Top 6 Worst Mistakes of the Product Owner

Being a Product Owner is not easy and achieving perfection requires many years of hard work. However, there are 6 mistakes that should be avoided like the plague as they can completely ruin your product efforts.

Paweł Huryn
4 min readDec 25, 2021


Photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash

#6 Acting like a project manager

Some Product Owners confuse their role with that of the project manager:

  • Assigning tasks to team members. Pushing instead of letting others pull work from the Product Backlog.
  • Emphasis on predefined outputs. Ignoring the effects (customer outcomes) that these outputs would trigger.
  • Affection for amazing charts and schedules. Close monitoring and regular questioning of team members about the status of their tasks.

Great Product Owners collaborate, inspire, show their trust, and understand that working on a product is complex.

In complex environments, only what happened in the past is known — it is not possible to plan all activities in advance. Instead, you have to experiment, inspect and adapt over time.

#5 Saying “yes” to all stakeholders

Saying yes is safe. It removes the need for tough decisions, uncomfortable discussions, and the volleying of arguments. By simply saying yes, you can make sure that egos remain fully intact and that everyone can temporarily “come out a winner”.

Remember that the role of the Product Owner is to maximize value. Many stakeholders may have strong assumptions about value. Don’t try to please everyone. Be open, transparent, experiment to validate assumptions, use data and evidence rather than “gut feeling”, but don’t hesitate to make the final decisions.

Saying “No” is one of the most important skills that every Product Owner must learn.

#4 Changing mind every day

External factors may change from time to time, but it is worth resisting the temptation and ensuring that your team can continue to work. Product Owner who changes his or her mind all the time:

  • Disturbs consistency. Work becomes chaotic. In such conditions, it is impossible to close the feedback loops, inspect and adapt.
  • It makes it difficult to focus on the tasks performed.

Recently I found the book “Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking”. Its author is an American psychologist and engineer, Gerald M. Weinberg.

According to the research presented by the author, each additional project or task is a loss of 20% to 80% of productivity. The moment we add a third project, context switching begins to consume almost 50% of the effort, drastically lowering our productivity.

Cost of context switching

Once we’ve decided which frog to eat, we need to set aside a block of time for intensive, focused work.

#3 High-prioritizing everything

It is worth emphasizing that in Scrum, we do not use the concept of priority. Instead, we define the order in which the work is to be performed.

“The Product Backlog is an emergent, ordered list of what is needed to improve the product. It is the single source of work undertaken by the Scrum Team” — Scrum Guide 2020

When everything is important, nothing matters.

#2 Blaming others

When problems occur, people don’t like to blame themselves. Frustration, anger, envy, and guilt are unpleasant feelings. Scapegoating is a self-defense mechanism: you project onto others what you don’t want to see in yourself.

Blaming others — the team, customers, or the company — is easier than accepting responsibility. This is one of the worst, counter-effective attitudes a product owner can present. It means that he or she focuses on external factors beyond his or her control.

The blame game can be addictive. Regardless of how well you play; you will never win. It is much better to focus on what we could have done to prevent it, what we can do in the future, and how to solve the problem.

Take the harder path. Only by taking full responsibility can you achieve exceptional results and release your inner greatness.

#1 Being not fully present

Product Owner who’s not there, who has no time to attend Sprint Plannings or Scrum Retrospectives. Who always promises to be there next time, but never appears.

In this way, he or she is defying the values of Scrum: Respect for others, Commitment to achieving goals as a Scrum Team. It can result in lowering motivation, making many wrong assumptions, and loss of trust in the team.

You have to be there when the team needs you. Commitment and presence cannot be underestimated.

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Special thanks to Uzi Landsmann for your insights.



Paweł Huryn

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