Top 10 signs you are a Product Clerk and not a Product Owner

Posted By on Nov 24, 2011

  1. You never actually used a similar product.
  2. You were never annoyed by the limits of existing product (competing or not)
  3. You understand the high level basics of the needed solution. No more.
  4. You answer almost every question with “I’ll go ask”
  5. Since your main source of input is the development team, your Product Backlog is filled with horizontal and technical items.
  6. Feedback mostly comes from stakeholders during Sprint Reviews.
  7. Putting your foot down sounds like a feather hitting the floor.
  8. You are unable to quickly and convincingly state the Vision of “your” product.
  9. You call meeting after meeting and then a few more meetings with your development team since Mr. Stakeholder 2 overturned the request of Mr. Stakeholder 1, and then back again.
  10. Your budget is…..Well you don’t really have one.

Bonus :

You don’t have that twinkle in your eye when you talk about “your” product.

If you recognize yourself, I must inform you that you are a Product Clerk :

|prod-uhkt klurk|

1 a person employed in an office to keep records and accounts and to undertake other routine administrative duties.

…and not a Product Owner.

You might be tempted to use a cooler name like «Proxy Product Owner»  but the end result is the same.



  1. Brilliant! IME *most* so called product owners fit your description of product clerks… I used to call them «product admins», but I like clerks better. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the comment Scott!
    I try to use the ugliest yet most politically correct term to describe what I see. Hopefully, this will encourage behaviours and practices to evolve a tad quicker.

  3. Nice post! Being a consultant and working on agile projects, I will agree that I have worked on projects where POs or PO teams fall in this genre – and sometimes I was a part of it. I still haven’t seen a single PO driven agile team (yet) IRL and for that matter would be interested to know how the PO is really available to the team while investing time on Prod research and other tasks.

    In larger enterprise wide organizations going through agile transformation – it would be quite difficult to find one as they’re fundamentally changing from matrix-ed to collaborative.

  4. Hum…
    Are these examples from something you experienced ?
    If yes, what solution was the best to solve this issue ?

  5. Yes, I have seen this happening not only with product owners but developers and testers alike in outsourced projects

  6. I look at this from the product management perspective, and as I see it, this is what many companies are asking for.

    Companies that look at product development from strictly the engineering side of things look at the product owner as the representative of the business who is in the war room most of the time, so these attributes are not uncommon. The reason is companies aren’t as well versed in what a product manager needs to do–outside of engineering–to ensure a good product! If the role of product owner is filled by a product manager who doesn’t spend time outside the scrum room, there’s by definition a gap in the product owner’s knowledge of the market. Teaming up a product owner with a product manager can help, but then it’s still 2nd hand information.

  7. Nicely stated! I too run across many product owners who are indecisive and lack assertiveness. They don’t want to rock the boat.

    Consensus building among the dev team and the business stakeholders is important but it must be based on leadership. POs need to lead.

  8. Thanks for the replies!

    To answer directly or indirectly to the comments above; I see it as an evolutionary process. If you’re a Product Clerk, you can learn to become a Product Owner, if you choose to do so. It’s not easy. Actually it’s really hard.

    If you know little or nothing about the requested product then use one like it! Buy it, play with it, make it crash. Subscribe to your competitor’s service and invest time and money to understand it. Join discussion groups on LinkedIn, Yahoo, etc. Immerse yourself in the product and have fun with it. In a nutshell – get to deeply understand the essence of the problem we are trying to solve. One of two things will happen : You’ll realize that this can be a truly valuable product for your clients or you just won’t get it, maybe for good reasons.

    One is never condemned to staying a Product Clerk.

  9. Hi Eric,

    This is a very light post that I’m sure many Product Owners will enjoy. I would really like to publish your post on PM Hut, where many people interested in project management will be able to read it.

    Please either email me or contact me through the «Contact us» form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with this.

  10. PM Hut,

    Thanks for the comment!

    The presentation is light. The message and consequences are not.

    Feel free to distribute as you wish.

  11. Eric, well put!


  1. Passionate about your development » Blog Archive » Are you a “Product Owner” or a “Product Clerk”? - [...] while ago I read the blog post Top 10 signs you are a Product Clerk and not a Product…

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