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5 scenarios When Product Owners should not Facilitate meetings with Stakeholders

Product owner as a facilitator

The Product Owner is empowered by the stakeholders (Executives, Investors, Business and Technical subject matter experts that have a stake in the product) to make decisions for them. They engage Stakeholders to understand requirements, market conditions, changes in budget and prioritization. The Product Owner should use facilitation techniques to engage the stakeholders. At the same time there are 5 scenarios when Product Owners should not facilitate stakeholders.

Look back at at time when you’re leading a product with diverse and strong opinions at the table. Each stakeholder brings valuable perspectives, but the discussions are veering off track, or worse, reaching a deadlock. In such instances, can you act as a facilitator help or hinder the process? Could stepping back, in fact, lead to more productive and organic resolutions? These are not mere hypothetical questions but real situations that can make or break the success of your product.

In this blog, we delve into the nuanced role of a product owner and explore the conditions under which they should reconsider their stance as facilitators. This isn’t just about stepping aside; it’s about strategically empowering your team and stakeholders to bring forth their best without the overshadowing your influence. There are 5 scenarios where you should consider having some else act as a facilitator.

1. Emotional Conflict can affect Objectivity

Emotional conflict occurs when personal feelings or attachments influence the product owner’s decisions. This might stem from a strong attachment to certain features or ideas they have personally championed. This is the first scenario when product owners should not facilitate stakeholders

Suppose the product owner has invested significant personal effort in visioning a specific feature. During discussions, stakeholders express that this feature may not align with current market needs. The product owner’s emotional attachment could cloud their judgment, leading them to advocate for the feature despite valid concerns. Recognizing this emotional conflict, the product owner delegates the facilitation of these discussions to ensure that decisions are made objectively, based on market data and user feedback.

2. Be an Impediment to Creativity

A product owner’s strong vision for the product can sometimes become a barrier to innovation. If they are too rigid in their thinking, it can stifle the stakeholder’s creative process and prevent the exploration of potentially valuable new ideas. This is the second scenario when product owners should not facilitate stakeholders

In brainstorming sessions for new features, the product owner dismisses ideas that don’t align with their original vision, before they are fully explored. This behavior can derail stakeholder ideas and hinder creative problem-solving. In such instances, it’s beneficial for the product owner to step back and allow the stakeholders to explore ideas freely, perhaps with a facilitator who encourages open-mindedness and creativity.

3. Lack of facilitation skills

Product Owners do not posses facilitation skills naturally. Effective facilitation involves not just leading a meeting but also ensuring that it is productive, inclusive, and that it drives toward actionable outcomes. This is the third scenario when product owners should not facilitate stakeholders

Consider a product owner who is adept at outlining visions and goals but struggles with managing diverse opinions and guiding a group toward consensus. Dominant participants overshadow discussions in meetings. This lack of facilitation skill can result in unproductive meetings or decisions that don’t reflect the collective input of the team.

In such cases, it’s crucial for the product owner to recognize their limitations and consider appointing a team member with strong facilitation skills to lead these discussions. Ensure that meetings are more structured, balanced, and effective. This allows diverse ideas and opinions to be heard and integrated into the decision-making process.

4. Complex Technical Decisions

In meetings focused on highly technical decisions, a product owner without deep technical expertise might inadvertently steer the conversation in an unproductive direction. Delegating facilitation to a technically knowledgeable team member can lead to more informed and efficient decision-making. This is the fourth scenario when product owners should not facilitate stakeholders

5. Low Stakeholder Engagement

In scenarios where stakeholder engagement is low, changing the facilitator can bring a fresh perspective and reinvigorate the discussion. A new facilitator, especially one who peers perceive as an equal, can encourage more open and honest communication. This is the fifth scenario when product owners should not facilitate stakeholders

References:

1. How to build a kickass product team

2. Product Owner Case Studies

3. Scrum Masters and Product Owners working in collaboration

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