It’s challenging hiring the best possible product owners. It’s very easy to talk the talk in the world of product. Any interviewee can explain the difference between the ROI, an MVP and your NPS! But how do you sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to picking the best possible recruit? Here are the top 5 vital qualities you need to identify in a potential hire, beyond experience and intelligence:

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1. Customer advocacy

This sounds obvious. But you’d be surprised at how many candidates forget to put the customer at the heart of their product. When interviewing ask candidates about something they are proud of having delivered recently. Do they talk about how they helped their customers and delighted them? Even better, is it the first thing they tell you? If they do, then the likelihood is that customer advocacy is in their DNA. And as any product owner knows, you can only run a successful long term business if you put your customer at the heart of everything you do. The customer has to be king (or queen!) for a great product owner.

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2. Ability to hit the core problem

I always ask an interviewee to solve a very challenging problem that they could not possibly have had to deal with before. One favourite of mine is this: “You have to get every single car in London washed within a week. How do you do it?” You know you are onto a good product owner when the first question they ask you is ‘Why?’. Understanding the problem you are trying to solve has to be your starting point, otherwise you could find yourself delivering a solution that does not get to the heart of what your customer is trying to achieve.

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3. Unconventional thinking

That same question about the car park, is intentionally stretching and can only be solved with a creative approach to problem solving. Some interviewees will talk about hiring thousands of car washers to get the job done and will be desperate to know their budget. A creative product owner will realise they already have an army of car washers. The car owners. The great product owner will work out which carrot will then get the car owners to help them achieve the goal.

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4. Passionate hobbyist behaviour

A great product owner is irrepressibly passionate. Their eyes shine when they talk about their job. They can’t wait to tell you how much they moved the needle with their last project and they want to tell you about the dreams they have for the future of their product. They probably use phrases like ‘I was playing with this over the weekend’ or ‘I showed my mate this design last night’. For a great product owner, they make their job sound like a hobby that they happen to get paid for during the week. Passion is the engine of creativity.

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5. Recruiters

You never, ever have enough resources to deliver your dream first time. There is always more that you can do to delight your customer and to take  the product to the next level. How many iterations of the iPhone have there been? Apple didn’t deliver their dream first time. And they are still going. And that’s Apple who are hardly cash strapped! Great product owners solve the resource problem by recruiting. They recruit people to fund their projects. Kickstarter have built a business around these kinds of product owners.

Product owners recruit people to work on their products with them – often in their spare time. As a product owner you have to be able to get people to sign up to the cause. Recruiters get people’s pulses racing – from developers and testers to the CEO and beyond. They are resource magnets. The best recruiters are story tellers (read my article on customer roadmaps) who can build mental pictures of the promised land for their audiences.

This is the toughest skill to evaluate, but ask yourself this question. Did your last interviewee leave you feeling excited?

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