The Four Challenges Facing Product Ownership Within Travel & Leisure and Overcoming Them

12 October 2016 | Sarah Butlin | About a 6 minute read
Tags: leisure, PO, Product, product managment, product owner, product ownership, travel, travel and leisure


Working with clients in the travel and hospitality industry we’ve seen some recurring challenges with product ownership and are keen to share how you can make these areas a success within your company. Plus see the end of this post to find out how to gain a place on our one day PO workshop! 


To start, we need to define ‘product’ as it can cause confusion. In a B2C sector, ‘product’ is often synonymous with the physical end product being sold to customers; be it an item of retail such as a pair of trainers, your airline seat or your hotel bed. However, when we refer to ‘product’ within a digital focus (as per this thought piece), the product is about a digital customer experience. This could be any digital product including the website, mobile site, app, etc. which is powered by analytics for personalisation, automation for speed of delivery and integration to the core business systems.


The second area of confusion is often the distinction between product management and ownership because they are often used interchangeably. So to confirm, Product Ownership surrounds the delivery role of the product owner in agile/ scrum teams and Product Management is about the product roadmap for future product delivery.


From our experience within the travel and leisure industry, there have been four specific challenges with Product Ownership that we consistently come across:


Challenge 1 – Ownership vs. Management Prioritisation

The above activities can be carried out by the same role or indeed by two distinct roles. Both approaches can work, but the challenge we see is ensuring they are both carried out with the required attention. There are two common challenges we’ve seen when they are carried out by the same person:

  1. Those that like doing product management can be drawn to doing the strategy and less attracted to hands on delivery – thus prioritising the roadmap
  2. When busy with delivery it can become very difficult to make the required time to give the roadmap the full attention it needs – thus prioritising the delivery

It’s important to ensure that if the roles are combined there is capacity to deliver both effectively. We also find ensuring there is a product analyst support to alleviate the pressure as they can be the proxy for the wider business. If this does not work, our recommendation is to have two distinct roles.


Challenge 2 – Business vs. Role Knowledge

There are often two different trains of thought for choosing who can take on the role of the product owner:

  1. Someone from the business; whom has business domain knowledge, but perhaps has limited if any product ownership experience
  2. A product expert; whom knows the role and often the technology domain (e.g. search/web/mobile), but does not have the insider business knowledge


Both create perfectly strong product owners, however what can happen is that there is a neglect in immersing/up-skilling that individual in the other domain expertise. We highly recommend submerging experienced product owners (but new to the company) into a business/ops role to really understand the organisation, the lingo and ultimately what customers want. Similarly, although someone may know the organisation inside and out, that does not necessarily mean they will pick up how to be a good product owner through osmosis, so they will need to go through Agile upskilling.


Challenge 3 – Outdated business knowledge

One of the common challenges is not only ensuring that the product owner is skilled in Agile and the business way of working, but also that their knowledge remains up to date. Often as the products become the main focus, the product owner’s knowledge of the business can become outdated. We recommend rotating product owners; so they can take the time to re-acquaint themselves with the business/front line operations and also this creates opportunities for individuals within the company to rotate into digital and bring new innovative ideas.


Challenge 4 – Collaborative Mindshift

One of the crucial differences with scrum delivery is that the product owner is ultimately the single accountable person for the delivery and ultimately that they have to adopt a collaborative mindshift, as they are no longer a ‘customer’ of the delivery function. This can be quite a leap from traditional ways of working where development teams were perhaps blamed for late delivery, whereas now the product owner is accountable and ultimately has to truly work together with the delivery team. This requires a different type of leadership, but also a natural coach who is able to move on from one release to focus on the next and longer term roadmap. This is the hardest challenge to overcome. A lot comes down to the individual but also from the overarching leadership team and ultimately the culture they set. It requires trust and the leadership team need to show their support of working together and promoting collaborative joint successes (e.g no ‘us’ and them).


In summary we believe there are four key areas that if you implement will help address many of the pitfalls we see in product ownership in the travel and leisure sector:

  1. Ensure there is required attention given to both product ownership and management
  2. Ensuring product owners have strong grounding in both Agile delivery and the business
  3. Rotate product owners into the core of the business to ensure their knowledge remains up to date and it will naturally bring new innovative ideas
  4. Create a collaborative ethos (leadership team downwards) – promoting joint successes and banishing blame

AND Digital have helped clients at all stages of this transition and believe any organisation can deliver digital successfully; we hope you can put the above to good practice and make it a success for you.


Take Our AND Digital Product Owner (PO) Workshop 

We think most companies in the Travel and Leisure (T&L) sector are being held back by not having enough professional POs. We’d like to change this by opening up our one-day PO workshop to a few budding or aspiring POs in the sector. So if you’re a PO in T&L and feel you could benefit from upskilling, then let us know and we’ll give a lucky few the opportunity to attend our PO workshop in Nov or Jan at a nominal cost of £150.

This one-day workshop focuses on the product owner role and the skills and fundamental knowledge associated with that role within scrum teams. The course covers the Agile theory, a scrum overview, the PO accountabilities and responsibilities within a scrum team as well as the Product Owner’s importance to successful delivery of within a digital team.

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