on a short-term view of the product's life cycle. The marketing product owner rarely considers the long-term view of the product or owning the product through its life cycle. The second is the product owner role, typically in agile teams working with Scrum or Kanban. This product owner is asked to be the 'voice of the customer' without having any understanding of the value the product is delivering to the customer. In many cases, this product owner does not have any power of decision making.

We need a new generation of product owners, to fill the gaps of the previous roles and to build successful products that deliver value to customers and benefits to organizations. Our mission is to encourage organizations to think differently about product owners, to give them accountability for product development and authority over decision making, to help teams deliver value in the hands of customers faster.

How is your book different from other books that are promoting and describing the agile way of working?

There are two key differences that Gen P brings to the discussion. First, we take the point of view of the product and the importance of organizations focusing on the value that their products deliver to customers. Second, our book goes beyond agile. Typically, agile is associated with IT projects. We believe that an iterative product development approach can be and must be used for all products in any industry sector. In our book, we have examples from a variety of sectors showing how an iterative approach to product development, how a focus on delivering value, and how empowering product owners and teams can lead to success.

In Romania, we have many young entrepreneurs and start-ups eager to launch new products that we'll become the next Facebook or Instagram (in terms of success and number of users). What would you recommend for such ambitious entrepreneurs?

Just do it! First, remember not every start-up becomes the next Facebook or Amazon, but start-ups can lead to an exciting career and open other opportunities. Here are some tips:

Joanna, you left Romania for Canada some years ago, is there anything that you learn in Canada that you would suggest to us, or you could recommend us to do?

Find the passion, as a product owner, entrepreneur or anything you want to become. Then, find partners that can help achieve that passion. When I came from Romania, I wasn't very good at making friends or networking. I guess this is a reminiscence of the school years when we were asked to keep our hands behind our backs and never ask questions unless asked to. Therefore, I had to learn how to ask questions, how to make friends, and most importantly how to ask for help when I needed it. It's amazing that a lot of influential and knowledgeable people offer help and advice for free, that can help you push things through, get things done and achieve success. And most importantly, when you become successful, don't forget where you started from, be humble and recognize the people around you, the ones who helped build your success. Reach out and say 'thank you'.

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VIDEO: ISSUE 109 LAUNCH EVENT