Look for Product Owners in the Business

You cannot lead what you don’t understand so I often recruit product owners from the business.

Business insight

You Cannot Lead What You Don’t Understand – You Can’t Understand What You Haven’t Done.

Myron Tribus (1996)

I agree with Myron Tribus completely. You have to have done the work, to understand it, to lead it. That is why I need a business leader to work with on my programmes. Somebody to lead the business through a period of change as we introduce something new. And I look for these people in the business. These folk are experts in what they do. Typically they are management types that have risen from the ranks. They know the business inside out. They also know how the business needs to change.

(I’m also a fan of Product Managers and it is possible for both a Business Representative and Product Manager to be the Product Owner – simultaneously!)

Challenges of working with the business

I find the biggest challenge, when working with folk from the business, it getting them to accept responsibility for prioritisation, i.e. choosing what will and will not be done. Most business people start from the point where they would prefer to blame IT for not delivering rather than making hard decisions about software requirements. Lean-Agile puts prioritisation squarely in their lap; they squirm but they accept the responsibility. Suddenly it is business debating with business about what goes first, and business explaining to business that certain pet projects will never happen. The business sets the agenda and IT executes. Much better.

As business people they are also, more or less, ignorant about software development. That is where I come in. I specialise in large scale software development and associated business transformation. I’ve been doing this for years with considerable success. I lead the software development and help with the change. This is, of course, another example of Tribus’s principle. I work with the product owner – they set the agenda and manage the business through change.


Tribus, M. (1996, Fall). You Cannot Lead What You Don’t Understand – You Can’t Understand What You Haven’t Done. Journal of Innovative Management, p. 62-72.