Close this search box.
Close this search box.
Close this search box.

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:



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