Steve Jobs

Stop Being A Product Owner… Be Like Steve Jobs!

Macintosh iPod, iMac, iPhone, iPad, MacBook – it is hard to find someone for whom they do not ring the bell. Apple products are known around the globe. Company is worth over $1 trillion, and it is one of the most iconic. Steve Jobs was one of the most intelligent and innovative people ever to live. He took a small idea and turned it into the world’s first trillion-dollar company. “How?” – you may ask.

Steve Jobs was an innovator. He is known not to take any shortcuts. He was an idealist who wanted to create something incredible – for sure, he succeeded that!

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

And I would like to stop here! I do not want to write the next biography of Steve Jobs. Walter Isaacson has done an astonishing job, and I do not think that I can add anything else.

Today I would like to write a few words about him from the Product Owner’s perspective. How can others benefit from his legacy? Let’s look at Steve Jobs from the perspective of his acts on the way to achieve this goal. Apple success is the result of his actions.

Stances of the Product Owner – The Visionary

Steve Jobs is the almost ideal personification of the Visionary stance of the Product Owner. The Visionary tends to focus on the future, instead of now. He tries to create new opportunities than just merely following the crowd.

At the beginning of the Product Owner’s journey, you will not use this too often. There are other things to do; you do not have enough experience; the Scrum Team is forming. After a while, you know your users better, the market does not have any mysteries before you, so you jump into this stance more often. It helps you to create a long-term plan for your product.

What does it mean to be the Visionary? I will try to answer that question but let’s first rephrase it.

How can Steve Jobs impact your work?

Based on his biography, I would like to give you a few tips, how Steve Jobs worked. I believe these were the key factors of his success. I think anyone can gain from using them or by only considering them.

Find what you love

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle…

 The Commencement address (2005)

This advice is self-explaining. By looking at it from the Product Owner’s perspective, you will find this rooted very deeply in it. You should:

  • Try to be not only a Business Representative or Sponsor to the product.
  • believe in it by the whole of your heart.
  • see the potential in it, and you should have a strong urge to reach it – no matter what. Of course, it does not mean that you should not be realistic, and you should not consider your limitation.

To achieve it, you should experiment… a lot!

Admit failures quickly

Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.

In Steve Jobs, The Journey Is The Reward (1988)

Steve Jobs said it in 1988 – no one thought about Agile or Scrum back then. Yet Steve Jobs already tried to convince others the product development process should include experiments, learning from failures and changing directions.

As Product Owner, you should focus on doing safe-to-failure experiments to improve your product. Learning from spikes, making Proof of Concept and faster feedback loop are tools which used correctly can improve results given by the product in the long-run.

A Great Product Owner should be able to pick the valuable experiments for your product and say “no” to others.

Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, 1997

Product Owner should be able to say “no” to any idea – even his own. He should focus on what is achievable, what can give value, and which concept is worth investing.

Good Product Owner knows why he dropped any idea. In many cases, it may be because of the costs involved. However, it should not be the only reason to resign from the possible path. He should know where he is heading, and it should fuel him up. As Steve Jobs said, we are here to

Make a little dent in the universe

Steve Jobs worked hard to make a difference in the world. He aimed high just for the perfection itself. He wanted to create high-quality products because he believed it is the right thing to do. Let’s look at Apple’s products. Even after a few years, it is still pleasant to work on them. iPhones, Macs, old iPods – clients are still using even earlier models. You do not need to buy new equipment each year to have a good experience by using it (yeah – I know fanboys are out there).

Do you think about it when working on your product? Do you plan to create something astonishing? Something which will be the lead example for other products? Do you plan to achieve that? Try to aim high – and if this is not possible, then know about it and be honest with yourself.

Design created by Steve Jobs is something universal yet unique. It becomes standard. Now everyone is trying to follow its rules of clarity and deference and depth. For sure, Steve Jobs achieved his goal, and he put a dent in the universe. All because of that he wanted to

…sell dreams, not products

Steve Jobs saw dreamer in each of his clients. He wanted to be part of someone’s accomplishment. He tried to help them achieve their dreams. In the same time, he wanted to create a demand in the users of his devices.

You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.

“The Entrepreneur of the Decade Award”, Inc. Magazine, 1989

Great products not only create the need in the client – but they also should be put on the market when customers are ready for them. iPod changed a whole music industry the same as the iPhone changed how we look at small computers in our pockets. It does not mean that similar products did not exist earlier – just different clients used them.

I know this article is about Steve Jobs, but it would be a shame not to quote Henry Ford here.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

Henry Ford

What can you do as a Product Owner? Have your client in mind all the time – personas or empathy map canvas are great tools. Thanks to them, you can gain a deeper level of understanding of a stakeholder in your business ecosystem.

You are not one-man-army

All these advises may be of great help to you. Remember that you are not alone. You work within a team – Steve Jobs also did not create his products on his own. Do not jump into only this one stance. There are more and smoothly switching between them is something which defines a great Product Owner.


A natural born Scrum Master. Always mentally attached to Agile - initially a member of Development Team, eventually Scrum Master in the Scrum Team and Agile Coach in the organisation. The most important for me is to deliver value to end-users thanks to engagement of motivated team. For the past few years I have been gaining experience in project, product and team management. I prefer people-oriented managing style. I constantly repeat to everyone that good work environment can give huge benefit in to the project, its product quality and working environment. Because of that I became Scrum Master to fully support my teams as servant leader by using transparency, inspection and adaptation. I help other teams to be better specialists in their field of action. I see their success as my own even if I am working from shadows. I love to share my experience and knowledge on conferences and meetups - as a speaker and participant. Still trying to discover new ways of work and to improve my workshop.

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