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The 4 Types of Product Owner | Part 1

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A Product Owner is a vital player on a product development team. Equinox IT went so far as to say the Product Owner role was the most critical for ensuring an agile project delivers business value. Being aware of the four types of Product Owner can help those taking the road from Business Analyst to Product Owner anticipate what their strengths and weaknesses will be as a PO. This will enable them to function more effectively in their new position by strengthening their weak points.

Internal POs and external POs are 2 of the 4 types of Product Owner


The Four Types of Product Owner

In her virtual conference presentation at Building Business Capability 2020 , Judy Alter, CBAP and Senior Business Systems Analyst, explained that there are four types of Product Owner. She described these types of Product Owner as being:

  1. Internal to the company
  2. External to the company
  3. From the business domain
  4. Former Business Analysts

Read on to find an overview of the first two types of Product Owner.

What You Need to Know About Internal Product Owners

If you are internal to your company, have been with your employer for a while, and are planning a switch to a PO role, you will be considered a Product Owner that is internal to the company. According to Alter, POs who are internal to the company are:

  • Familiar with politics
  • Aware of key players
  • Aware of business needs

These POs also have an established internal network, which often helps them learn how to manage key players and is generally very helpful. Internal Product Owners also have some cons. They tend to:

  • Resist change
  • Favor certain players
  • Be unfamiliar with the business domain they must support

“Not being from the business domain can be problematic,” stated Alter. Product Owners who are internal to the company must become more familiar with the business domain in order to be successful. Also, internal Product Owners should commit to not playing favorites with key players in the company.

Overall, internal Product Owners tend to have an easier time migrating to and operating in the role of Product Owner as those who are external to the company. 

The Pros and Cons of External Product Owners

POs who are new to the company and were hired externally are Product Owners who are external to the company. On a positive note, Alter said Product Owners who are external to the company:

  • Are open to change
  • Will not play favorites
  • Bring a fresh perspective

While external Product Owners have definite strengths, they also have some weaknesses. For example, external Product Owners are usually:

  • Unaware of company politics
  • Unaware of key players
  • Unfamiliar with business needs

Additionally, they typically don’t have allies or a network.

While it may sound like external Product Owners have the odds stacked against them, they have the opportunity to add value to a PO role and meet their Product Owner responsibilities. Their openness to change, tendency to not play favorites, and fresh perspectives can help offset the “cons” that are inherent to this type of Product Owner. This is especially true if they are committed to improving on their weaknesses.

Becoming aware of company politics, key players, and business needs is critical for external POs, who Alter said tend to fail more often than any other type of Product Owner. However, you can succeed as an external PO if you set your mind to it. “The key for these POs is to ask the right questions to the right people,” Alter explained.

Build Your Skillset with the IIBA® Product Ownership Analysis Guide

Any type of Product Owner will benefit from the IIBA® Guide to Product Ownership Analysis. Download the Guide to learn everything you need to know about the practice of POA.



About The Author:
Tiffani Iacolino

Tiffani Iacolino is a Product Marketing Manager at IIBA® and has 15+ years of marketing experience across the legal, technology, telecommunications, publishing, media, and professional services industries. She’s passionate about delivering meaningful products and solutions to the business analysis community, including IIBA’s latest offering the Cybersecurity Analysis Learning and Certification Program. Hailing from the Greater Toronto Area, she enjoys an amazing cup of coffee, running, and yoga -- between chasing her two adorable children!