The Product Manager / Product Owner AS A Scientist


We’ve all heard it before – “Talented technology team builds amazing products!” That… doesn’t create the impact that they wanted, not enough customers end up buying or the users aren’t happy with it, or <some other disappointment>…

This is an especially common problem with companies that have a “brilliant” idea or technology that someone goes developing in their garage (if startup) / innovation product development group (if enterprise). This could be a new product or just a new feature of an existing product. Typically, the Product Owner or Product Manager in the organization specifies what to build. If they’re somewhat Agile, they even work closely with the organization to build it incrementally and hopefully deliver it continuously. But still, even then, too often the product or features don’t provide the expected impact/benefits. Overcoming this challenge is a common theme that is discussed by attendees at our SAFe POPM Course.

The POPM is often SURE they know what’s the right thing to build (aka the “God complex”) – usually this is based on market research, customer interviews, etc.

But too often, the POPM doesn’t know that they don’t really know. Other times, the POPM knows that they don’t know, but aren’t sure how to drive the learning so that more is known.  The Agile approach is to build a working product and engage on an on-going basis with the customer, getting early feedback so that as a result of the customer’s interaction with your product – you will gain knowledge.

Does this sound familiar from another domain/world? Where else do people make concerted learning a matter of principle?

As can be guessed from the title of this article – the answer is in science – a close cousin of engineering. One of the basic pillars of modern science is using the scientific method and specifically its well-known-but-hard-to-pronounce hypothesis.

For those who are a bit fuzzy or unconvinced about how closely the hypothesis fits in here – the meaning of hypothesis as per the dictionary:

  • A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence is a starting point for further investigation.
  • A proposition made as a basis for reasoning, without any assumption of its truth.  
    [emphasis added]

The famous British Biologist Thomas Huxley (a friend of Charles Darwin) once said:

“The great tragedy of science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

Archangel Michael slays the Devil. Painting by Guido Reni.

Who would have thought there could be such drama in science and the hypothesis 🙂

With this in mind, let’s see how “without any assumption of its truth” and “starting point for further investigation” applies to the POPM roles.

To approach things as a scientist, a POPM should first modestly understand that they have some underlying assumptions, honestly identify them, curiously phrase the hypothesis and openly and bravely seek the truth by evaluating the outcomes and then flexibly adjust based on the learnings.

For example, phrasing the expected business outcome as a hypothesis could be as follows:

We hypothesize that Feature A will generate 30% more transactions (or will cause users to do things 20% faster or to make 15% fewer mistakes, whatever the expected outcome).

It can be much simpler to have this approach as a startup, after all, you typically have to prove yourself quite quickly or the money will run out. In a larger more traditional enterprise, it’s often more difficult to adopt this mindset for various reasons such as the long lead time until reaching the customer to test the hypothesis, on-premise B2B environments, high customization as in professional services, etc. Nevertheless, as a POPM, one must always strive to make the desired impact, regardless of the organization’s size. In fact, the importance of having the right mindset in an enterprise is incredibly important to minimize the waste of developing too many (wrong) features. In large organizations, this is true for both Product Owners and Product Managers.

Once the hypothesis has earned its place of respect, as Konrad Lorenz once said:
“It is a good morning exercise for a research scientist to discard a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast. It keeps them young.

So, to openly and bravely receive the truth, the POPM must evaluate the measured outcomes and decide whether they must show flexibility and discard their hypothesis or keep it. The Lean Startup movement introduced the terms for this as to pivot (change direction) or to persevere (keep on with the direction).

Applying pivot might feel difficult to the POPM, as it means that we have disproved our hypothesis. On the other hand, we will have learned something and hopefully avoid an “OMG” headline, and as Lorenz said, pivots keep us “young” 😉

Subscribe for Email Updates:



Lean Software Development
Limiting Work in Progress
Implementing SAFe
Kanban Basics
Product Management
RTE Role
Agile Basics
Agile Assembly Architecture
Agile Program
Scrum Guide
Risk Management in Kanban
Applying Agile Methodology
Enterprise DevOps
Scrum Primer
Iterative Incremental Development
Agile Product Ownership
Agile Product Development
Advanced Roadmaps
Agile Risk Management
Daily Scrum
Portfolio for Jira
Agile Development
Lean Budgeting
Professional Scrum Product Owner
Principles of Lean-Agile Leadership
Lean Risk Management
Managing Projects
Agile Testing Practices
Kanban Game
speed @ scale
Certified SAFe
Agile Project
ScrumMaster Tales
Accelerate Value Delivery At Scale
Quality Assurance
Agile Israel
Continuous Deployment
Nexus vs SAFe
speed at scale
Elastic Leadership
Story Slicing
Perfection Game
Agile Community
Sprint Planning
Implementation of Lean and Agile
Agile Release Planning
ART Success
Built-In Quality
Scrum Master
Operational Value Stream
Releases Using Lean
lean agile change management
Scrum Master Role
Value Streams
Professional Scrum Master
Agile Exercises
Change Management
Professional Scrum with Kanban
Reading List
Lean-Agile Software Development
Lean Agile Organization
Software Development
Sprint Iteration
Product Ownership
Legacy Code
Achieve Business Agility
Artificial Intelligence
PI Objectives
Jira Cloud
Rapid RTC
Games and Exercises
Agile Marketing
Lean Agile
The Agile Coach
Lean and Agile Principles and Practices
Nexus and SAFe
System Archetypes
Scrum and XP
Kaizen Workshop
SAFe DevOps
Agile Techniques
Legacy Enterprise
System Integration Environments
Lean Agile Management
What Is Kanban
An Appreciative Retrospective
The Kanban Method
Nexus and Kanban
Agile India
Program Increment
Hybrid Work
PI Planning
Test Driven Development
Introduction to Test Driven Development
Coaching Agile Teams
Nexus Integration Team
Large Scale Scrum
Acceptance Test-Driven Development
Lean Startup
Pomodoro Technique
Scaled Agile Framework
Process Improvement
Lean and Agile Techniques
Continuous Planning
Agile and DevOps Journey
Agile Israel Events
A Kanban System for Software Engineering
Lean Agile Leadership
Software Development Estimation
Continuous Integration
Risk Management on Agile Projects
Systems Thinking
Engineering Practices
Lean Agile Basics
SAFe Release Planning
Continuous Delivery
Scrum Values
Managing Risk on Agile Projects
Entrepreneurial Operating System®
Release Train Engineer
Jira admin
Continuous Improvement
Scrum With Kanban
Business Agility
Agile Release Management
Lean-Agile Budgeting
Agile Games and Exercises
Agile Contracts Best Practices
ALM Tools
AI Artificial Intelligence
Risk-aware Product Development
Effective Agile Retrospectives
IT Operations
Sprint Retrospectives
Agile Outsourcing
Agile Mindset
Agile Project Management
Agile Delivery
System Team
Agile for Embedded Systems
Manage Budget Creation
Introduction to ATDD
Kanban Kickstart Example
Kanban 101
Development Value Streams
Jira Plans
Agile Games
Agile in the Enterprise
Enable registration in settings - general

Contact Us

Request for additional information and prices

AgileSparks Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter, and stay updated on the latest Agile news and events

This website uses Cookies to provide a better experience
Shopping cart