Product Owner Questions Answered

Questions Answered from the Imposter Syndrome: Hit the Mute Button on Negative Thoughts Webinar

In a short webinar on 28 September 2021 titled, Turn Down the Volume! How to hit the Mute Button on Negative thoughts that Block your Power, Alicia McLain explained how imposter syndrome affects various aspects of the product owner role.

After her presentation, Alicia fielded questions from the audience. Read on to see what people had on their minds – and Alicia’s sage advice in response to the questions…

Stakeholder management 

Q: How do you prioritize the competing needs of multiple stakeholders? How do you keep stakeholders in the loop without making them believe that they get to make all the decisions?

Alicia: This is all about the refinement steps and stakeholder analysis. When you’ve done the latter, you can include them in your steps to refine the backlog. 

Q: How do you say no to leadership or stakeholders?

Alicia:  As it relates to imposter syndrome, this is about quieting the messages that come from your survival brain that say you’re not enough, you’re not high enough on the hierarchy. This is about meeting your stakeholder where they are and meeting them with humanity and empathy.

Q: Scope creep - How do I limit the noise? Many stakeholders overshadow the product roadmap.

Alicia: Scope creep can mean a lot of things in a lot of contexts.  Noise can mean a lot of things.  If you mean conflicting priorities, see the response to #1.  It covers both.

Setting expectations with your team 

Q: How would you deal with team members who reject decisions from a product owner and play down the product owner role within a team?

Alicia: This speaks of negative conflict on the team and there are some things you can do to reveal what’s happening and address it. This is very much about leadership and bringing the team together to design an alliance. Your scrum master can help with this if they are a skilled facilitator. If you don’t have that as an option, you might reach out to an agile coach who works at the organization level.  

Advice for new product owners dealing with imposter syndrome

Q: I struggle because the prior PO was in the role 5+ years and knows the product in & out. I'm new and don't have the extensive product knowledge they had. I am having trouble overcoming expectations to step in and pick up where they left off, which leads to me feeling like an imposter/not right for the role.

Alicia: First, start with working on getting your mindset together. Do the work in positive intelligence and work with a coach who can help you navigate this new terrain. It is unreasonable to expect someone who has just started to pick up where someone who was in the job for five years. The work in positive intelligence can help you separate from the ‘story you’re creating around this’ and what’s real.

Q: How far can I go outside of my knowledge base and still be successful in a product owner role? 

Alicia: I’m not sure what the question is here. If it's about breadth of knowledge, depending on the context of your role, it might be great to have this. If you can’t get this, you might develop partnerships across your organization to “cover the knowledge bases.”

Are you expected to be the subject matter expert on Day 1 as a PO? See “Advice for New POs

Q: When is it imposter syndrome versus really not having the skill set?

Alicia: That’s a great question. The answer will depend on what’s needed in your role and if you have the competency to deliver. Remember the definition of Imposter Syndrome …”is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’ Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve all they have achieved.”

Backlog refinement and facilitation

Q: Do you have any suggestions for ways to quantify project priority within a backlog? A big cause of imposter syndrome for me is feeling like the backlog priority is too opinion based and lacking quantifiable backing.

Alicia: Prioritization and ways to do this are organizationally specific. There are lots of models out there so it’s important to establish a consistent approach to defining priority for your organization. There is a difference between project priority and product and portfolio level prioritization. Maybe you use a KANO method, maybe you prioritize because of financial concerns, maybe you use a Decision Matrix. Lots of options. Pick one that works for you and your organization and be consistent with using it. It will help clean up the ‘noise’ in the conversations about priority. Without a consistent method for prioritization, I promise you that everyone has a different idea about what ‘priority’ means.

Related Articles:

Q: Can you recommend any resources to help us to hone our facilitation skills?

Alicia: Yes! If you go to my Good Reads page, down at the bottom of the page in the PO section, you’ll find reading recommendations for facilitation in the outline of the competency model

How To Cope

Q: Is there a useful tool or any practices that can help me overcome imposter syndrome?

Alicia: Yes! For the mental fitness work (which it takes a LOT of this to be a PO), you’ll start with this TED talk and take the assessment after.

It’s important to get a debrief and some coaching with a mental fitness coach. I’d also recommend this book: Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential and How You Can Achieve Yours, By Shirzad Chamine

Lastly, I’ve got a few spots open in my mental fitness/positive intelligence PODs. It's a 6-week fast track program to truly overcome the mental patterns that hold you back. You can see the details of this program here. If you’re interested in this program, please email me directly for details. 

Q: Would you care to share other mindfulness exercises that could help us get centered? 

Alicia: Yes! I cover more techniques in this podcast. I also offer a My Product Owner Bootcamp “Beyond The User Story” - 

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About the Speaker


As a sought-after speaker, coach, and trainer, Alicia Mclain is known as the ‘Organizational Whisperer’ and has for 15+ years, been about the business of building high-performing teams, empowering leaders in transition, and creating climates where teams can thrive using Agile practices.  Her expertise is in the transformation of people and systems during agile transformation using positive intelligence and ORSC (organizational, relationship, and systems coaching) to shift perspectives and create safe spaces for change

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