The Virtue of Sincere Honesty

This is part of a series on the virtues of excellent Product Ownership.

The Virtue: Sincere Honesty

Sincerity – the quality of being free from pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy.

As a Product Owner, you are the conduit of an immense amount of information. You are the tip of the spear for what gets built next, which requires you to establish – with your stakeholders, peers, customers, users, and cross-functional development team members – that you can be trusted. In most organizations that I have spoken with, the Product Owner is the single point of failure for information symmetry. Does the Product Manager know what the ScrumMaster knows? Does the UX designer know what the Social Listening Analyst knows? Does the development team know what the customer knows? The duty to prioritize the backlog is derivative. The core purpose of Product Ownership is to prioritize the flow of information.

This isn’t about keeping stories straight or “transparency” and it definitely has (almost) nothing to do with deadlines. Your Product Manager or equivalent stakeholder must trust that you prioritized the right things to build or you’ll lose their “investor confidence.” The customer must trust that you are giving them their money’s worth. The developer must trust that you know the user and their needs and have told them the right thing to build.

So this is about the visibility of information, and your role in promoting the most important insights for each party.

The vice of deficiency is not “lack of documentation” any more than bad product performance is due to lack of velocity. There are no documentation or utilization problems, only communication and engagement problems. So the real deficiency is lack of effective communication of ideas. When you are apathetic but your words scream “ASAP!” that’s hypocrisy and people know it.

The vice of excessive “honesty” is what most people do in the name of transparency: Over-supply of data with no context or prioritization. Just like the overwhelming number of things that you could build make prioritization the cornerstone of managing the backlog, the overwhelming amount of information that could flow through you requires prioritization of what you communicate.

The virtue, in between data-forwarding without context and insincere platitudes of precision and urgency, is sincere honesty – providing the information that you believe is most important to the success of everyone involved. Whatever tool or process you need, be authentic, be genuine, and do your best.

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